Papiamento (English: //) or Papiamentu (English: //) is a creole language spoken in the Dutch Caribbean. It is the most-widely spoken language on the Caribbean ABC islands, having official status in Aruba and Curaçao. Papiamento is also a recognised language in the Dutch public bodies of Bonaire, Sint-Eustatius and Saba.
Papiamento (Aruba) or Papiamentu (Bonaire and Curaçao) is largely based on Portuguese and Spanish and has a considerable influence coming from the Dutch language. Because of lexical similarities between Portuguese and Spanish, it is difficult to distinguish the exact origin of each word. Though there are different theories about its origins, nowadays most linguists believe that Papiamento originated on the West African coasts, as it has great similarities with Cape Verdean Creole and Guinea-Bissau Creole.
The precise historical origins of Papiamento have not been established. Its parent language is surely Iberian, but scholars dispute whether Papiamento is derived from Portuguese and its derived Portuguese-based creole languages or from old or new Spanish. Historical constraints, core vocabulary and grammatical features that Papiamento shares with Cape Verdean Creole and Guinea-Bissau Creole suggest that the basic ingredients are Portuguese, and the Spanish and Dutch influences occurred at a later time (from the 17th century onwards). Jacoba Bouschoute made a study of the many Dutch influences in Papiamento..
The name of the language itself comes from papia or papear ("to chat", "to talk"), a word present in Portuguese and colloquial Spanish.
Spain claimed dominion over the islands in the 15th century, but made little use of them after the Spanish defeat to the Netherlands as a result of Eighty Years' War. Portuguese merchants had been trading extensively in the West Indies, and with the Iberian Union, this trade extended to the Castillian West Indies, as the Spanish kings favoured the free movement of people. In 1634, the Dutch West India Company (WIC) took possession of the islands, deporting most of the small remaining Arawak and Spanish population to the continent, and turned them into the hub of the Dutch slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean.
The first evidence of widespread use of Papiamento in Aruba can be seen through the Curaçao official documents in the early 18th century. In the 19th century, most materials in the islands were written in Papiamento including Roman Catholic schoolbooks and hymnals. The first Papiamento newspaper was published in 1871 and was titled Civilisadó (The Civilizer).
A summary of the debate on Papiamento's origins is provided in Bart Jacobs' study The Upper Guinea Origins of Papiamento. An outline of the competing theories is provided below.
Local development theory
There are various local development theories. One such theory proposes that Papiamento developed in the Caribbean from an original Portuguese-African pidgin used for communication between African slaves and Portuguese slave traders, with later Dutch and Spanish (and even some Arawak) influences.
Another theory is that Papiamento first evolved from the use in this region since 1499 of 'lenguas' and the first Repopulation of the ABC islands by the Spanish by the Cédula real decreed in November 1525, in which Juan Martinez de Ampués, factor of Española, had been granted the right to repopulate the depopulated Islas inútiles of Oroba, Islas de los Gigantes and Buon Aire. The evolution of Papiamento continued under the Dutch colonisation under the influence of the 16th century Dutch, Portuguese (Brazilian) and Native American languages (Arawak en Taíno) with the second repopulation of these ABC islands under Peter Stuyvesant, who arrived here from the ex-Dutch Brazilian colonies.
The Judaeo-Portuguese population of the ABC islands increased substantially after 1654, when the Portuguese recovered the Dutch-held territories in Northeast Brazil – causing most of the Portuguese-speaking Jews and their Portuguese-speaking Dutch allies and Dutch-speaking Portuguese Brazilian allies in those lands to flee from religious persecution. The precise role of Sephardic Jews in the early development is unclear, but it is certain that Jews played a prominent role in the later development of Papiamento. Many early residents of Curaçao were Sephardic Jews either from Portugal, Spain, Cape Verde or Portuguese Brazil. Also, after the Eighty Years' War, a group of Sephardic Jews immigrated from Amsterdam. Therefore, it can be assumed that Judaeo-Portuguese was brought to the island of Curaçao, where it gradually spread to other parts of the community. As the Jewish community became the prime merchants and traders in the area, business and everyday trading was conducted in Papiamento. While various nations owned the island and official languages changed with ownership, Papiamento became the constant language of the residents. When Netherlands opened economic ties with Spanish colonies in what are now Venezuela and Colombia in the 18th century the students on Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire were taught predominantly in Spanish, and Spanish began to influence the creole language. Since there was a continuous Latinisation process (Hoetink, 1987), even the elite Dutch-Protestant settlers eventually communicated better in Spanish than in Dutch. A wealth of local Spanish-language publications in the nineteenth century testify to this.
European and African origin theory
Peter Stuyvesant's appointment to the ABC islands followed his service in Brazil. He brought Indians, soldiers, etc. from Brazil to Curaçao as well as to New Netherland. Stuyvesant's Resolution Book shows the multi-ethnic makeup of the garrison and the use of local Indians: "... whereas the number of Indians, together with those of Aruba and Bonnairo, have increased here by half, and we have learned that they frequently ride ..." They communicated with each other in 'Papiamento' a language originating when the first Europeans began to arrive on these islands under Ojeda, Juan de Ampues, Bejarano and mixing with the natives. Stuyvesant also took some Esopus Indians captives in New Netherland and brought them as slaves to Curaçao. There was little Dutch government activity in the management of DWI because during the period 1568–1648, they were actively fighting for their independence and were not in a position to manage their colonies.
A more recent theory holds that the origins of Papiamento lie in the Afro-Portuguese creoles that arose almost a century earlier, in the west coast of Africa and in the Portuguese Cape Verde islands. From the 16th to the late 17th century, most of the slaves taken to the Caribbean came from Portuguese trading posts ("factories") in those regions. Around those ports several Portuguese-African pidgin and creole languages developed, such as Cape Verdean Creole, Guinea-Bissau Creole, Angolar and Forro (from São Tomé). These sister languages bear strong resemblance with Papiamento. According to this theory, Papiamento was derived from one or more of these older creoles or their predecessors, that was brought to the ABC islands by slaves and traders from Cape Verde and West Africa.
The similarity between Papiamento and the other Afro-Portuguese creoles can be seen in the same pronouns used: "mi", "bo", "el", "nos", "bos(o)", these words being Portuguese based. In Afro-Portuguese creoles we often see a shift from the "v" to "b" and from "o" to "u". Look at the word "bientu" ("wind") instead of "viento". In creole and also in Spanish, the "v" is pronounced as a "b". In creole it is also written as a "b". The last "o" changes in an "u", just like in Portuguese pronunciation, where the last "o" in a word is pronounced as an "u".
Guene (the name comes from "Guinea") was a secret language, that was used by slaves on the plantations of the landhouses of West Curaçao. There were about one hundred Guene songs that were sung to make the work lighter. But because of the secret character of Guene, it never had much influence on Papiamento.
Linguistic and historical ties with Upper Guinea Portuguese Creole
Current research on the origins of Papiamento focuses specifically on the linguistic and historical relationships between Papiamento and Upper Guinea Portuguese Creole as spoken on the Santiago island of Cape Verde and in Guinea-Bissau and Casamance. Elaborating on comparisons done by Martinus (1996) and Quint (2000), Jacobs (2008, 2009a, 2009b) defends the hypothesis that Papiamento is a relexified offshoot of an early Upper Guinea Portuguese Creole variety, transferred from Senegambia to Curaçao in the second half of the 17th century, a period in which the Dutch controlled the island of Gorée, a slave trading stronghold off the coast of Senegal. On Curaçao, this variety underwent internal changes as well as contact-induced changes at all levels of the grammar (though particularly in the lexicon) due to contact with Spanish and, to a lesser extent, Dutch. These changes notwithstanding, the morpho-syntactic framework of Papiamento is still remarkably close to that of the Upper Guinea Creoles of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau.
Many Papiamento speakers are multilingual and are able to speak some Dutch, English and Spanish. Papiamento has been an official language of Aruba since May, 2003. In the former Netherlands Antilles, Papiamento was made an official language on March 7, 2007. After the Netherland Antilles' dissolution, Papiamento's official status was confirmed in the newly formed Caribbean Netherlands. 150,000 Antillians (mostly from Curaçao) live in The Netherlands and they speak their mother language Papiamento fluently. Some Papiamento is also spoken on Sint Maarten and the Paraguaná Peninsula of Venezuela.
Venezuelan Spanish and American English are constant influences today. Code-switching and lexical borrowing between Papiamento, Spanish, Dutch and English among native speakers is common. This is perceived as a threat to the further development of Papiamento due to a language ideology that is committed to preserving the authentic and Creole "feel" of Papiamento.
Many Latin American and Caribbean immigrants choose to learn Papiamento because it is more practical in daily life on the islands. For Spanish speakers, it is easier to learn than Dutch, because Papiamento has many Spanish and Portuguese words in it.
Orthography and spelling
Papiamento is written using the Latin script.
Since the 1970s, two different orthographies were developed and adopted. In 1976, Curaçao and Bonaire officially adopted the Römer-Maduro-Jonis version, a phonetic spelling. In 1977, Aruba approved a more etymology-based spelling presented by the Comision di Ortografia (Orthography Commission) presided by Jossy Mansur.
Distribution and dialects
Papiamento has two main dialects, one in Aruba and one in Curaçao and Bonaire (Papiamentu), with lexical and intonational differences. There are also minor differences between Curaçao and Bonaire.
Spoken Aruban Papiamento sounds much more like Spanish. The most apparent difference between the two dialects is given away in the name difference. Whereas Bonaire and Curaçao opted for a phonology-based spelling, Aruba uses an etymology-based spelling. Many words in Aruba end with "o" while that same word ends with "u" in Bonaire and Curaçao. And even in Curaçao, the use of the u-ending is still more pronounced among the Sephardic Jewish population. Similarly, there is also a difference between the usage of "k" in Bonaire and Curaçao and "c" in Aruba.
Vowels and diphthongs
Diphthongs, two vowels in a single syllable, forming one sound, are:
Stress and accent
The stress is of great importance in Papiamento. Many words have a very different meaning when a different stress is used.
For example, the word kome ("to eat").
There are general rules for the stress and accent, but also a great many exceptions. When a word deviates from the rules, the stressed vowel should be indicated by an acute accent mark. The accent marks are often omitted in casual writing.
The main rules are:
Most of the vocabulary is derived from Portuguese and its derived Portuguese-based creoles and (Old) Spanish. Most of the time the real origin is difficult to tell due to the great similarity between the two Iberian languages and the adaptations made in Papiamento. A list of two hundred basic Papiamento words can be found in the standard Swadesh list, with etymological reference to the origin language. There is a remarkable similarity between words in Papiamento, Cape Verdean Creole and Guinea-Bissau Creole, which all belong to the same language family of the Upper Guinea Creoles. Most of these words can be connected with their Portuguese origin.
Linguistic studies have shown that roughly eighty percent of the words in Papiamento's present vocabulary are of Iberian origin, twenty percent are of Dutch origin, and some of Native American or African origin. A study by Van Buurt and Joubert inventoried the words of Taíno and Caquetío Arawak origin, mostly words for plants and animals. Arawak is an extinct language that was spoken by indians throughout the Caribbean. The Arawak words were (re)introduced in Papiamento by borrowing from the Spanish dialect of Venezuela
Many words are of Iberian origin and it is impossible to label them as Portuguese or Spanish, like:
While the presence of word-final /u/ can easily be traced to Portuguese, the diphthongization of some vowels is characteristic of Spanish. The use of /b/ (rather than /v/) descends from its pronunciation in the dialects of northern Portugal, and Spanish. Also, a sound-shift can have occurred in the direction of Spanish, whose influence on Papiamento came later than that of Portuguese. For instance: subrino (nephew): sobrinho in Portuguese, sobrino in Spanish. The pronunciation of o as /u/ is traceable to Portuguese, while the use of n instead of nh (IPA /ɲ/) in the ending -no relates to Spanish.
The Portuguese words mostly don't descend directly from the Portuguese, but come via the Portuguese-based Creole; in the examples below, the Cape Verdean Creole equivalents are: borboléta, katchor, prétu and fórsa.
Portuguese origin words:
Spanish origin words:
Dutch origin words:
And some words come from:
English origin words:
African origin words:
Native American origin words:
Comparison of vocabularies
This section provides a comparison of the vocabularies of Papiamento, Portuguese, and the Portuguese creoles of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. Spanish is shown for the contrast.