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What Is A Creole Language?

As citizens of the United States, when we hear the word ‘creole’ we imagine people from the Southern States who may or may not live in a bayou. While the mix of French, Native American and African-American is seen as the Creole of the country, the world itself is actually in reference to a type of language.

That being said, what exactly is a ‘creole language?’

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What We Know

Like the cultures of the U.S.’s creole people, a ‘creole language’ is comprised of various languages. What’s more amazing than that is the fact it has its own grammar and vocabulary system and works well in practice.

By definition, a ‘creole language’ “is a stable natural language that develops from the simplifying and mixing of different languages.” It’s interesting to know that there is a word for an amalgam of different languages.

Where Does The Term Originate?

Much like the rest of the English language, the word ‘creole’ is rooted in the ancient language of Latin. The root word, ‘creare,’ unsurprisingly means to “produce or create.” When we examine its historical use, the word first became commonly used between the 16th and 17th centuries.

The ‘creole’ language that exists now can be traced back to when the European colonies first expanded across Europe and the United States.

Two other words, ‘crioulo and criollo, were terms used to give significant those immigrants and natural-born citizens of Portuguese and Spanish colonies.

“Creole,” the modern spelling for the word came about as a result of the existence and abundance of creole societies and languages.

How Did They Spread?

The expansion of English colonies helped give rise to many creole peoples and languages unique to each of the planet’s regions. Places like western India, Southeast Asian, and the Americas all have their own variety of respective ‘creole languages.’

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Where the cultures that dot the Indian Ocean may contain pieces of Malagasy and Asian Languages, those in the Atlantic have many African and Amerindian roots.

Trade was an important part of ensuring each society prospered. Because of the language barrier between many cultures, it necessitated the existence of a language specifically meant for trade, giving rise to ‘pidgin’ or parent languages of the creole languages.

Although a creole language may earn itself recognition as having its own system, the majority of creole languages’ base comes from its ‘pidgins.’

More History

Although people created unique languages to communicate with one another, many cultures experienced prejudice so profound, it drove their created languages to extinction, leaving them to be remembered through only stories.

Creole Languages of the United States

African-American Vernacular English – once referred to as ‘ebonics,’ this is now the designation for the English spoken most common among those in the working- and middle-class African Americans. Despite being spoken by few in society, sociologists deem it an official language with its own accent, grammar, and unique vocabulary features. (Other variations include African-American Standard English, African-American Appalachian English,

Louisiana French – this creole language is most commonly spoken in the southern parishes of the state of Louisiana. It is what the majority of U.S. citizens understand as ‘the’ creole language in their country. It is spoken in enough a variety of places, it now has many different dialects. It is a mix of the African, Spanish, Native American, and English languages.

Gullah – this is a creole language spoken by the people living on the islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. It is a mix of Central and West African languages. Thanks to Gullah, we have words like “goober” regularly spoken.

Chinook Jargon – this language developed when European settlers sought to communicate with the Chinook Native American tribe. It may also go by the name “Chinuk Wawa,” as it is a mix of English, Chinookan and Wakashan languages.

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Hawaii Creole English – this creole was born on the sugar plantations that dotted Hawaii. Languages like Portuguese, Cantonese, Hawaiian, and
others influenced its vocabulary.

Creole Languages across the Globe

Chavacano – a Spanish-based creole commonly spoken in the Philippines.

Kanbun Kundoku – a very interesting language, as it uses the annotated version of literary Chinese so that it can be read as Japanese.

Yilan Creole Japanese – a unique language influenced by Japanese that is spoken among the Atayal indigenous people of Hanhsi village, Yilan County, Taiwan.

Sri Lanka Portuguese Creole – a language spoken in the island country of Sri Lanka. It is spoken by few people in the modern-day, mostly handed down through oral tradition by the Sri Lanka Kaffir people.

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