Creole Language Definition, Examples, and Origins

, Staff Editor
Updated February 24, 2020
Creole Language Definition, Examples, and Origins
    Jamaican patois on flag
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You're not alone if you're wondering "What is Creole language?" In its broadest sense, a Creole language is one that develops when people who don't understand each other's languages spend enough time together that their languages combine so they can understand each other. That's the simplest Creole language definition. You'll find there are many types of Creole languages spoken in different areas in the world and each is a unique combination of various languages.

Understanding the Creole Language

There is some controversy surrounding the origin language of Creole, but Creole is generally considered to be a pidgin language. A pidgin language is a simplified language developed between two groups that do not have a common tongue. It is believed that pidgin languages use a variety of methods of communication such as sounds, body gestures, and words to relay messages.


Types of Creole Languages

It is important to note that there is not just one Creole language. There are actually a number of these languages, with different Creole words that have been used by different cultures all over the world.

  • Indian Ocean Creole languages are based on a combination of European and Asian languages.
  • Atlantic Creole languages are largely based on a combination of European and African languages.

Belize Creole Language

The Creole language spoken in Belize is known to natives as Bileez Kriol and uses a phonetic writing system. Unlike many other Creole languages, Bileez Kriol is an English-based language. Slaves in Belize fused their language with the English spoken by slave owners to create a new language. Most Belizeans speak Kriol in addition to English and Spanish.

The Kriol-Inglish Dikshineri, or Creole-English Dictionary, can help you better understand Bileez Kriol. For example:

  • When you see "aa" in Kriol, it is pronounced like the "a" in "father," only drawn out longer.
  • The letter "c" is never used alone in Kriol.
  • When you see "hn" after any vowel, it means you have to pronounce the vowel through your nose.

French Creole Language

French Creole is any type of Creole language based on the French language, like Haitian Creole and Mauritian Creole. Louisiana Creole is also sometimes referred to as French Creole.

Louisiana Creole is thought to have developed out of interactions between French colonists and African slaves on plantations along the Mississippi River around New Orleans. Estimates suggest only about 10,000 people speak Louisiana Creole today.

Guyanese Creole Language

In Guyana, they refer to their Creole language as Creolese. About 700,000 people speak Creolese, which is a mix of African languages with Dutch and English.

There are different versions, or dialects, of Creolese around Guyana, but most are broken down by a class system. People from the upper class typically use the Acrolect variety. People from the middle class use the Mesolect variety. People from the lower class use the Basilect variety.


Haitian Creole Language

Haitian Creole is based largely on French and African languages and is spoken by 8.5 million people in Haiti. It is one of Haiti's official languages. The Haitian Creole alphabet, or alfabè kreyòl, is made up of 32 letters or letter combinations that each make a unique sound. There are 12 vowels and 20 consonants.

For example:

  • "A" is called "ah" and is pronounced like the "a" in the English word "hat."
  • "Ou" is a vowel called "oun" and is pronounced like the "oo" in the English word "pool."
  • "Z" is called "zed" and is pronounced like a regular English "z."

Jamaican Creole Language

The Jamaican Creole language is often referred to by non-natives as simply "Jamaican" and by natives as "patois." This unique Creole language uses gestures, tones, and rhythm as important elements of its spoken form. English, French, and African languages form the basis for patois.

Patois is made up of about 22 letters or letter combinations. It features unique word composition rules. For example:

  • The "r" at the end of a word is often dropped.
  • A double "t" in an English word, or "tt," is changed to a "kk."
  • An "h" can be added to or removed from a word at will.

Examples of Creole Words and Phrases

A list of Creole examples with words and phrases from different forms of Creole can help you understand how these languages are similar and different.

  • Aïti (Haitian Creole): Mountainous land
  • Bondye (Haitian Creole): God
  • Bonjou (Haitian Creole): Hello
  • Di dak (Creolese): The dark
  • Éy laba (Louisiana Creole): Hey there!
  • Haas (Bileez Kriol): Horse
  • Idrin (Jamaican patois): Friends
  • Komen to yê? (Louisiana Creole): How are you?
  • Mi tel am (Creolese): I told him.
  • Mwen pa konnen (Haitian Creole): I don't know.
  • Nyam (Jamaican patois and Bileez Kriol): Eat
  • Waata (Bileez Kriol): Water

History of Creole Languages

Pidgin languages originally developed as early as the 1500s when European and non-European people occasionally came into contact with each other outside of Europe. Pidgin languages, like Creole, don't have any native speakers because they were used for convenience in specific circumstances, with each side still using their native tongue outside these specific interactions.


The Word "Creole" Appears in the 16th Century

The term "creole" was first used in the American colonies founded by Spain and Portugal in the 16th century. The word was used to describe people of Spanish, Portuguese, and African descent who were born in these new colonies, as well as plant or animal life from these locales.

In 1685, French explorer Michel Jajolet first used the term to refer to language. He used it to describe a Portuguese-based language he heard in Senegal. It wasn't until the late 1700s that others began commonly using the term "creole" to describe mixed languages.

Creole Develops in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Creole languages developed during this time on European plantations, near coastal colonies along the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and near slave depots.

During this time, Europeans traveling to other countries had a hard time understanding the different languages spoken around the world. They believed these languages were inferior to the European parent languages. The perceived mental inferiority of those who spoke Creole languages was often used as justification for slavery.


Modern Creole Languages

For the most part, Creole is a language that is passed down through generations. For many years, Creole was considered an inferior language because it does not have the structure that the more established languages possess. However, Creole is now perceived to be just as fundamentally relevant as any other language, and it is even being taught in and used in schools and institutions of higher education throughout the world.

Complexities of Creole

While some argue the differences between Creole and pidgin languages, they are definitely both complex languages that developed out of need between people who spoke different languages. Continue your language learning journey by exploring endangered languages and artificial languages.