Image of Saint Lucia - Caribbean Languages - Caribbean Creole

Caribbean Creole Languages - History of Creole and Pidgin

As a result of the colonial history of the Caribbean, there is a wide range of languages spoken in the region. There are 29 countries in the Caribbean that have at least one Creole language, in addition to their ‘official language’, which is used in everyday life. 

A Brief History of Caribbean Creole Languages

Creole languages of the Caribbean are  a product of the mix of languages from European colonisers (usually English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese) and the West African languages spoken by the enslaved people in the Caribbean that had been taken from their home in Africa and displaced geographically through the slave trade.

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Creole and Pidgin

From the 15th century, millions of people from Africa were enslaved by European countries and transported to the Caribbean. As a consequence of this, a number of pidgin languages developed. A pidgin language is defined as a grammatically simplified means of communication that emerges when speakers of different languages need to communicate with each other. The enslaved people would have spoken a variety of West African languages, but European slave owners imposed their own language onto them. So, the enslaved people would have used a pidgin language to communicate amongst themselves which was based on the sounds, vocabulary and grammatical structures of all the different languages.

 

A creole language is a pidgin that has expanded in structure and vocabulary and has the characteristics of other languages. 

Caribbean Creole Languages Today

Today in the Caribbean there are number of creole languages including French based Creole, English based Creole, Spanish/Portuguese based Creole and Dutch-Creole.

Along with the Creole language, each country usually has an ‘official language’. However, the vocabulary of the Creole language doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the ‘official language’. For example; in St Lucia they speak a French based creole but their official language is English. 

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Sadly, some Creole languages are slowly being lost through the generations as in the past (and sometimes even now), Creole is seen as a lesser language for the poor or lower classes. 

Members of the Windrush Generation who came to the UK from the Caribbean speaking both English and a Creole language often did not pass the Creole language down to their British born children. It was thought by some that it was better the children learn and speak British English of the ‘mother country’. So sadly, Creole languages are not usually known fluently by British born people with Caribbean descent. 

However, attitudes towards Creole languages in the Caribbean are changing. In Haiti, Haitian Creole was named as an official national language alongside French. And more people of Caribbean descent are taking an interest in learning Creole languages. For example, just a few years ago, Harvard University began offering a class in Jamaican Patois.

Creole Languages in different Caribbean countries

Below is a list of the different types of creole languages in the Caribbean and which countries speak each one.

French Based Creole

  • Dominica (Kwéyòl)
  • Grenada (Grenadian Creole French, Patois)
  • Guadeloupe (Gwadloupéyen)
  • Haiti (Kreyòl Ayisyen)
  • Martinique (Kréyol Mat'nik)
  • St Lucia (Kwéyòl)
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Spanish/Portuguese based Creole

  • Aruba (Papiamentu)
  • Bonaire (Papiamentu)
  • Curaçao (Papiamentu)

English based Creole

  • Anguilla (Anguillian)
  • Antigua and Barbuda (Antiguan Creole, Dialiect)
  • Bahamas (Bahamian dialect, Bahamianese)
  • Barbados (Bajan, Bajan Dialect)
  • Grenada (Grenadian Creole English)
  • Guyana (Creolese, Guyanese)
  • Jamaica (Jamaican Patois)
  • Montserrat (Montserrat Creole, Montserrat Dialect)
  • St Kitts and Nevis (Nevisian, Nevis Creole)
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines (Vincentian Creole, Dialect)
  • The Virgin Islands (Virgin Islands Creole)
  • Trinidad and Tobago (Trinidadian Creole, Tobagonian Creole)
  • Turks and Caicos (Turks and Caicos Creole)

Hear & Learn Caribbean Creole Languages

If you're interested in hearing the different Caribbean creole languages, or even learning some words and phrases from the creole languages, here is a list of different places to hear and learn Caribbean creole languages.

French Based Creole

Caribbean Hot FM

You can listen to Kwéyòl on a popular Radio Station in St Lucia.

 

Kwéyòl 4 Kids

Author, journalist and self-taught Kwéyòl speaker Trina John-Charles founded Kwéyòl 4 Kids, an online store that specialises in books and teaching aids designed to teach French Creole to children. Listen to Trina speaking about her business on BBC Radio here

 

St Lucian Kwéyòl Dictionary

A St Lucian Kwéyòl Dictionary by Goldsmiths University of London.

 

St Lucian Kwéyòl Dictionary

A St Lucian Kwéyòl Dictionary byMinistry of Education in Saint Lucia.

 

Kwéyòl Sent Lisi

Kwéyòl Sent Lisi is a blog that has a range of resources to learn Kwéyòl. Also see their Facebook page for more resources here

 

Annou Palé Patwa - Annou Palé Kwéyòl

A Facebook page for people who want to learn Patois/Kweyol (of Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and Venezuela in particular).  

 

A Virtual Dominica

Some basics of the Dominican Kwéyòl  language.

Spanish/Portuguese based Creole

Papiamentu for Beginners 

An online course designed for beginners to learn Papiamentu.

 

Learning Papiamento in a Few Minutes

A short YouTube video presenting the most popular Papiamento words. The video includes how to say Good morning, how introduce yourself and a few more words.

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English based Creole

Biesik Jumiekan: Introduction to Jamaican Language 

This book, written by Larry Chang, is a Jamaican language primer for native speakers and beginners. 

 

Understanding Jamaican Patois: An Introduction to Afro-Jamaican Grammar

This book is written by Emilie L Adams and is a guide that provides an overview of the English language as spoken in Jamaica.

 

Jamaican Patois Online Dictionary

An online dictionary that provides a variety of words and phrases translated from Jamaican Patois to English with examples. 

 

Anguillian Language 101

An Anguillian Dialect dictionary with a few key words and phrases.

 

Talk Like a Bahamian

Aimed at toursist, this is a brief guide to Bahamian Dialect.

 

Bajan Pocket Guide 

Aimed at tourists to the island, this website lists some key words and phrases from Bajan Dialect.

Sources and Further Reading:

1. Creole Languages of the Caribbean. Read more

2. Haitian Creole. Read more 

3. Creole Languages of the Caribbean. Read more  

4. An introduction to Caribbean English. Read more 

5. Tu di worl: Creole goes global. Read more 

6. Caribbean Creole Languages. Read more

7. Caribbean English. Read more

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