Kevin J. Rottet

Indiana University


On the Demise of the Acadian-style First Person Plural in Louisiana French

A well-known grammatical feature associated with the Acadian French dialects of the Canadian Maritime provinces is the use of the pronoun je as a first person plural (1pl) pronoun, along with overtly 1pl verb forms. This is illustrated below with an example from Maillet (1990: 80):

(1) Par chance qu’y a eu la guerre! Quoi c’est que j’arions fait, nous autres, sans ça? [...] Parce que si j’avions pas pu nous rendre jusqu’à la guerre et que j’avions corvé en chemin, pas parsoune s’en arait aparçu. “A good thing there was the war! What would we have done without that? [...] Because if we hadn’t been able to get to the war and we had died on the road, no one would have noticed.”

The je...-ons pattern is recessive in most modern Acadian dialects, where it has gradually been displaced by the pronoun on plus a 3sg verb (e.g. on parle, on a, on est, cf. Flikeid and Péronnet 1989). The latter is the predominant pattern in the vernacular speech of much of the French-speaking world today including both France and Quebec. The je ...-ons pattern is completely absent from contemporary dialects of French in Louisiana, which is part of the Acadian diaspora, although it is clear from historical texts that the pattern was still found in Louisiana in the late nineteenth century (Fortier 1891, Ditchy 1932 [1901], Houssaye 1983 [1888]) and even, apparently, as recently as the 1930s (Hurst 1937, Pellerin 1937). Interestingly, though, attestations of the pattern from Louisiana depart from the reported Acadian norm in several ways. First, some occurrences of it are manifestly not first person plural, but rather first person singular. For example:

(2) « M’sié l’curé, j’savons signer mon nom: vous m’avez montré... » (Houssaye 1983: 65)

(3) ‘Pour moi, j’y consens,’ répondit la mère, ‘et j’sommes sûre que l’voisin y pensera comme moi.’ (Houssaye 1983: 31)

(4) Ah! qu’alle bosse / J’m’sommes donné / Hier à la noce à Zoséphine. (“Ah, what a feast I had last night at Josephine’s wedding.”) (Whitfield 1939: 123)

A second anomaly is that the verb inflection -ons associated with this form (and with the 3pl -ont in traditional Acadian verb morphology) is attested in various other persons:

(5) Et qu’est-ce que vous croyons que j’avions vu tomber? (Griolet 1986: 232) In this paper I will examine the small but fascinating corpus of attestations of the je...-ons pattern attested in Louisiana, of interest because of the light they may shed on the last days of this Acadian pattern in Louisiana before it was finally replaced by the colloquial standard on-zero pattern. The Louisiana data such as those cited in (1) through (3) also invite a revisiting of the claim (e.g. Hull 1988, Deloffre 1961) that attestations of the je...-ons pattern as a first person singular are inauthentic samples of the relevant dialects.

Fortier, Alcée. 1891. The Acadians of Louisiana and their dialect. P.M.L.A. 6:1-33.
Griolet, Patrick. 1986a. Cadjins et Créoles en Louisiane: Histoire et survivance d'une francophonie. Paris: Payot.
Houssaye, Sidonie de la. 1983. Pouponne et Balthasar. Lafayette: The Center for Louisiana Studies. [First edition 1888].
Hull, Alexander. 1988. “The first person plural form: je parlons.” The French Review 62: 242-247.
Hurst, Harry. 1937. A glossary of the French spoken in St. Charles Parish. Master's Thesis, Louisiana State University,
    Baton Rouge.
Pellerin, Eveline. 1937. La Langue française en Louisiane. Master's Thesis, McGill University.
Whitfield, Irene. 1939. Louisiana Folk Songs. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.