Academic journal article Journal of Caribbean Literatures

The Portuguese Language on Curacao and Its Role in the Formation of Papiamentu

Academic journal article Journal of Caribbean Literatures

The Portuguese Language on Curacao and Its Role in the Formation of Papiamentu

Article excerpt

Curacao, the largest island of the Netherlands Antilles, is home to a multilingual community. To varying degrees, many of its inhabitants have command of four languages: Papiamentu, the vernacular; Dutch, the official; and Spanish and English, the two foreign languages of foremost local significance.

In addition to residents who have Papiamentu as their native language, the population also includes native speakers of Dutch [business and government employees from the Netherlands--the former mother country--and citizens of the islands of the Netherlands Antilles (Curacao, Bonaire, Saint Eustatius, Saint Martin, and Saba), as well as people from Aruba and Suriname who were either born and raised in the Netherlands or are first-generation descendants of such, and also Dutch retirees]; Spanish native speakers (numerous foreign laborers from Venezuela, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic); English native speakers (from the Dutch side of Saint Martin, as well as Saint Eustatius, Saba, and other regions of the Caribbean where English-Creole languages are also spoken; speakers of French Creole (mainly from Haiti); speakers of other Creole languages from several Caribbean islands; Portuguese native speakers (natives of Madeira, the Azores, and Portugal and their descendants); Arabic native speakers (immigrants from Lebanon and, in the last few years, increasingly from Morocco); as well as native speakers of Sranantongo [Surinamese immigrants]. In mixed marriages between Dutch and, for instance, Papiamentu speakers, Dutch is almost invariably spoken at home. In isolated cases this is also practiced among formerly Papiamentu-speaking families who made it a habit to speak Dutch with their children for the sake of their education.

The origin of the Creole language Papiamentu is still a matter of much debate. Alonso Zamora Vicente's classic dialectology presents the following details:

   Papiamentu is based on the Afro-Portuguese Creole carried over by
   slaves from Africa. On Curacao, this language merged with the
   Spanish spoken in the Antilles and on the Venezuelan coast. Many
   Dutch words have also been added to its vocabulary. (442) (1)

To avoid the need of doing further research into the evolution of Papiamentu, we shall use the cited observations as a basis. Most publications agree in saying that Papiamentu is a Creole language with an Ibero-Romance base and various Portuguese and Spanish elements that has furthermore been influenced by the languages of African captives deported from their continent as slaves, as well as by Dutch, English, and, to a lesser degree, French. (2) Its vocabulary also includes Amerindian elements, which play an important role in names of the flora and fauna. (3)

In investigating the status of Portuguese on Curacao, it is necessary to isolate the following three main elements: the Afro-Portuguese spoken by slaves, the Portuguese spoken by Sephardic Jews, and the Portuguese spoken by foreign laborers from Madeira, the Azores, and Portugal, as well as their descendants.

The Afro-Portuguese Spoken by Slaves

The presence of Afro-Portuguese linguistic knowledge in the Caribbean is no longer disputed nowadays, (4) after the successful retrieval of historical texts in Colombia, Cuba, and Suriname, as well as other countries, confirming the existence of such knowledge among African slaves. Although to this day no sources have become available which document the presence of Afro-Portuguese linguistic elements on Curacao, that may still not be ruled out if we take into account the fact that such knowledge has been found to have existed in Cartagena de Indias, with which for centuries Curacao did have extensive dealings (Granda, "Un temprano" 355-356). The earliest document of relevance to our subject--a letter by Abraham de David da Costa Andrade Junior to his mistress, Sarah de Isaac Pardo y Vaz Farro--was written in 1775 (Maduro, Bon Papiamento 55; (5) Munteanu, El Papiamento, Lengua 44). …

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