When Languages Combine

by Caitlin Smith

All over the world, new languages have been created as a result of the intermingling of cultures from around the world. A small town in Columbia is no exception to this phenomenon, where hints of a Spanish-Creole dialect waver through the language that is spoken among the town, with roots in the Congo basin of Africa. San Basilio de Palenque was founded by runaway slaves centuries ago and has thus spawned its own version of a Spanish/African dialect. Many of the town customs are still preserved from the town's African roots and have influenced the culture of the area decisively.

The language Palenquero is the last remaining Spanish-based Creole language, with a grammar that is entirely different from Spanish spoken in Latin America. The Kikongo language of Congo and Angola are where the main Creole roots derive from, as well as Portuguese from the slave traders who originally brought slaves to the area in the 17th century. With more and more languages dying out every day, it is important to this town of about 3000 citizens to preserve the cultural roots which the language represents. The entirety of the town traces their roots back to the African slave days and thereby connect with the language. Still, half the population can speak the language and many children and young adults understand the majority of it. However, the village is the only one which actively speaks the language, and only a handful of people within the radius of the village can understand this language only because of the occasional worker who migrates away.

The fact that the village has preserved this language is a testament in itself because of the frequency with which languages disappear, as well as the obstacles which the city itself has faced over the years. San Basilio de Palenque has truly proven itself worthy of its name, as Palenque means fortified village of runaway slaves. While many other communities similar to this one were destroyed centuries ago, this one has chiseled out a home for itself and planted roots within the area. While the type of "lingua fraca" practiced in this village was once widely used by many in the Latin American area, it is the last remnant of this Spanish based language. Many Kikongo derived words are still used within the language and it is obvious that the slave trade influenced the language which Palenquero is today. While there is still much doubt that the language will survive another generation due to the need for migration to other villages, many older citizens believe that their village has grown resilient to any outside threat. By withstanding centuries of persecution and decades of ridicule because of their dialect, the members of this small town have demonstrated that they live up to the name of their town and will persevere through any additional obstacles.

About the author

Caitlin Smith writes for the site, online associates degree. She welcomes your feedback at CaitlinSmith1117 at gmail.com


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