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Another language gone: Cochin Creole Portuguese

October 10, 2010

Someone may argue it is not a language at all. The opinion that Creole languages are nothing but dialects, or bastardized versions, of ‘real’ languages has been widespread, although it is no longer as common as it was before. One thing is for sure – there is a culture behind each Creole language which is very distinct from that of their parent language.

When Europeans colonized faraway lands in the 15th and the following centuries, the local populations had to interact with the colonizers and developed simplified versions of English, French, Portuguese and other colonial languages, which became known as pidgins. Later, these pidgins were ‘normalized’ or ‘nativized’, i.e. learned by the children of pidgin speakers, passed from generation to generation and eventually became Creoles. Often, Creoles appeared where groups of people were uprooted from their native places and had to move, for example as slaves, to a land where their native language was not spoken at all.

The vocabularies of Creoles are full of cognates from their parent languages, however the grammars usually differ greatly from those of the parent languages and are modeled on the grammars of local dialects spoken before the Europeans came. Unlike pidgin grammars, the grammar of a Creole can be quite complex. For example, Jamaican Creole features largely English words superimposed on West African grammar. (I find this a very interesting fact as it seems to prove to me that grammatical knowledge is implanted in the mind on a deeper level while vocabulary knowledge is more superficial and can relatively easily be replaced).

I found this paper by David B. Frank on the characteristics, origin and current state of Creole languages very interesting. The title is We Don’t Speak a Real Language: Creoles as Misunderstood and Endangered Languages and you can read it here.

Here is a quotation: “As linguists debate why or whether or how creoles constitute a unique class of language, we should not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about the mother tongues of real people with their own unique culture, identity, history, and forms of communication.”

As it happens, many Creole languages are facing extinction, and two weeks ago another Creole ceased to exist. Here is a tribute to Cochin Creole Portuguese. Another language is gone, and the world is continuing to lose its linguistic diversity.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. jacobtullos permalink
    November 11, 2010 9:47 am

    Wow, I agree about Creoles having their own cultrue and identity. When these languages die, is it because the people died, did they or their offspring just learn one of the parent languages? It seems to me that someitmes Creoles can be absorbed into a parent langauge, and so it lives on in the vocabularies and modalities of others…but maybe I’m wrong.

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