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Creole languages in the Caribbean

Hello little Hummingbird,

In this article, we will focus on another element that characterizes the caribbean islands: Creole.

What is Creole? How was he born?

The term "Creole" is said to be of Portuguese origin ("crioulo") and originally referred to the one "who was raised in the domestic home." From Portuguese, the term switches to Spanish ("crollo") with the colonization of the Americas and refers to a "pure white male born to the colonies."

It refers primarily to people who were born and raised in the colonies. They may be of father and mother settlers (so white), or settler father and Mother Of Native American or African (thus Métis). Slaves born on plantations are also called "Creoles"

Very quickly, the term extends to objects, animals, cooking, music and everything that arises from what is called a process of creolization. Then, by extension, refers to the language born on the plantations.

The definition of what a Creole language is varies depending on the author and the target audience. For the time being, linguists have not come up with a satisfactory definition for all specialists. They scarcely agree that these are "new languages that differ from the languages from which they derive most of their lexicon or grammar," and that they were born "from the influence of unusually significant contact between languages during particular social circumstances." It is based in the majority of cases on a European lexical field, and has an African structure and Amerindian (sometimes Indian) influences.

Where do we talk about Creole?

The Creole languages were formed and managed to maintain themselves in all territories identified as "Central Afro-America", with the exception of the Spanish colonization territories. In the so-called island Caribbean (the Caribbean islands and adjacent continental territories considered by the United Nations Development Programme as small island developing states: Belize, Suriname, Guyana, Guyana), the current Creolophone area is broadly equivalent to Belize, Jamaica, Haiti, part of the Lesser Antilles (the small island arc that stretches from the Virgin Islands to Trinidad). , the so-called "ABC" islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) as well as Guyana, Suriname and Guyana. Excluded from the Creolophone Caribbean are therefore the Cayman Islands (where Jamaican Creole is however widely spoken by migrant workers from the neighbouring island), the Bahamas (where Bahamian Creole is spoken only in Mesolectal form), the Spanish-speaking territories (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico), the Turks-Caicos Islands (where the many Haitian and Jamaican migrants imported their Creole), and some islands in the Lesser Antilles that are experiencing or have experienced decreolization.

The Creole languages spoken in the different territories can vary considerably: if the speakers of St. Vincent, trinidad, Bahamas and Jamaica can be understood despite notable differences in their Creoles (see discussion in the third part), speakers of sranan tongo (literally "language of Suriname"), patwa (name given to their language by Jamaican Creole speakers) and kreyol ayisyen (Haitian Creole) , can't understand each other at all.

Creole: tongue or pidgin?

A Creole language is a grammatically as elaborate language as any other language.In other words, "Creole is neither a simple language, nor a simplified language, nor an incomplete language. It is a language in its own right that is not in fact linguistically exceptional" (De Graaf, 2003). Many linguists claim that Creole languages are an evolved version of pidgins – pidgin being a simplified and essentially spoken language, which is not anyone's mother tongue, as it is used exclusively as a language of contact between two groups that do not speak the same idiom. The big difference between pidgin and Creole is that the second is the mother tongue of a group of individuals.

At the time, it was used by slaves, who came from different African language groups, to understand each other. The European (planter, missionary, etc.) is convinced that he draws his slaves towards his culture (he "civilizes") through what he considers a good compromise: the "Negro-English" (or Negro-French, etc.). However, Caribbean researchers have known since the Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz that deculturation (the abandonment of one's culture for another) does not exist. On the contrary, these situations create "transculturation."

Decreolization, re-creation and dissemination of Creole


Decreolization affects, or has affected, the spaces of the Afro-French-speaking Creoles of Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as the spaces of afro-British Creoles that were once spoken in Trinidad, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Dominica and the Bahamas in particular. It often has political reasons: Creole has been opposed, especially by the school and by families who have sought, since the middle of the 20th century, to give their children an education in the colonial language.


In recent years the Martinique Creole has experienced a revival of vitality and the territory has seen a re-creation that has taken four distinct forms: a reconquest (rather oral) of the territory by a Martinique Creole largely tinged with French (increasingly accepted), the teaching of Creole in schools (a master of Creole was opened for example), a creolization of the spoken French language ("I buy in his hands" etc.) and a separate process of re-creation that saw the birth of a French literary language specific to Martinique, under the pen of renowned authors such as the writer Patrick Chamoiseau.

Spreading Creole

The process of spreading Creole internationally is found in densely populated and culturally attractive spaces, including Jamaica (more than three million speakers for Jamaican Creole) and Haiti (more than eleven million speakers).

This diffusion takes place, on the one hand, by the different migration flows, but also by the music (let's take the example of the Haitian compass for Haiti, or reggae and dancehall for Jamaica).

In the end, Jamaican Creole is now spoken in Jamaica, as well as in pockets corresponding to migrant communities (first, second and third generation) located along the coast of Central America, in the Caribbean (St. Martin, Virgin Islands, Trinidad, etc.). and in many major North American cities (Miami, Atlanta, Washington, New York, Toronto, etc.) (London in particular).

Haitian Creole has now spread to the spaces of the diaspora and is now present wherever there are pockets of Haitian migrants more or less wide: Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Saint-Martin, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas, United States, Canada, France…

I'll stop there for today. There are plenty of interesting articles to discover on the subject.

I will mention the three of which this article is inspired.

Lexique créole

Don't hesitate to tell me what you thought in comment.

And as the Creole proverb says: lang pèp se nam li (the language of a people is its soul)


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