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Louisiana French, Haitian & Jamaican Creoles: People & Differences

Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

A creole is a type of language that is formed from a combination of pre-existing dialects. Modern creoles are languages capable of serving as everyday forms of communication. This lesson explores the differences among some of the most common creoles one may encounter in the Western Hemisphere.

Not Just for Dinner

In the United States, the term creole often refers to the cuisine and culture of the people of Louisiana and nearby areas. However delicious this food may be, creole is actually a linguistic term, used to refer to a hybrid tongue that is based upon pre-existing languages that has become a language in its own right. There are a variety of creoles spoken by people in several countries. This lesson will cover some information about Louisiana, Haitian, and Jamaican creole languages.

What is a Creole?

The first thing we should discuss is some information about where creoles fit in history. During the colonial era, the major European powers attempted to spread their influence by founding colonies on all the major continents. British, French, Spanish, and Dutch traders were in the business of finding and making use of natural resources, as well as spreading their influence as far as possible. Colonies were an easy way to claim and defend these resources, particularly in Africa and the Americas where the less technologically advanced natives were first traded with and then used as a cheap source of labor.

This cheap labor brings us to the roots of most forms of creole language. The dynamic between master and slave is what gave rise to the combination of terms and pronunciation in modern creole languages. The master rarely was concerned with anything the help had to say, thus conversations were one-way. The slave or servant population, therefore, found it necessary to learn the master's tongue enough to follow instructions. However, most of their day to day communication among each other was handled in their native languages. Slaves often had to learn one another's language as well, since not all of them came from the same tribal group.

Following the collapse of slavery and colonialism and the rise of industrialism, many former slaves faced barriers to leaving their area. Most of them had been born in the new world and not in their original native countries. The language they had used as workers and slaves had remained, with many of the newer generations only able to understand the hybrid language they had grown up with. In this way, the creole language became the next generation's primary language. Today, creole languages of are fully-functional forms of communication. They are capable of serving the needs of people for everyday communication, as well as expression in poetry, prose, and song.

Examples of Creole

Due to the use of African slave labor, most creoles in the Americas are formulated from a variety of African languages, often with smatterings of French, English, or Spanish. Here we'll take a very broad look at three different creole tongues and the people that speak them.

Louisiana

There are a variety of communication systems in the Louisiana area of the United States. These languages include Louisiana Creole French, Cajun French, Cajun English, and Colonial French. The differences among all these languages are complicated, and the tongues may sound similar to people unfamiliar with them. Louisiana Creole arose in much the way we discussed in the introduction to this section, with slaves having to learn the master's language, and proliferating it among their children and other slaves. The plantation system and lucrative shipping routes in Louisiana at that time ensured that there was a great desire for slave labor. As these slaves were forced to learn French, they combined it with their own languages such as Bambara from Western Africa. The combination of these cultures can best be seen in historical cities such as New Orleans.

Louisiana Creole lacks gendered nouns like French, but retains the use of many French articles and parts of speech. Despite these similarities, this form of creole is distinct from both standard French and the other French dialects in the region. The people of Louisiana have their own distinct regional cultures and traditions. Like their languages, these are often a combination of French, African, and English customs with some Spanish and Native American thrown in on occasion.

Haitian

Haiti is a modern nation with its own peculiar culture that shares its Caribbean island with the Dominican Republic. The island has changed hands among colonial powers multiple times between French and Spanish before independence. The development of Haitian Creole language follows a familiar pattern of imported slave labor for agricultural purposes. In this case, the African languages added to the mix consisted of Ewe and similar languages from what is known today as Ghana.

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