A Creole language thriving

It’s become fairly common to hear about languages dying, but this is an exception.

Papiamentu, a Creole language spoken on a handful of islands off the coast of Venezuela, is showing signs of official acceptance. Spoken by around 250,000 people on the islands of Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba, the language is used by the media (print, television and radio) and Parliament as well as the people on the street.

Recognised as an official language in 2007, along with Dutch and English, Papiamentu is a rarity in a world where other languages, notably English, are dominant. With an interesting history and structure, the reasons for the languages continued existence seem to be quite complex.

Scholars, writers and composers here say Papiamentu’s resilience has roots in a mixture of radical politics and pragmatic planning. They often tie Papiamentu’s resurgence to a violent uprising against symbols of Dutch power on May 30, 1969, known here as Trinta di Mei.

“Trinta di Mei allowed us to recognize the subversive treasure we had in our language, which existed for centuries so we could keep secrets from the Dutch,” said Frank Martinus, 73, a Curaçaoan writer and founder of Kolegio Erasmo, a grade school where Papiamentu is the main language.

Papiamentu still has a way to go in usurping Dutch from some spheres. Curaçao’s laws are still written in Dutch. Some schools start out teaching children in Papiamentu, but then transition to Dutch, bowing to the economic opportunities the Netherlands still provide for many islanders. (Source: New York Times)

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