Friday, April 14, 2006


I just posted an account (with many pictures) of a trip I took Aruba last year. You can see it at Or, if you prefer, you can just read an excerpt from it, here:

The native language here (and in neighboring Curacao) is Papiamento. Because these things interest me, I've been reading up (and larnin' a few words). It turns out that Papiamento is a hybrid language that fuses Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese (with some African roots). It came about when slaves, who spoke Spanish or Portuguese, were brought to the islands to work for Dutch-speaking masters. The owners and slaves had to communicate, and each made a remarkable effort to learn some of the others' lingos. Over time, a new language was born, combining elements of all the original languages: Papiamento. Today Papiamento is recognized as a distinct language in its own right.

Yesterday I was suddenly stuck with a thought that I hadn't read in the articles:

Do you know of any other language that came about as the result of a need for slave owners to communicate with their slaves? Take a moment if you need. A gold star for your forehead if you got it.

For those who didn't, this is the story:

In 1066 A.D., the Normans, who spoke an early version of French, invaded the island of Britain and conquered the inhabitants, who spoke Saxon, an early version of German. William, the leader of the Normans, made every soldier in his army a landowner, and the inhabitants of each landowner's land became his serfs -- slaves. But there was a problem: The slave masters spoke French. The slaves spoke Saxon. Over time, because masters and slaves need to communicate, each made a remarkable effort to learn some of the others' lingos, and a new, hybrid language was born, joining elements of both the vocabularies and grammars of the parent tongues.

Today, we call that hybrid language English.

So Papiamento and English have something in common.

I find that pleasing.

The only Papiamento words that I know, by the way, are bon bini (welcome) and danki (thank you).

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