The interjection kyoo/kaw is used in the English and French of Cajun heritage speakers in Louisiana to express surprise and has not been previously documented. Anecdotally, Cajuns and non-Cajuns alike comment that it sounds “weird,” as if the word is “not English.” A survey confirms that the interjection is perceived as atypical sounding when compared to mainstream English words, even more so for the palatalized pronunciation variant (kyoo) than the nonpalatalized variant (kaw). The authors hypothesize that this perception could stem from acoustic characteristics of the interjection consistent with linguistic identity markers in Cajun speakers, attributable to Cajun French influence or to the Cajun English vernacular. Acoustic analyses show that the interjection-initial/k/is not unaspirated, its vowel is not nasalized, and it has spectral quality similar to/O/in mainstream English words. These results suggest the perception of anomalous sounds in this interjection may not be attributed to acoustic characteristics indicative of French influence. An alternative explanation to the acoustic-phonetic characteristics of kyoo/kaw lies in social representations of Cajun English in a historically bilingual and multidialectal community, where perceived oddness of a nonstandard linguistic expression can be easily attributed to the influence of another language.

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