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Creole Languages of the Caribbean
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Creole Languages of the Caribbean

Creole languages of the Caribbean are the product of contact between, in the first instance, speakers of West African languages and European languages. The bulk of the vocabulary of Caribbean Creole languages comes from the European language involved in contact at the time of formation of the particular Creole language. Thus, there are French-Creole, English -Creole, Spanish/Portuguese Creole and Dutch-Creole Languages. The European label simply refers to the source from which these languages took most of their vocabulary.

The phonologies of these languages, i.e. their patterns of pronunciation, linguists agree, owe their origins to the pronunciation patterns of the West African languages involved in the early contact.

The area of controversy concerns the syntax of these varieties. Their syntax is very distinct from that of the European languages from which they take most of their vocabulary. Two possibilities exist. One view advocated by linguists is that the syntax comes from the West African languages involved in the formation of these Creole languages. The other is that the syntax was started from scratch, relying on linguistic universals which the early speakers had to resort to in a slave plantation situation where there was no common, shared language. What is sure is that the Caribbean Creole languages have features of their syntax in common which are not shared by the European languages from which they take their vocabularies. Thus, French, Spanish/Portuguese, English and Dutch Creoles share syntactic features not shared by French, Spanish, Portuguese, English or Dutch.

It is important to note that the vocabulary of a Creole language has nothing necessarily to do with the European language which is currently the officially language of the country. Thus, the Creole languages of Suriname, i.e. Sranan, Djuka and Saramaccan, have a vocabulary predominantly from English, even though the official language of Suriname is Dutch.

In Guyana, there are two extinct or near extinct Dutch Creoles, i.e. Berbice Dutch and Skepi, even though the official language of Guyana is English. In Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, Papiamentu, a Spanish/Portuguese Creole is widely spoken in countries where Dutch is the official language. Finally, in Dominica and St. Lucia, French Creole or Kweyol as it is currently being referred to, is in use. This is the case even though these countries have English as their official language. Even in Grenada and Trinidad, there are small communities of French Creole speakers, even though these countries have had English as an official language for nearly two centuries.

The status of Caribbean Creole languages is changing. In some cases, notably in Haiti and in the Netherland Antilles, Creole languages have been granted official recognition. These languages have had standard writing systems developed for them, and they have become an official language of instruction in schools.

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