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French Around the Globe: Learning about Creole Languages

In this instalment of our French Around the Globe series we’re going to take a look at creole languages. You may be familiar with creole as a language and culture found in American states like Louisiana, but creole is actually found in a variety of forms around the world. But what is creole? Is it specific to French? Where is it found? Let’s take a look. What are Creole Languages?

Creole isn’t actually specific to French, though we often think of it that way. In fact, creoles are a new language produced when an indigenous language mingles with what is often a settler or colonial language.


The translator’s blog, Tomedes, describes a creole language as: “The creole language definition is broadly accepted as: a stable natural language that has been created through the mixing of two other languages.” In other words, as Must Go Travel explains, it’s the mixing of two different languages that are unintelligible to the respective native speakers in order to make each speaker understand the other.


This initial mixing creates a ‘pidgin’ language. However, when inhabitants of a region start to use this as their first language, or native language, the result is no longer a pidgin, but takes on the status of a creole language. The Oxford English Dictionary points out that creole also refers to the culture and peoples that result in the mixing of two parent languages and cultures. The origin of the word comes from either the French - créole - or the Spanish - criollo - or the Portuguese - crioulo.


This is in contrast to something like Guernésiais, which is a patois, or dialect, of French, rather than a blending of two languages to produce a brand new one. As you may have gathered, there are many French-influenced creoles. Tomedes notes that “Creoles take the mixing of languages to the next level, with their own grammatical structures and native speakers.” There are over 100 creole languages found across the globe.

Where are Creole Languages Found?

Creole languages can be found anywhere on the globe, but are predominantly found in those regions which have faced European colonisation. As a result, many are based on a combination of the indigenous language and either English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese. Other languages can also be used as a basis for creole, including Arabic and Hindi, but these are not as widespread.


As we’ve mentioned, French creole language and culture can be found in Louisiana alongside cajun culture. Must Go estimates that around 60,000-80,000 people speak Louisiana Creole today.


Other French creoles include:

  • Amapá Creole; approx. 25,000 speakers; Brazil

  • Guadeloupean Creole; approx. 848,000 speakers; Guadeloupe and Martinique

  • Guianese Creole; approx. 50,000 speakers; French Guiana

  • Haitian Creole; approx. 7,389,066 speakers; Haiti and the US

  • Morisyen Creole; approx. 604,000 speakers; Mauritius

  • Réunion Creole; approx. 600,000 speakers; Réunion

  • Seychellois Creole; approx. 72,700 speakers; Seychelles


The Status of Creole Languages

Because of their status as a child of two parent languages, creole languages were in the past often seen as underdeveloped, and therefore given a lower status in society. They were rarely used in government or education, with colonisers using the language of their home country as the official language of all public affairs.


However, if the key function of language is its use in communication between people, creoles - and pidgins for that matter - are highly valuable. Perhaps because of this, creole languages are increasingly viewed as essential to their respective cultures. These languages are starting to find their place in education systems, including universities, and are taking their rightful throne as official languages. For instance, Haitian Creole is one of Haiti’s official languages, alongside French itself.


Gaining the status of official language allows for a larger development of the language itself. It offers a chance for the language to have a longer shelf life, as it were. As it is no longer only used in the domestic or private spheres, the type of vocabulary included in the language tends to expand.


This growing respect for creole languages, and their increased use as a result, has produced a rich and diverse linguistic and cultural map across the globe. Creole cultures are ethnically diverse, resulting in a fantastic range of foods, music, art, vocabulary and literature. If you travel to a country that speaks a creole language with French as one of the parents, you will be able to get by to an extent. But while you’re there, why not try to pick up some of the native creole?


Keep an eye out next month as we will be exploring French culture across the globe in slightly more festive fashion. Until then, bonne journée!