Portuguese-based creole languages

Portuguese creoles are creole languages which have Portuguese as the lexifier language.


Portuguese overseas exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries led to the establishment of a Portuguese Empire with trading posts, forts and colonies in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Contact between the Portuguese language and native languages gave rise to many Portuguese-based pidgins, used as linguas francas throughout the Portuguese sphere of influence. In time, many of these pidgins were nativized becoming new stable creole languages.

As is the rule in most creoles, the lexicon of these languages can be traced to the parent languages, usually with predominance of Portuguese; while the grammar is mostly original and unique to each creole with little resemblance to the syntax of Portuguese or the substrate language.

These creoles are (or were) spoken mostly by communities of descendants of Portuguese, natives, and sometimes other peoples from the Portuguese colonial empire.

Until recently creoles were considered "degenerate" dialects of Portuguese unworthy of attention. As a consequence, there is little documentation on the details of their formation. Since the 20th century, increased study of creoles by linguists led to several theories being advanced. According to the monogenetic theory of pidgins assumes that some type of pidgin language, dubbed West African Pidgin Portuguese, based on Portuguese was spoken from the 15th to 18th centuries in the forts established by the Portuguese on the West African coast. This variety was the starting point of all the pidgin and creole languages. This would explain to some extent why Portuguese lexical items can be found in many creoles, but more importantly, it would account for the numerous grammatical similarities shared by such languages, such as the preposition na, meaning "in" and/or "on", which would come from the Portuguese contraction na meaning "in the" (feminine singular).

Origin of the name

See also: Creole peoples

The Portuguese word for "creole" is crioulo, which derives from the verb criar ("to raise", "to bring up") and a suffix -oulo of debated origin. Originally the word was used to distinguish the members of any ethnic group who were born and raised in the colonies from those who were born in their homeland. So in Africa it was often applied to locally born people of (wholly or partly) Portuguese descent, as opposed to those born in Portugal; whereas in Brazil it was also used to distinguish locally born black people of African descent from those who had been brought from Africa as slaves.

In time, however, this generic sense was lost, and the word crioulo or its derivatives (like "Creole" and its equivalents in other languages) became the name of several specific Upper Guinean communities and their languages: the Guinean people and their Kriol language, Cape Verdean people and their Kriolu language, all of which still today with very vigorous use suppressing the importance of official standard Portuguese.

Concise list


Upper Guinea

The oldest Portuguese-based creole are the so-called Crioulos of Upper Guinea, born around the Portuguese settlements along the northwest coast of Africa. Portuguese Creoles are the mother tongue of most people in Cape Verde. In Guinea-Bissau, the creole is used as lingua franca among people speaking different languages, is becoming the mother tongue of a growing population. They consist of two languages:

Gulf of Guinea

Another group of Creoles is spoken in the Gulf of Guinea, in São Tomé and Príncipe and Equatorial Guinea. Many other Portuguese creoles probably existed in the former Portuguese feitorias in the Gulf of Guinea, but also in the Congo region.

Portuguese pidgins

Portuguese pidgins still exist in Angola and Mozambique, uncreolized. A Portuguese pidgin, known as Pequeno Português, is still used as lingua franca between people speaking different languages.

South Asia


The numerous Portuguese outposts in India and Sri Lanka gave rise to many Portuguese-based creole languages, of which only a few have survived to the present. The largest group were the Norteiro languages, spoken by the Norteiro people, the Christian Indo-Portuguese in the North Konkan. Those communities were centered on Baçaim, modern Vasai, which was then called the “Northern Court of Portuguese India” (in opposition to the "Southern Court" at Goa). The creole languages spoken in Baçaim, Salsete, Thana, Chevai, Mahim, Tecelaria, Dadar, Parel, Cavel, Bandora (modern Bandra), Gorai, Morol, Andheri, Versova, Malvan, Manori, Mazagão, and Chaul are now extinct. The only surviving Norteiro creoles are:

These surviving Norteiro creoles have suffered drastic changes in the last decades. Standard Portuguese re-influenced the creole of Daman in the mid-20th century.

The Creoles of the Coast of Coromandel, such as of Meliapor, Madras, Tuticorin, Cuddalore, Karikal, Pondicheri, Tranquebar, Manapar, and Negapatam, were already extinct by the 19th century. Their speakers (mostly the people of mixed Portuguese-Indian ancestry, known locally as Topasses) switched to English after the British takeover.

Most of the creoles of the Coast of Malabar, namely those of Cananor, Tellicherry, Mahé, Cochin (modern Kerala), and Quilon) had become extinct by the 19th century. In Cananor and Tellicherry, some elderly people still spoke some creole in the 1980s. The only creole that is still spoken (by a few Christian families only) is

Christians, even in Calcutta, used Portuguese until 1811. A Portuguese Creole was still spoken in the early 20th century. Portuguese creoles were spoken in Bengal, such as at Balasore, Pipli, Chandernagore, Chittagong, Midnapore and Hugli.

Sri Lanka

Significant Portuguese-based creole flourished among the so-called Burgher and Kaffir communities of Sri Lanka:

In the past, Portuguese creoles were also spoken in Burma and Bangladesh.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia Portuguese creoles: Papiá Kristang of Malaysia (1) and Macaista Chapado of Macao, SAR (2).

The earliest Portuguese creole in the region probably arose in the 16th century in Malacca, Malaysia, as well as in the Moluccas. After the takeover of those places by the Dutch in the 17th century, many creole-speaking slaves were taken to other places in Indonesia and South Africa, leading to several creoles that survived until recent times:

The Malacca creole also had an influence on the creole of Macau (see below).

The Portuguese were present in the island of Flores, Indonesia since the 16th century, mainly in Larantuka and Sikka; but the local creole language, if any, has not survived.

Other Portuguese-based creoles were once spoken in Thailand (In KudeeJeen and Conception) and Bayingy in Burma.


The Portuguese language was present in its colony, Macau, since the mid-16th century. A Portuguese creole, Patua, developed there, first by interaction with the local Cantonese people, and later modified by influx of refugees from the Dutch takeover of Portuguese colonies in Indonesia.


The position regarding Papiamento (spoken in Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao in the Caribbean) is not consensual. Some authors consider it Portuguese-based Creole, other authors consider it a Spanish-based Creole, while others consider it as an Iberian-based. Other authors see Papiamento as an initially Portuguese-based but which underwent significative Spanish influence.

There is no consensus regarding the position Saramaccan, with some scholars classifying it as Portuguese Creole with an English relexification. Saramaccan may be an English Creole with Portuguese words, since structurally (morphology and syntax) it is related to Surinamese Creoles (Sranan, Ndyuka and Jamaican Maroon), despite the heavy percentage of Portuguese origin words. Other English creoles languages of Suriname, such as the Paramaccan or the Kwinti, have also Portuguese influences.

Although sometimes classified as a creole, the Cupópia language from the Quilombo do Cafundó, at Salto de Pirapora, São Paulo,[3] is better classified as a Portuguese variety since it is structurally similar to Portuguese, in spite of having a large number of Bantu words in its lexicon. For languages with this characteristics, H. H. do Couto has forged the designation of Anticreole[4] which would be the inverse of a Creole language, as they are seen by the non-European input theories (i.e.: Creoles = African languages grammar + European languages lexicon; Anticreoles = European languages grammar + African languages lexicon).

Portuguese-based creoles existed in Brazil. There is a Portuguese dialect in Helvécia, South of Bahia that presents signs of an earlier decreolization. Ancient Portuguese creoles originating from Africa are still preserved in the ritual songs of the Afro-Brazilian animist religions (Candomblé).

It has been conjectured that vernacular of Brazil (not the official and standard Brazilian Portuguese) resulted from decreolization of a creole based on Portuguese and native languages; but this is not a widely accepted view. Vernacular Brazilian Portuguese is continuous with European Portuguese, and in fact quite conservative in some aspects.[5] Academic specialists affirm the Brazilian linguistic phenomena are the "nativização", nativization/nativism of a most radically romanic form. The phenomena in Brazilian Portuguese are Classic Latin and Old Portuguese heritage. Not a creole form, but the radical romanic form.[5] Regardless of borrowings and changes, it must be kept in mind that Brazilian Portuguese is not a Portuguese creole, since both grammar and vocabulary remain real Portuguese. Some authors, like Parkvall,[6] classify it as a Semicreole in the concept defined by Holm:[7] a Semicreole is a language that has undergone “partial restructuring, producing varieties which were never fully pidginized and which preserve a substantial part of their lexifier’s structure (...) while showing a noticeable degree of restructuring”.

See also


  1. Forro was a declaration of freedom of a specific slave used in Portugal and its colonies. These were the most wished documents for the enslaved population. These freeded slaves developed and stabilized a creole.
  2. Sandra Luísa Rodrigues Madeira, "Towards an Annotated Bibliography of Restructured Portuguese in Africa", Faculdade de Letras, Universidade de Coimbra, 2008.
  3. Em Cafundó, esforço para salvar identidade. São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga, SP: O Estado de S. Paulo, 24 December 2006, p. A8.
  4. Hildo Honório do Couto, "Anticrioulo: manifestação lingüística de resistência cultural", 2002.
  5. 1 2 "Origens do português brasileiro".
  6. Mikael Parkvall, "The alleged creole past of Brazilian Vernacular Portuguese", in d' Andrade, Pereria & Mota, 1999, Crioulos de Base Portuguesa, p. 223.
  7. Holm, J., "American Black English and Afrikaans: two Germanic semicreoles", 1991.

External links

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