The Development of the Creolese Language

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The first African slaves, drawn from different tribes, developed a rudimentary "pidgin" to communicate with each other. On arrival in Guyana they added some words and expressions drawn from the language of their Dutch masters, and as time passed, this "Dutch-Creole" went through changes and modifications.

As a new generation of slaves was born in the country, Dutch-Creole became the first language of these children who continued to add new words and expressions to it. As a result, the development of "Creolese" intensified. When eventually the English took control of Guyana, the slaves added more and more English words and expressions to their vocabulary, and with succeeding generations, the "Dutch-Creole" eventually disappeared. However, some Dutch words remained in the now English-based "Creolese", as did some from the French language, acquired when the French briefly occupied Guyana in the late nineteenth century.

An attempt was made by Robert Schomburk in the 1840s to explain the evolution of the dialect during that period. He wrote: "In European families, English is of course the general language of conversation; not so among the coloured people and Negroes, who talk a mixture, one might almost say, a real "pidgin" derived from almost all the idioms of Europe and Africa, the indigenous "Creole-Dutch"; the Dutch language which was brought by the first owners of the Colony constitutes its basis. In the constant change of ownership, the next-following temporary possessors on each occasion left behind certain traces of their language with the result that, in the course of time, among the coloured people and Negroes, many a common expression is seen to be derived from the Dutch, French, English and African occupation, and has now also spread amongst the indigenous coastal tribes."

If this explanation can be considered as fairly accurate, then it can be also understood that words and expressions from the Indian, Chinese and Portuguese immigrants were also added to the developing Creole language. The Indians contributed words and expressions of kinship and agricultural terms, while the Chinese and Portuguese added names for foods. As more and more contacts were made with the Amerindians, words from their languages became absorbed into this "Creolese" language.

The Creolese language, which closely resembles English, remains as a unique cultural Guyanese product which continues to undergo change as new words and expressions from different cultures are added to it.