Identification. The Cajuns are a distinct cultural group of people who have lived mainly in south-central and Southwestern Louisiana since the late eighteenth century. In the past, because of their Acadian heritage, residential localization, unique language, and Roman Catholicism, it was relatively easy to distinguish Cajuns from other groups in Lousiana. Today, their identity is less clear. It usually applies to those who are descended from Acadians who migrated in the late 1770s and early 1800s from Canada to what is now Louisiana, and/or live or associate with a Cajun life-style characterized by rural living, family-centered communities, the Cajun French language, and Roman Catholicism. Cajuns in Louisiana today are a distinct cultural group, separate from the Acadians of Nova Scotia. Like the Appalachians and Ozarkers, they are considered by outsiders to be a traditional folk Culture with attention given to their arts and crafts, food, music, and dance. The name "Cajuns" is evidently an English mispronunciation of "Acadians." Cajun and Black Creole Culture share a number of common elements, some of which are discussed in the entry on Black Creoles of Louisiana.
Location. In 1971 the Louisiana legislature designated twenty-two parishes as Acadiana: Acadia, Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Calcasieu, Cameron, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Lafourche, Pointe Coupee, St. Charles, St. James, St. John, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion, and West Baton Rouge. This region includes coastal marshes, swamps, prairies, and levee land. In recent decades, as the region has experienced economic development and population shifts, the boundaries of Acadiana have blurred. And the Cajuns are not the only residents of these parishes, which include non-Cajun Whites of various ethnic backgrounds, African-Americans, Black Creoles, and others.
Demography. In the 1970s there were about 800,000 Cajuns in Louisiana. After Acadians began arriving in Louisiana, perhaps as early as 1756, the population increased rapidly, from about 6,000 in 1810 to 35,000 in 1815 to 270,000 in 1880.
Linguistic Affiliation. Language use by Cajuns is a complex topic, with the relationship between the speakers and the social context often determining what language is spoken. Cajun French is the language commonly associated with the Cajun culture, though many Cajuns no longer speak it fluently and its use has declined markedly in the younger generation. Older Cajuns speak Cajun French in the home and with other Cajuns. Cajun French differs from standard French in the use of some archaic forms of pronunciation, the inclusion of various loan words from English, American Indian, Spanish, and African languages, and a simplified grammar. Cajuns usually use English as the contact language and as the Domestic language in an increasing number of homes. In some homes and communities, Creole French is spoken as well.