Thursday, October 18, 2007

Palenquero in the NYT

Here the NYT does another piece on the language of a "small community, which is now struggling to keep it from perishing". This time, it's Palenquero, a creole spoken by a small community in Colombia. The article, by Simon Romero, puts the size of the ethnic community at 3,000, with fewer than half 'active speakers'. (SIL has much lower numbers: 500 of 2,500.) I'm starting to wonder how many articles there can be about language endangerment using this same formula. But what caught my eye was something different: "Theories about its origins vary".

Really? The piece makes a big deal about possible 'closest relatives', etc., but the basic origin seems pretty clear — it's a creole developed and used in an old maroon community, lexified by Spanish. In the scholarly literature, especially work by the creolist/Romanist Armin Schwegler (see here, for instance), there has been a move toward seeing more African, specifically Kikongo, input than in many creoles. In the piece linked just above (abstract only, article's behind a pay wall), Schwegler argues for an African origin of most of the pronouns in the language, and more generally that "speakers of Kikongo must have played a dominant role in the formation of Palenquero".

Map from here, but I won't vouch for the text … is it really "el criollo más antiguo del Caribe"?

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