The linguistic situation of the Caribbean Silvia Kouwenberg


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the linguistic situation of the Caribbean

  • Silvia Kouwenberg

  • overview & background

  • L32A 2006/07 Week 2


Language in the Caribbean: overview and background

  • Topics:

  • (lack of) geographical unity

  • pre-Columbian population & languages of the Guianas, the Antilles

  • the special case of Island Carib

  • the effect of European conquest on the native languages of the Guianas, the Antilles

  • the Spanish presence in the Caribbean: historical considerations & linguistic effects



the pre-columbian linguistic situation of the Antilles

  • Álvarez Nazario (1996): Arawaks were established in Puerto Rico at least since the second century a.D., from whence they moved on to Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas

  • Migration from the South American continent to Trinidad and the Lesser Antilles probably predates the peopling of the Greater Antilles by several thousand years



the pre-columbian linguistic situation of the Antilles

  • Several waves of migration, the most recent one being of Carib (Kariña) speakers, probably only a few hundred years before Columbus

  • the pre-Columbian linguistic situation was one of contact & conflict

  • Álvarez Nazario, Manuel 1996 Arqueología lingüística. Estudios modernos dirigidos al rescate y reconstrucción del arahuaco taíno. San Juan, PR: Universidad de Puerto Rico



the effect of European conquest on the linguistic situation of the Antilles

  • dead languages attested by wordlists include:

  • Nepuyo (10 words and short sentences in a 1629 publication; most likely Cariban; Trinidad & parts of the neighbouring mainland)

  • Shebayo (15 words in a 1640 source; possibly Arawakan, but some words seem more clearly Cariban; Trinidad)



the effect of European conquest on the linguistic situation of the Antilles

  • dead languages attested by wordlists include:

  • Yao (52 words in a 1640 source; clearly Cariban; Trinidad, Guiana coastal region from the Orinoco eastward to the Mayacare)

  • Taino (several hundred words and a few sentences in Spanish and Italian sources of the 15th and 16th centuries, many of which designate unidentified flora and fauna or are proper names; for around 60 forms, Arawakan cognates can be established; Greater Antilles, Bahamas)



Island Carib

  • Island-Carib is an Arawak language which has incorporated Carib elements

  • Arawak sentence:

  • chile-à-tina t-óne

  • Island-Carib male register:

  • nemboui-à-tina t-ibónam

  • (come-perf-1sg 3sgf-towards)

  • ‘I have come to her’



Island Carib

  • Father Raymond Breton (in the West Indies during 1635-1654) claims that, in Dominica, then inhabited only by Indians, he was told “que les insulaires étaient des Galibis de terre ferme qui s’étaient détachés du continent pour conquêrer les Iles, que le Capitaine qui les avait conduits était petit de corps, mais grand en courage, qu’il mangeait peu et buvait encore moins, qu’il avait exterminé tous les naturels du pays à la réserve des femmes, qui ont toujours gardé quelque chose de leur langue”

  • Taylor points out that it is, in fact, the men who retained a little of their language, whereas the language of the women (Iñeri) was fully maintained.



Male and female forms in Breton’s 1666 dictionary of Island Carib

  • Female

  • ínharou ‘woman’

  • eyéri ‘man’

  • cáti ‘moon’

  • óya ‘rain’

  • cáchi ‘sun’

  • mónha ‘earth, soil’

  • lapourcou ‘the other’

  • obogne ‘dwelling place, town’

  • naníchi ‘strength, courage’

  • noúcouya 1s

  • boúcouya 2s



the effect of European conquest on the linguistic situation of the Caribbean

  • the demise of the indigenous languages

  • the introduction of European languages

  • the introduction of African languages

  • the introduction of Asian languages

  • the development of Caribbean varieties of some of these

  • the development of Creole languages



Spanish presence in the Caribbean

  • Earliest colonizing presence

  • Spanish dominance lasted about a century before it faced serious challenges from other European colonizing nations in the 17th century

  • The Spanish inhabited the Greater Antilles and Trinidad, but the entire archipelago was of strategic importance to them



The decimation of the native population under Spanish colonization

  • Hispaniola: by 1509 the population had been decimated to the point where the Spanish started to raid indian slaves from the “islas inútilas”; despite this, by 1522, indians were all but extinct

  • Puerto Rico: a 1508 expedition found gold deposits; within about ten years, the gold was worked out, and the island’s Arawak population of 600,000 in 1508 was virtually extinct

  • Bahamas: 1509-1519 over two million indians were brought to Hispaniola from various “islas inútilas”, starting with the Bahamas; by 1514, the Bahamas were empty of people



The decimation of the native population under Spanish colonization

  • Jamaica: 1509, all but abandoned again in 1519, by which time indians, who had been forced to work in excess in the production of manioc, maize and cotton, had become virtually extinct

  • Cuba: 1511 - important gold deposits found; by 1519, the mines were exhausted, and most Indians dead

  • by 1520, all native peoples had been removed from the northern Leeward islands except for St Kitts and Nevis; St Lucia, Tobago, Barbados had been depopulated, and Aruba and Bonaire nearly so

  • Watts, David 2000 Early Hispanic new world agriculture, 1492-1509. Shepherd, V et al. (eds) Caribbean slavery in the Atlantic world. Kingston: Ian Randle, 136-52



Spanish presence in the Caribbean

  • Exceptionally cruel treatment of Amerindians resulted in their decimation, and the disappearance of their languages in Spanish-held territories

  • No creole vernaculars have been documented (past or present) in Spanish-colonized territories





Bozal Spanish

  • large-scale sugar plantations were developed in Cuba towards the end of the 18th century => growth of black population

  • Bozal Spanish, is reported to have been used among new arrivals



Bozal Spanish

  • "This speech is uniform among the Negroes, no matter from which nation they come, and is retained throughout life, unless they came very young. It is a distorted and mutilated Castillian, without concord, number, declension or conjugation, without strong r, final s or d, frequently exchanging ll for ñ, e for i, g for v, etc.; in sum, a jargon the more confused the more recent the arrival. (...) the Negros born in Cuba talk like the local whites." (Pichardo 1862, quoted in Holm 1988)



Bozal Spanish

  • example of the speech of aged Cubans of African descent recorded early 20th century (quoted in Holm 1988: 309)

  • Manque yo múri, ese otá, en ese otá, yo mimo tá hí.

  • although I die, that rock, in that rock, I myself will be there.

  • To día uté hablá con mí. Yo ta compañá to yijo.

  • every day you will talk with me. I will accompany

  • to yijo. Mañana yo ikú. Ikú ese cane na má,

  • your children. tomorrow I die. die this flesh no more,

  • pellejo mio sí, se pedé. Pero yo tá hí.

  • skin my yes, be-lost. but I will be there.



the modern Spanish legacy in the Caribbean

  • Caribbean / Latin American Spanish exists in standard and non-standard varieties

  • Palenquero: first mention of “their own language” in 1772

  • Papiamentu: emerged & continues to be spoken in Dutch- colonized Curaçao (from where it spread to Aruba, Bonaire)



the modern Spanish legacy in the Caribbean

  • Trinidad Spanish (nonstandard, but not creolized, and also different from Bozal Spanish) spoken by less than 1% of the native-born population, scattered throughout the national territory: (i) descendants of Caribs educated in schools during the over 200 years of Spanish occupation ending in 1797; (ii) descendants of immigrant rural labour from eastern Venezuela during first half of 19th century.



the modern Spanish legacy in the Caribbean

  • African languages in Cuba: secret societies emerged in the first half of the 19th century;

  • ritual languages of Efik, Bantu, and Yoruba source used among secret societies (the Abakua, Paleros, and Santeros).

  • Abakuá ritual text: Aramayín aprosantén Abasí ñaíro embenirú amusá. Endiaga fere ekueñón. Etc.




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