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CARIBBEAN ENGLISH CREOLE, also Caribbean Creole English, Caribbean Creole, Creole English, West Indian Creole, Creole. The technical term for an English-based CREOLE or group of creoles in the Commonwealth Caribbean, the Samaná peninsula of the Dominican Republic, the coastal areas of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, the Bay Islands of Honduras, the Colombian dependencies of San Andres and Providencia, parts of Panama, and Surinam. Two major forms can be identified in Surinam (Ndjuka, Sranan); only in that country do varieties have specific names used by both speakers and researchers. In all other cases, speakers generally call their varieties dialects, such as Jamaican dialect, while scholars label each variety by its territorial name followed by English, English-based, or English-lexicon, such as Antiguan English Creole, Barbadian English-based Creole, Trinidadian English-lexicon Creole. These varieties are also commonly referred to by location alone (JAMAICAN CREOLE) or, when the location is apparent, as Creole (both with and without an initial capital). The range of usage is referred to as both Creole, when looked at collectively, and Creoles, when regarded as a group of vernaculars. Since not all varieties have been researched to the same extent, the assumption that there are as many distinct forms as there are territories is convenient rather than definitive. The settlement patterns of the region and later migratory movement suggest that there are fewer distinct forms than locations. However, the absence of a regionally recognized standard reduces the perception of the unity of Creole, which is often currently discussed by scholars and others as a language in its own right, distinct from English. The unevenness of the research permits the continued use of a fragmentary and inconsistent labelling system.

History and development

Like most other such creoles, Caribbean English Creole is the outcome of contact among Europeans and West Africans in the course of European expansionism, the slave trade, and the colonization of the New World. The regional dialects of the English-speaking colonists were the dominant source of vocabulary for Creole before the 20c. More recently, standard varieties of English, propagated by contemporary mass media and the increased availability of schooling, have fed the expansion of the vocabulary. Large numbers of lexical items and phrases of West African provenance form part of the daily vocabulary. The grammatical structure of the group shows patterns that are characteristic of West African language families, patterns that are particular to creole languages as a whole, and features that appear to be restricted to the Caribbean Creole group.

Effects of contact

In most countries (excluding Surinam and the Latin American nations), the contact with English that produced Creole has persisted beyond its emergence, with a chain of associated results: (1) It has inhibited the evolution of widely recognized standard varieties within the group. (2) In its turn, the absence of one or more standards has made the language more permeable to influence from English than it might otherwise have been. (3) This permeability, combined with the prestige of English as a world language and its transmission through the official institutions of the societies concerned, has resulted in the evolution of varieties intermediate between the local variety of English and the prototypical variety of Creole. (4) The social stratification of these varieties is such that language use involves some fluidity of movement among the intermediate varieties. (5) The effect is to exaggerate the variation that one might normally expect in a coherent language variety and further inhibit the evolution and identification of a standard. The layering of varieties between local standard English and a creole is commonly described as a post-creole (dialect) continuum. Three main strata are recognized: the basilect, which refers to the prototypical creole variety, the acrolect, which refers to the variety most like the official standard version of English, and the mesolect, which refers to the set of intermediate varieties.


Despite differences among varieties, Caribbean English Creoles share several defining characteristics: (1) Expressing tense, mood, and aspect mainly by pre-predicative particles: (Jamaican) Im waak He or she walked, He or she has walked, Im a waak He or she is walking, Im bin waak He or she walked, He or she had walked. (2) Marking noun plurals by postposed particles, not -s: (Jamaican, Guyanese) di daagdem the dogs, (Trinidad) di dog-an-dem the dogs. (3) Using front-focusing structures to disambiguate or emphasize: (Trinidad) Iz mi mʌdʌ tel mi du it My mother (and not someone else) told me to do it; (Jamaican) A tief im tief di gʊot He stole the goat (he didn't buy it). (4) Reduplication in word-formation and for emphasis: (Jamaican) poto-poto slimy, muddy, fenky-fenky slight, puny, cowardly, fussy, batta-batta to beat repeatedly; (Guyanese) tukka-tukka a kind of plantain. (5) Differentiation of singular and plural second person, like archaic thou and you: (Barbados) yu versus wVnV; (Trinidad) yu versus all-yu. (6) Possession shown by placing unmarked nouns side by side: (Trinidad) mi fada kuzn hows my father's cousin's house.

Social status and use

Creole is the preferred variety for informal and private communication, but yields to English in formal public settings. English, because of its strong association with educational systems and the official institutions of government and society, generally has higher prestige than Creole, but the latter enjoys increasing status as a sense of nationalism increases in various recently independent countries. The use of Creole for literature is increasingly common; it is the normal medium for popular drama and the lyrics of songs composed in local styles. The use of Creole in radio and television is most developed in Jamaica.


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