Origins of Cape Verdean Criolo

Is it possible to learn more about the origins of the Creole spoken in Cape Verde today by studying its history and, more specifically, it’s genealogy? Is it possible that the people who eventually settled on the islands, besides the Portuguese, also brought their languages? Cape Verdeans are not just descendants of Portuguese slave traders and African slaves. In fact, among the white population found throughout its history, we find Spaniards, Italians, French, English and Dutch people, among others and to consider the African impact as a singular influence is incorrect. Among them were Mandigo, Jalofa, and  Fulani, to name a few. Each of the above had their own cultures and languages that is inarguably evidenced in Cape Verde, today.

Creole languages are believed to be the result of the convergence of two languages resulting in a pidgin. One theory is that our Crioulo is a simplified Portuguese used to communicate with African speakers. A second theory is that it is an example of the innate language sense and universal grammar we are all born with as described by Bickerton (1981) and Chomsky (1965). Antonio Carreira (1983) describes the origin of our Crioulo as derived from a Portuguese pidgin spoken in mainland Portugal in the late 1400’s by black slaves brought over from Africa citing “lingua dos pretos” (language of the blacks) in early writings that contain some linguistic features found in Crioulo. Some have also written that early Crioulo is derived from Galician Portguese which is very different for modern Prtuguese. Dr. Marlyse Baptista, a Cape Verdean linguist, calls the above “proto-Kriolu” that eventually traveled to Santiago with the first settlers.

Linguists have then postulated that this “pidgin” was deliberately taught to these black slaves in order to use them as translators on the Guinea coast during the beginnings of the Atlantic Slave trade. For this to have been the beginnings of Cape Verdean Crioulo spoken today would have meant that every early Portuguese (and Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and English) settler spoke the same pidgin and taught this to every black slave brought to Cape Verde.

When you look at the early population of Cape Verde within the first 100 years, we know that among the white population existed a large number of Jews who were either “enticed” to leave Portugal with promise of a part in the settlement of Cape Verde or were exhiled during the Portuguese Inquisitions of the 1490’s onward. There were Conversos, as well as non-conversos, who may have found a place to practice their faith in relative anonymity and isolation. Many were relegated to “ghettos” and not fully accepted into the elite circles. These Jews, mostly men, freely intermingled with the black and mixed populations of the islands.

We also know that at the same time there was disdain among the Portuguese royals of the growing “Crioulo” culture and language resulting in more women (including female Jewish exhiles) sent to Cape Verde and they discouraged the use Crioulo being spoken. They were clearly not proponents of using and teaching Portuguese Pidgin to the population in its reign during the Atlantic Slave Trade. It’s very likely that the Crioulo language that emerged among the mixed people was hugely influenced by the Judeo-Portuguese speakers who were involved in every aspect of Cape Verdean culture.

Take, for example, Papiamento spoken in the “ABC” islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. Speakers of Crioulo easily understand Papiamento and, indeed, it has been documented that Papiamento has its origins based in the creole languages of Cape Verde and the guinea coast. It is also widely written of its Ladino, or more correctly, Judeo-Portuguese origins, as well. The people who settled these islands were the same people in Cape Verde and there are many passport records documenting Cape Verdeans traveling to these islands, among others, during this time period. If Papiamento is based in Judeo-Portuguese then it has to also be assumed that Cape Verdean Crioulo is, as well.

Judeo-Portuguese, just like its Spanish counterpart, Ladino, was spoken by Sephardic Jews in Portugal and Spain. Traces of Ladino is found in most Latino countries, including Mexico, where many Sephardic Jews and conversos were found. Ladino is still spoken but its speakers is dwindling in numbers.Judeo-Portuguese is thought to have died out in the 19th century. It was spoken by Morranos or conversos in Portugal and spread to other countries like Holland, Italy and Northern Germany where these Morranos “re-assumed Judaism” according to http://www.jewish-languages.org. In many places, Judeo-Portuguese speakers were absorbed into the larger Spanish – Ladino or “judezmo” speaking communities. There is nothing to suggest that Judeo-Portuguese was not spoken in Cape Verde.

We have evidence of Jewish ancestry in our traditions of Nodjadu, cemeteries and even towns called Synagogue. Couldn’t it then also be possible to study words used in Crioulu such as “fijo” (son/daughter) which is “filho” in Portuguese and “hijo” in Spanish to show evidence of Judeo influence? Words like “fijo” is used in Ladino where the /h/ is replaced by /f/. I think there is a very good case to be made for the study of Judeo-Portuguese roots in Cape Verdean Crioulo. If this proves to be true then it may open more conversation as to the impact on Cape Verdean culture by Jews from the beginning of Cape Verdean history and not just the influence of those found on the islands from Gibraltar and Morocco since the mid-1800’s.

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