Creole languages develop initially as a mode of communication between speakers of different languages, initially in the form of a pidgin language. In the cases of some of the languages mentioned in this article, like Jamaican Creole or Nigerian Pidgin, the need for this form of language arose from the colonisation of the Caribbean and Africa by the British Empire and France. Unlike pidgin languages, creole languages are typically spoken as a first language and become official languages, with specific grammatical rules and structures, as well as changes in syntax and pronunciation.
Despite what its name might suggest, Nigerian Pidgin, also known as Naijá, is a creole language. In fact, it is one of the most widely spoken creole languages in the world, with 30 million Pidgin speakers worldwide. Although Nigerian Pidgin doesn’t have an official status, it is used by the BBC online and for news broadcasts as part of BBC News Pidgin. There are several different Nigerian Pidgin dialects, such as Lagos Pidgin, Delta Pidgin, Cross River Pidgin, and Benin Pidgin. The language also shares some similarities with the Krio creole language spoken in Sierra Leone and Cameroon Pidgin. Nigerian Pidgin also shares some similarities with other creole languages, such as the use of the word “dey” (“is” and “are”) in both Haitian Creole and Nigerian Pidgin. It also features compounding, the process of combining words form other languages to make new words. For instance, the Nigerian Pidign word “boku-bai” combines French and English words to create a new word meaning “wholesale”.
Here are some useful phrases in Nigerian Pidgin:
- How you dey? – How are you?
- I wan chop – I want to eat
- I dey fine – I’m fine
- Notin spoil – All is well
- Abeg – Please
- I Sabi – I understand
Originally spoken by West African slaves and French settlers in Haiti, Haitian Creole has developed into a language with a variety of different linguistic influences, such as French, Kwa languages, Bantu languages, Wolof, and Éwé. Haitian Creole is the official language of Haiti and is also a recognised minority language in the Bahamas. Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. One example of the influence of French on Haitian Creole is the process of agglutination (combining of words) and the impact it has had on words borrowed from French. For instance, the word “river” in Haitian Creole is “larivyè”, from the French “la rivière”. Other examples include the word “tèt (head)”, similar to the French “tête” (head), as well as the word “vyann” (meat), which bears a similarity to the French word “viande” (meat). Haitian Creole is written using a Latin script and with a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order. There are two primary Haitian Creole dialects, known as Fablas, and Plateau Haitian Creole.
Here are some useful phrases in Haitian Creole:
- Byen venu – Welcome
- Bonjou – Hello
- Sak pase? – How are you?
- Koman ou rele? – What’s your name?
- M rele… – My name is…
- Ki kote ou sòti? – Where are you from?
Also known as Jamaican Creole, Jamaican Patois is an English-based creole language that originates from the 17th and 18th century. There are 2.6 million Jamaican Patois speakers in Jamaica, and an estimated 3 million speakers globally. In addition to this, there are significant populations of Patois speakers in Costa Rica, where there are 55,100 speakers, and 268,000 speakers in Panama. Like Haitian Creole, the Jamaican Patois language has been influenced by African languages, such as Akan, Igbo, and Wolof, as well as English. Jamaican Patois shares some similar pronunciations with English, such as the word “sumadi” (somebody), “moni” (money), and “ier” (hear). The language also features the use of compounding, for instance, “yeye-wata” (literally meaning eye water, or tears). Some Jamaican Patois words that have been borrowed from Akan include “duppy” (meaning a malevolent ghost or spirit) and “anansi” (spider). Like English, Jamaican Patois uses a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order and a Latin script.
Here are some useful phrases in Jamaican Patois:
- Waa gwaan – What’s going on?
- Wah yuh name? – What’s your name?
- Mi deh… – I’m from…
- Nice fi meet yuh – Nice to meet you
- Gud mawnin – Good morning
- Gud luck – Good luck
Kituba is a creole language of Central Africa with French, Lingala, Zaire Swahilli and Portuguese influences. Most Kituba speakers live in the Democratic Republic of Congo and there are approximately 5.5million native speakers world-wide. It developed from the trade language, Kimanyanga, which was used within the trade routes that extended from the Atlantic Ocean to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The workers who constructed railroads in the 19th century were hired from all over central Africa, adding their own languages to the mix and creating a new vernacular, Kituba. It is now one of the four major indigenous languages in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it is spoken in urban centres.
Here are some useful phrases in Kituba:
- Mbote – Hello.
- Zina na nge nani? – What is your name?
- Zina na mono… – My name is…
- Mono ke longuka Kituba. – I am learning Kituba.
- Ebwe nge? – How are you?
- Mono kea be ve – I don’t understand.
Betawi, also known as Betawi Malay is spoken by over 5 million people, mainly in Indonesia. It is an informal language developed from 19th century Malay-based Creole. During the era of the Dutch East Indies, Jakarta was called Batavia, which is where Betawi gets its name. It is a combination of Malay, Hokkien, Arabic, Portuguese, and Dutch. Betawi is divided into two main dialects, the more popular Kota and Udik which is concentrated in the suburbs. Betawi is the basis for most slang in Jakarta.
Here are some useful phrases in Betawi:
- Apa Kabare? – What’s up?
- Mo Kemane? – Where to go?
- Begimane Kabarnye? – How’s it going?
Antillean Creole is based on French but incorporates Carib and African languages and is spoken mainly in the Lesser Antilles. As English becomes more widespread, the number of people speaking Antillean Creole deteriorates, however, there are certain efforts to maintain its use. Each year at the end of October, St. Lucians celebrate their pride in their Creole language and identity through the festival of ‘Jounen Kweyol’. Furthermore, there has been a literary revival using Antillean Creole in the past few decades due to writers such as Monchoachi. Antillean Creole originated during the era of slavery. Slaves from different parts of Africa were forced to communicate despite not knowing one another’s languages or that of their French slave owners. The combination of these languages become Antillean Creole and spread across the Caribbean.
Here are some useful phrases in Antillean Creole:
- Bonjou – Hello.
- Souplé –
- Mèsi – Thank you.
- Eskizé mwen – Excuse me.
- Jodi-a sé an bel jounin. – Today is a beautiful day.
- Ka ou fè? – How are you?
Creole languages encapsulate a contentious area of history from the perspective of the colonised and those forced into labour. These individuals have adapted to rapidly changing cultural environments to sustain a semblance of their identity while communicating with a vast number of new people. In modern times these languages are often a point of pride, celebrated as a symbol of unity and survival. To learn one of these languages is to overtly analyse an array of interactions between cultures in every word. Should you require a Creole / Krio interpreter or translator, visit Crystal Clear Translation for a quote.