Creole languages are the youngest in the family of languages, and they have a creativity and vigour all of their own.

Creole languages are born when different groups of people with distinct languages come together and need to talk to each other. Most often, that happened because of large-scale movements of populations caused by colonial expansion and slavery. Creole languages typically combine a European language with one or more African ones, and elements of others like Amerindian languages may also be present. To start with, a simple form of the dominant language, ‘Pidgin’, is used. Pidgin is a simplified code and doesn’t have all the characteristics of a full language.

After one or more generations, Pidgin develops into Creole, a real language with an extensive vocabulary and grammatical rules. Creole is the mother tongue of the children born in the country in question, whether descended from colonists, colonised people, slaves or a mixture of all three.

Creole words are a fascinating study

When we say the English word ‘child’, the origins of the word are lost in past centuries, not obvious to the speaker or the hearer. When we say ‘timoun’ the Haitian Creole word for child, we can with a little nudge hear exactly where it comes from. The French word for little, ‘petit’ pronounced ‘p’tee’, with its accent on the last syllable, has become just ‘ti’ and the French pronoun ‘on’ meaning one or anyone, a person, has become ‘moun’. So we have ‘little person’, and the fascination of a recently minted word which keeps the marks of its creation.

That is one of the charms of Creole languages.

Is Creole spoken in the United States?

Louisianan Creole is the youngest North American language. It is a very rich Creole.

As in many Creole languages, most of the vocabulary comes from the dominant French and English languages, but it has vestiges of West and central African languages and terms from the voodoo religion, and Amerindian.

The particular brand of French is closer to other French-based Creoles than to the French spoken in Paris, at least since the18th century. Many of the words for geographical features, animals and plants come from Amerindian, for example the place name “Plaquemines” comes from a French Creole and Atapaka word, piakimin, meaning persimmon.

Are Creole languages dying out?

Some Creole languages are very much alive, but the danger, curiously enough, often comes from improved literacy. If schools teach children to write in another language, then the Creole language is at risk of dying out.

In Haiti, Creole is the official language; children are taught to write in Creole; and the language is not under threat. Creole is also one of the official languages of the Seychelles. However in other Creole speaking nations that is not the case.

Increased awareness and pride in the Creole languages and heritage need to be nurtured so that as many Creole languages as possible can live and prosper. There is increased awareness that preservation of a culture is inextricably bound up with the life-blood which is its language, and there is increased interest in the Creole languages. There is every reason to hope that they will do well.

What is so good about Creole languages?

They are alive, young and vital. They are a living record of recent history. They are creative and expressive. If Latin is a dead language and English is middle aged, the Creole family are in their youth with a great future ahead if we appreciate them and take care of them.