Armin Schwegler, John McWhorter, Liane Ströbel (eds.)

The Iberian Challenge:
Creole Languages Beyond the Plantation Setting

Lengua y Sociedad en el Mundo Hispánico
Language and Society in the Hispanic World

Consejo editorial / Editorial Board:

Julio Calvo Pérez (Universitat de València)

Anna María Escobar (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Luis Fernando Lara (El Colegio de México)

Francisco Moreno Fernández (Universidad de Alcalá de Henares /

Instituto Cervantes at Harvard University)

Juan Sánchez Méndez (Université de Neuchâtel)

Armin Schwegler (University of California, Irvine)

José del Valle (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

Klaus Zimmermann (Universität Bremen)

Vol. 36

Armin Schwegler, John McWhorter, Liane Ströbel (eds.)

The Iberian Challenge: Creole Languages Beyond the Plantation Setting

Iberoamericana - Vervuert - 2016

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Picture: “Moná ri Palenge” (‘Palenquero youngster’), Palenque (Colombia) 2008. Photo by Armin Schwegler



Introduction (Armin Schwegler, John McWhorter & Liane Ströbel)

1. Alain Kihm & Jean-Louis Rougé

Once more on the genesis of West African Portuguese creoles

2. John McWhorter

The missing Spanish creoles are still missing: Revisiting Afrogenesis and its implications for a coherent theory of creole genesis

3. Bart Jacobs & Nicolas Quint

On the relevance of Classical Portuguese features in four Atlantic creoles

4. Ana R. Luís & Paulo Estudante

Documenting 17th-century Língua de Preto: Evidence from the Coimbra archives

5. Michelle Li

Macau Pidgin Portuguese and Creole Portuguese: A continuum?

6. Marilola Pérez

Philippine Creole Spanish (“Chabacano”): Accusative marking in Caviteño. Grammatical and discursive functions

7. John M. Lipski

Palenquero and Spanish: What’s in the mix?

8. Paola E. Dussias, Jason W. Gullifer & Timothy J. Poepsel

How psycholinguistics can inform contact linguistics: converging evidence against a decreolization view of Palenquero

9. Miguel Gutiérrez Maté

Reconstructing the linguistic history of palenques. On the nature and relevance of colonial documents

10. Armin Schwegler

Truth reset: Pragmatics in Palenquero negation



The editors would like to thank the organizers of the XIX Hispanistentag (Münster, Germany, March 20-24, 2013) for their assistance in organizing the special session on “Spanish and Portuguese in Contact with Other Languages”, which served as inspiration for this volume.

We would also like to express our gratitude to the anonymous referees who provided very detailed comments to earlier versions of the selected manuscripts. We found their comments very useful, as they gave us editors and the authors the opportunity to address issues that we might otherwise have overlooked.

Thanks are also due to the authors for their patience with the multiple rounds of revisions to which we editors subjected them. We trust that the readers of The Iberian Challenge: Creole Languages Beyond the Plantation Setting will agree that, in the end, the extraordinary endurance of the contributors has produced a volume that is refreshingly rich in data and theory.

Armin Schwegler
John McWhorter
Liane Ströbel


Creole languages lexified by Spanish and Portuguese have played a relatively small role in theories of creole genesis. Especially in the 1980s and 1990s when genesis issues were most hotly debated in the creolist community, the focus was on the English-lexified and French-lexified creoles of the New World (and, in the case of Mauritian and Reunionnais French Creole, the Mascarenes in the Indian Ocean). As a result, the geneses of English or French-based Saramaccan, Haitian, and Mauritian, for instance, were comprehensively addressed. However, those of Spanish or Portuguese-based creoles such as Palenquero, Papiamentu, and Cape Verdean Creole were only occasionally considered, and virtually always as distinct evolutionary events rather than as part of more general “genesis models”.

This lack of attention to the early evolution of Spanish and Portuguese creoles cannot be attributed to absence of data. Indeed, the past ten years or so have seen invaluable new research on the formation of several Portuguese-based creoles of Asia and Philippine Creole Spanish. Palenquero, often considered a “new” discovery because of its first description by linguists as late as 1970, has by now yielded multiple diachronic studies and a substantial bibliography. Today, the relevant literature for both Papiamentu and Cape Verdean is vast, and therefore potentially overwhelming to the new scholar. While it is true that the Portuguese creoles of the Gulf of Guinea are not as well studied as Cape Verdean, Guinea-Bissau Creole Portuguese, or some other Atlantic creoles, it also bears mentioning that by now all four Gulf of Guinea creoles are described in book-length grammars,1 a situation that stands in sharp contrast to that of the more widely recognized Haitian Creole, for which there still is no full grammar as of this writing.

The marginal place of Iberian-lexified creoles in the literature on creole genesis is in large measure due to the special focus on plantation creoles. The pioneering and remarkably theory-oriented publications by Mervyn Alleyne (who concentrated on the non-Hispanic Caribbean) in the 1970s and Derek Bickerton in the 1980s (when plantation-era Hawaii became a major focus) profoundly influenced creolists’ thinking that plantation creoles constitute the “classic” scenario for creole genesis. In the seventies and beyond, the emphasis placed by the Social Sciences on the history and current circumstances of the subject of colonization further encouraged this focus on former plantation colonies. As welcome as these scholarly trends have been, they have mostly (and quite naturally) had the effect of sidelining Iberian-based creoles, as these did not form on plantations.

Throughout the history of modern creole studies, creole genesis was viewed as the result of several key factors, including (1) access to a target language among massive slave populations, (2) the size (large or small?) of early plantations, and (3) the speed with which a given slave population transitioned to a large plantation work force. In contrast to widely studied creoles such as Gullah, Louisiana Creole French, or Negerhollands Creole Dutch, the contact vernaculars that evolved into Philippines Creole Spanish, Macao Creole Portuguese, or Palenquero —all studied in this volume— thus “naturally” attracted less scholarly attention, having arisen as what may best be described as “cases sui generis” (Palenquero, for instance, evolved in a maroon setting, while Macao Creole Portuguese emerged as a trade post language).

There is, however, no a priori reason to classify plantation creoles as the “default” or prototypical kind. From a global perspective, creole languages have formed in a wide range of circumstances: among soldiers, in an orphanage, amidst religious commitments, within interracial marriages, among schoolchildren, and so forth. The plantation scenario is thus only one of many — a realization that poses special challenges to theories of creole genesis that seek to be maximally comprehensive. Overall, the Iberian-based creoles demonstrate this diversity of complex circumstances. In these contact vernaculars, traditional creolist concerns such as “weak parameters within Universal Grammar resorted to by children” and “transition from a ‘homestead’ to a ‘plantation’ phase” have little application. At least one author in this volume takes the argument about the supposed genesis of creoles even a step further by reasserting (pace McWhorter 1996) that plantations were not at all the place where creole languages emerged. Rather, as John McWhorter suggests in “The Missing Spanish Creoles: Still Missing” (this volume), plantation creoles too were all born in situations sui generis, namely as pidgins in West African coast slave castles.

The articles assembled in this volume on Iberian creoles teach a lesson about creole genesis which, in light of genesis theories of the past forty years, can seem almost regressive: namely, that creole languages begin with a pidgin-level (or Basic Variety-level) command of a language, which is then adopted by future generations and expanded into a full creole. Of course, further developments can be eccentric: Michelle Li’s article, for instance, shows that the Macanese Portuguese Pidgin recorded in Chinese-language documents was based on the creole Portuguese that already existed, rather than the creole having grown from the pidgin.

This book —a selection of papers from the workshop on Iberian creoles at the 19. Deutscher Hispanistentag in Münster in 2013— presents research on Iberian creoles challenging not only traditional conceptions on creole genesis but also various grammar-related issues. On genesis specifically, Alain Kihm and Jean-Louis Rougé’s article argues that the story of the Portuguese-based creoles of Africa began with the speech of African slaves in Portugal itself. Drawing on novel evidence from music manuscripts, Ana R. Luís and Paulo Estudante argue independently that an African community speaking an Afro-Portuguese L2 variety existed in Portugal in the 17th century. Bart Jacobs and Nicolas Quint trace certain lexical items in Portuguese creoles (and Saramaccan) to Classical Portuguese sources. In terms of sociohistorical timing, this constitutes evidence for a conclusion unexpected amidst a tendency among creolists to reconstruct the birth of each creole within the context in which it is spoken today: that Cape Verdean creole was the parent language to Guinea-Bissau Creole Portuguese and Papiamentu, rather than new creoles having emerged in either Guinea-Bissau or Curaçao. Miguel Gutiérrez Maté illuminates the social history of Colombian and Dominican palenques that nurtured the birth of creoles such as Palenquero. The historical situations he uncovers are quite unlike those usually associated with the birth of creole languages.

Meanwhile, on linguistic issues, this volume is similarly innovative. Armin Schwegler’s field-based exploration into the complex pragmatics of pre- and post-verbal negation brings creole studies in line with the increasing realization among linguists in general that pragmatics is by no means an ancillary component in language, but possibly at its very heart. John Lipski assesses Palenquero speakers’ counterintuitively fluid conception of the difference between Palenquero and Spanish, while Paola E. Dussias and her colleagues (Jason W. Gullifer and Timothy J. Poepsel) assess whether Palenquero is currently decreolizing according to the “classic” Anglophone continuum model. Finally Marilola Pérez reveals that the animate object marking in Cavite Phillipines Creole Spanish, whose details and multiple causation can appear almost unanalyzably chaotic, is in fact determined by the nature of the information structure (in parallel to what has been observed for Tagalog).

A principal goal of this volume is to demonstrate that the Iberian creoles can no longer be considered the “other ones”, and that plantations are but one of many settings that can harbor a creole. In the variety of their pasts and presents, the Iberian creoles can thus be seen as one of several norms in terms of how creoles have emerged and what they are like.

The Editors

Armin Schwegler (University of California, Irvine)
John McWhorter (Columbia University, New York)
Liane Ströbel (Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf/RWTH, Aachen)

1 Compare:

Ferraz, Luis Ivens. 1979. The creole of São Tomé. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

Maurer, Philippe. 1995. L’angolar: un créole afro-portugais parlé à São Tomé. Hamburg: Helmut Buske.

Maurer, Philippe. 2009. Principense. London: Battlebridge.

Zamora Segorbe, Armando. 2010. Gramática descriptiva del fá d’ambô. Barcelona: Centro de Estudios Internacionales de Biología y Antropología.


CNRS / Université d’Orléans

In this paper we argue for an “Out-of-Portugal” model of the emergence of West African Portuguese Creoles (WAPCs). According to this model, WAPCs stem from a Basic Variety of Portuguese that formed spontaneously when African slaves were transported en masse to Portugal from the end of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century and had to learn Portuguese without access to any formal instruction.

Known as língua de preto (lit. ‘language of the Black’), this Basic Variety is mainly documented through the theatre of the time. We show that such literary sources can be trusted to a large extent. We also present arguments to the effect that there existed pathways through which this língua de preto could make its way back to Africa, where it eventually became widely used as a pidginized lingua franca. This lingua subsequently creolized independently in the two areas of Upper Guinea and the Gulf of Guinea.

Keywords: Basic Variety, creolization, grumetes, interpreters, lançados, Língua de Preto, slave trade, tangomãos, West African Portuguese creoles

1. A geographical survey of Portuguese Creoles

Portuguese Creoles (PCs) are subdivided into two geographical areas, (1) western and (2) eastern. The eastern area comprises Portuguese India (including Sri Lanka) on the one hand, Malacca and Macau (and perhaps the Philippines, modulo later Spanish relexification) on the other hand. The western area includes West Africa and South America.

Discounting “popular” varieties of Brazilian Portuguese, semi-creoles at most, the South American subarea is residual: Saramaccan is only half Portuguese in its lexicon, and Papiamentu is Spanish-relexified. The West African subarea is further subdivided into Upper Guinea (UG) and Gulf of Guinea (GG). UGPCs consist of Cape Verdean (with two main dialect groups in the Sotavento and Barlavento islands respectively) and Kriyol, spoken in Casamance and Guinea-Bissau (also diversified through dialectal variation). GGPCs are all insular, and comprised of Angolar and Santomense (both in São Tomé), Principense (Principe), and Fa d’Ambô (Annobon).

There is a linguistic basis for this areal classification: West African PCs as a whole share features not present in Eastern PCs as a whole, and vice versa. Within the eastern area Indo-Portuguese contrasts with Malacca-Macau. UGPCs are closer to each other than to GGPCs, each group sharing features not present in the other group.

In light of the aforementioned geolinguistic facts, the following question naturally presents itself: might all PCs proceed from a common origin despite their obvious disparities?1 We will seek to answer this question for West Africa, the main focus in this study. It cannot be excluded, however, that the answer could ultimately be generalized to all the areas concerned.

2. Models for the emergence of Portuguese Creoles

As regards the origin of West African PCs, the model generally accepted by authors specializing in these languages may be called “multiregional”, an analogy borrowed from a long-dominant model in paleoanthropology: presumably, PCs arose independently from each other through local contact between 16th-century Portuguese (Middle Portuguese) and (1) the various native African languages in the areas of Casamance and Guinea-Bissau, or (2) these same African languages transported to Cape Verde and Gulf of Guinea islands. In this scenario, all linguistic contacts were local, and took place between (a) Cape Verdean dialects of Sotavento and Barlavento (the latter is an offshoot of the former), (b) Cape Verdean and Kriyol (allegedly a continental descendant of the former; see Quint 2000, Jacobs 2010, and the discussion in Section 8 below), and (c) Santomense and Principense among GGPCs.

Here we want to argue for an alternative model, which we shall call “Out-of-Por-tugal”. As its name suggests, the emergence of PCs in West Africa (and possibly beyond) crucially involves the previous formation of a Basic Variety (BV) of Middle Portuguese among the numerous African slaves transported to Portugal from the end of the 15th century. Their presence is amply recorded until the second half of the 19th century. Care should be taken to differentiate our model from Naro’s (1978) “Reconnaissance Language’ Hypothesis”, which might indeed be seen as a version of the Out-of-Portugal model. Section 5 below explains the crucial difference between our proposal and Naro’s hypothesis in considerable detail.

3. What is a Basic Variety?

A BV is a stage in a process of second language acquisition (SLA) by adults who have not had access to formal language instruction. In recent decades, BV’s have been studied in connection with the arrival of thousands of immigrant workers into the industrialized European countries, in particular France, Germany and Great Britain, in the second half of the 20th century (Bierwisch 1997, Jordens 1997, Klein & Perdue 1997; for an overview of the contribution of SLA studies to pidgin/creole studies, see Siegel 2008). According to the authors mentioned, a BV is the consistent and “relatively stable” system arrived at by some or most of these spontaneous second language (L2) learners, neither at the very beginning nor close to the successful end of their acquisition but rather at an intermediate stage (Klein & Perdue 1997: 303). A BV is therefore an “interlanguage” (Selinker 1972), one in a series of progressive approximations to the target language. Some L2 learners may cease to “progress” at this intermediate stage, as it gives them sufficient expressive resources to satisfy their communicative needs. As Klein & Perdue remark, “for about one-third of the learners investigated, acquisition ended on this structural level [the BV]; some minor variation aside, they only increased their lexical repertoire and learnt to make more fluent use of the BV” (1997: 303). Such an intermediate BV is said to be “fossilized”. If the “more fluent use” entails richer expressive resources without any real approximation to the target language, the fossilized BV may then be called a “post-BV”.

Three types of constraints determine the structure of BV utterances: phrasal constraints (narrow syntax) on the form and inner ordering of constituents; semantic constraints on the assignment of semantic roles to arguments and on their scope relations; and pragmatic constraints on “information packaging” (topic-focus structure, etc.) (Klein & Perdue 1997: 313). BV lexical items are generally invariable and pertain to the major categories of noun (N), verb (V), adjective (A), and adposition (P), to the near exclusion of functional items such as tense or number markers, free or bound. BVs are therefore nearly or entirely devoid of morphological phenomena. Most lexemes are taken from the target language, very few from the source language (the L2 learners’ L1) (Bierwisch 1997: 350), which makes sense since the primary use of the BV is to allow communication with the native speakers of the L2 one is attempting to master – and also with other L2 learners having different L1’s since, in the actual situations alluded to above, there is always more than one L1 spoken in the community of L2 learners (for instance Arabic, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Turkish among the so-called Gastarbeiter of Germany in the 1960’s and 1970’s).

According to Klein & Perdue (1997: 332ss.), who endorsed the version of Chomskyan Minimalism in vogue at the time the paper was written (Chomsky 1995), BVs are natural languages, but “simpler” because all features are set at their weak values. As a result, no displacement and/or inflection need occur. In the same journal issue, Comrie (1997) makes the intriguing point that BVs may well fulfill all social functions of language (i.e. exchange of information), while also being severely deficient with respect to the cognitive functions, namely interpreting and making sense of the environment. Such a separation of the social and the cognitive is perplexing: how can one deliver even the most trivial information —say “It’s raining outside”— without triggering all kinds of cognitive processes and responses ranging from the indignant “So you found an excuse for not going out” to the sarcastic “Thank you for the effort at conversation”? If BVs are indeed fully effective as communicative means —and everything suggests they are— then they are surely efficient in terms of their cognitive function, whence they fully belong to the class of natural language. From a creolist perspective, this is an important conclusion because it implies that the BV as a transitional medium possibly leading to a creole is susceptible of being (a) expressively enriched by the adult users who are committed to it without abandoning its essential formal characters (see the notion of “post-BV” above); and (b) transmitted to children without the abrupt sweeping mutations assumed by the Language Bioprogram Hypothesis (LBH). Both points are in accord with the gradualist model of creolization (see Arends 1993) as well as with the well established existence of expanded pidgins (Bruyn 2008: 390-393, Versteegh 2008: 164ss; also see the notion of “pidgincreole” in Bakker 2008).

The BV hypothesis thus offers a significant alternative to other current hypotheses of creole emergence, such as substrate theories or the LBH (see e.g. Becker & Veenstra 2004 and Muysken 2001). In a recent series of articles, Plag (2008a, 2008b, 2009a, 2009b) defends the Interlanguage Hypothesis according to which “[c]reoles are conventionalized interlanguages of an early stage’ (2008a: 115). Clearly, Plag’s definition of creoles (equally applicable to expanded pidgins or pidgincreoles) is another term for Klein & Perdue’s fossilized BV. The main (and possibly crucial) difference is that Plag buttresses his arguments with a theory of interlanguage formation, namely Pienemann’s (1998) Processability Theory, which includes a specific component for online (incremental) speech production. As such, this theory may prove to be more relevant to the phenomenon at hand than Minimalism. We should add that unguided SLA by adults has also become a crucial tenet in “superstratist” theories (Mufwene 2001, Chaudenson 2003).

4. Socioeconomic conditions for the emergence of a Basic Variety in Renaissance Portugal

The situation of 20th-century France, Germany and Great Britain with respect to immigrant work force is not without precedent. In 15th- and 16th-century Portugal (and the Iberian Peninsula in general) the economic role of today’s immigrant workers was fulfilled by Black slaves who increasingly came from sub-Saharan Africa.

The slave trade from Western Africa to Portugal began in the mid-15th century, reached its peak in the 16th century and lasted into the late 18th century. According to well-founded estimates, about 150,000 slaves from Guiné (i.e. the entire West African coast from Senegal to Angola) entered Portugal between 1441 and 1505 (Tinhorão 1988, Chap. 6). In 1551, they numbered 9,950 in Lisbon, thus representing 10% of the city’s total population of approximately 100,000 (Tinhorão 1988: 112). Almeida Mendes (quoted in Saupin 2013: 317) estimates the total number of Africans brought to the Iberian Peninsula from 1440 to 1640 to be between 350,000 and 400,000. During almost the entire 16th century (1501-1575), Upper Guinea (Senegambia, present-day Guinea-Bissau and present-day Guinea-Cona-kry) was the main provider (Saupin 2013: 318).

Slavery never disappeared from Europe between antiquity and modern times (Blackburn 1997, Chap. 1; Saupin (dir.) 2013 for the Iberian Peninsula). Yet no European country imported more slaves than did Portugal and Spain at the beginning of the Renaissance. As early as the 14th century, in Portugal (and, to a lesser extent, in Spain) this slave trade was prompted by colonial conquests and far-reaching trade (Tinhorão 1988, Chap. 6; Blackburn 1997: 97ss). The ensuing global reach had profound effects on Portugal’s and Spain’s small populations: it first caused a dramatic rural exodus to the cities and then, especially after commercial enterprises with India and Brazil had become established, substantial emigration to the overseas territories (Saraiva 1991: 193ss). Slavery thus became the means by which the dwindling local labor force became replaced within the Peninsula.

In the early phases of Portugal’s colonial expansion, the purchase of slaves was not the primary motive that led the Portuguese explorers ever farther southward from 1440 onwards. Gold and the prospect of sailing around Muslim-held territories to assault them from the rear were originally much stronger incentives. However, slaves soon proved the most profitable merchandise to acquire at a time when slavery and bartering for people shocked neither Europeans nor Africans.

Very much like immigrant workers in modern industrialized countries, African slaves in Portugal performed the hardest and dirtiest jobs. Many were employed to clear the lands that, in part due to the aforementioned rural exodus, had gone to waste. Others, particularly women (negras de canastra or negras do pote), were in charge of cleaning the sewerless streets from garbage and excrements (Couto 2000: 133-137). As the number of such slaves increased, some were assigned lighter jobs: servants at the Court, house-servants in private households, craftsmen (especially blacksmiths), peddlers and street vendors in the employment of individual masters (negros de ganho ‘salaried Negroes’), clowns in bullfights, etc. Most relevant for this study is that many served as sailors and/or interpreters aboard southbound ships.

African slaves were of both sexes, with women perhaps forming a majority of two thirds (Saupin 2013: 331). They soon had offspring, who inherited the servile condition, thus contributing to Iberia’s expanding slave population.2 Sexual encounters were commonplace between slaves, female slaves and their masters, or male slaves and their mistresses (Portuguese males’ frequent sailings overseas on lucrative ventures naturally increased the rate of such extra-marital “adventures”; see Couto 2000: 133-137).

Because of their high numbers, not only in Lisbon but throughout Portugal (the countryside included), African slaves soon became an intrinsic part of Portuguese everyday life, a state of affairs that was to last until at least the middle of the 19th century. By that time, many had been manumitted (forros) living as free persons. However, it was not before January 1773 that the all-powerful prime-minister Marquis de Pombal (himself possibly of partly African descent – see Tinhorão 1988: 414-415) passed a decree granting freedom to slave children and their future children, although not to their living parents and grandparents. Due to an active pro-slavery lobby, Pombal’s decree was not seriously enforced, so much so it took more than a half century (until 1858) until slavery began to be abolished in earnest (1876 marked the end of slavery in Portugal).

Africans and their descendants living in Iberia subsequently became biologically absorbed into the white population.3 As late as the 1920s, the Portuguese linguist Leite de Vasconcelos reported about mixed (mestiças) communities in Portugal (see Tinhorão 1988, Chap. 12).

5. A Basic Variety in sixteenth-century Portugal?

Until at least the end of the 18th century, African slaves in Portugal spoke a distinctive variety of Portuguese, variously named língua de preto (‘language of the Black’), língua de negro (‘id.’), or falar Guiné (‘Guinea [= African] Talk’). In this article, we shall retain the first of these labels, and assume that this Língua de Preto (LDP) was a fossilized BV or post-BV.

LDP was a real language rather than simply a jargon: it had a syntax and did not show the alleged macaronic character of early Hawaiian Pidgin English (see Bickerton 1999, Roberts 2000 for a contrary view; for LDP grammar, see Kihm & Rougé 2013). Surprisingly, perhaps, its vocabulary was 100% Portuguese. Influence from the African slaves’ native languages, insofar as we are able to locate them, appears to have been minimal and mainly phonological, as is usual in a BV (see Plag 2009a). As Rougé (1992, 2008), Baxter (2002, 2004) and Lopes (2009) have shown, interesting similarities exist between LDP and the Tonga Portuguese variety of São Tomé, the language spoken by descendants of indentured laborers brought to the island from Benin and Angola at the end of the 19th century.

Since we assume LDP to be a BV constructed by its own users, we disagree with Naro according to whom ‘[i]ts basic structural peculiarities resulted primarily from conscious modifications of their speech by Portuguese’ (1978: 341, our emphasis). There exists no evidence that the Portuguese used foreigner talk to address the African slaves with whom they had daily exchanges. We therefore side with earlier authors (Giese 1932, Chasca 1946, Teyssier 1959) who, when calling LDP argot (Giese), or baragouin “gibberish” (Teyssier), or simply “Negro speech” (Chasca), tacitly acknowledged its endogenic character.

On the other hand, the BV hypothesis renders unnecessary de Granda’s (1978: 335ss) improbable assumption that LDP and its Spanish counterpart habla de negro constitute stylizations (and relexifications) of a Portuguese pidgin already formed on the West African coast following the pattern of an earlier Mediterranean lingua franca. We certainly do not wish to dismiss the possibility that the Portuguese may have attempted to use lingua franca in their first contacts with West Africans on the African coast (see Huber 2009). But as Naro (1978) has argued convincingly, these initial interactions involved either gestures (sign language) or interpreters who knew the local language. We can thus agree with Naro that the birthplace of the Portuguese pidgin was first and foremost Portugal itself. There the interlanguage must have arisen in the mouths of African slaves themselves.

6. Lingua de Preto (LDP) and related questions

6.1. LDP sources

How do we know about LDP, an extinct language that nobody cared to describe while it was still alive? Literature, it turns out, is our only source: African slaves were stock characters in Renaissance Portuguese theatre, where they were staged for comic effects, in particular owing to their “broken” speech. The earliest attestation of such “black speech” is from either 1455 (according to Teyssier 1959: 228) or 1471 (according to Tinhorão 1988: 223). The text in question consists of sixteen lines of versified compliment supposedly by an African king from Sierra Leone who addresses himself to the infante D. Joana or the princess D. Leonor for their respective betrothals to Henry IV of Castille or the future king of Portugal D. João II (see Teyssier 1959: 228 and Tinhorão 1988: 224 for the full text).

During the next century, Portuguese theatre being then in full bloom, LDP was frequently heard on stage. The first play (auto ‘act’) depicting an LDP-speaking African character (a woman) is called O Pranto do Clérigo ‘The Priest’s Complaint’ and was written in 1514 by Anrique da Mota (1475–1545 [?]). The greatest playwright of the time, Gil Vicente (1465?–1536?), about whose language Teyssier (1959) remains the most complete study, then introduced African characters speaking LDP in four of his plays (Teyssier 1959: 227-250): A Fragoa d’Amor ‘the Forge of Love’ (1524, 86 lines); A Nao d’Amores ‘The Ship of Loves’ (1527, 52 lines); O Clérigo da Beira ‘The Priest of the Beira’ (1529 or 1530, 160 lines); A Floresta d’Enganos ‘The Forest of Deceptions’ (1536, 7 lines).

Thereafter, African characters speaking their distinctive variety continued to appear in autos (“acts”) of the so-called “Vicentine school”, namely in two autos by Antonio Ribeiro known as “Chiado’ (1520?–1591): Prática de oito figuras ‘Conversation between eight characters” (?, 46 lines) and Auto das Regateiras “Act of the Saleswomen” (ca. 1570, 59 lines); one by Sebastião Pires, Auto da Bela Menina “Act of the Beautiful Young Woman” (ca. 1550, 7 lines – Tinhorão: 285-286,); and two anonymous ones, Auto de Vicente Anes Joeira (?, 18 lines – Tinhorão: 278, 281) and Auto de D. Fernando (1541, 21 lines – Tinhorão: 283). In total, the corpus amounts to 488 lines.

LDP continued to be staged throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, in literary as well as folk plays that included the so-called entremezes ‘intermezzos’, played during interludes. LDP also figures in almanacs and other pieces of folk literature (literatura de cordel ‘string literature’, so called because the booklets hung from strings) that circulated widely during the same period. Last but not least, we have one letter in LDP written in 1730 by the king of Angola to the king of Minas. In actuality, neither of these “kings” was reigning any longer in Angola or Benin; rather, they were the leaders of two African religious congregations in Lisbon.4 In toto, these various sources offer a corpus of about 300 lines of LDP.

In the plays, African slaves use LDP to address white characters who sometimes reciprocate, although such practice was clearly frowned upon by society at large as being improper for white persons. White characters usually speak in plain Portuguese or Castilian, naturally expecting the African to understand them, which they apparently did. The aforementioned corpus contains only one scene with two Africans, a man and a woman, conversing with each other in LDP, the expected medium of communication.

African slaves, at least during the 16th century, thus seem to have had a passive competence in their masters’ languages. However, their active competence was in LDP. In the already quoted Auto das Regateiras, a white male attempts to speak LDP to the black maid Luzia, to the latter’s amazement and even fright. The maid’s mistress convinces him not to do so, saying Não é ela tão salvagem; / Falai-lhe vossa linguagem, / inda qu’ela fale mal. ‘She isn’t such a savage; speak (in) your own language to her, even though she speaks [it] poorly’ (Chiado 1994: 166-167 [810-812].) This type of discourse is typical of situations involving BV and native speakers. Recall that Luzia was born in Portugal and at the time was said to be about fifty years of age. Yet, she still does not have native command of Portuguese, although she has been exposed to it since she was a child and she understands it perfectly, not being a “savage” or newly imported slave from Africa. Apparently, it was only after the time of Gil Vicente and his school that an increasing number of African slaves began to speak “proper” Portuguese as well as LDP.

6.2. Authenticity of LPD sources

Today, scholars naturally wonder whether the aforementioned staged representations offer authentic samples of the language of black persons in Portugal at the time. One must thus ask: is this type of LDP a complete invention, or perhaps a mere caricature of L2 talk, and thus essentially devoid of documentary value? The first possibility (complete invention) we can dismiss at once, as it is indeed possible to point out LDP features that no native Portuguese speaker could have fabricated. This is so because a significant number of the prototypical features are found in PCs that developed later along the coasts of West Africa. The alternative is therefore caricature versus faithful representation. A caricature it of course was and had to be. Good caricaturists, however, are able to produce fundamentally true, if exaggerated, pictures of their models. Gil Vicente in particular proves himself to be a very accurate observer of the diverse Portuguese dialects of his time (Teyssier 1959). We therefore conclude that our sources can indeed be trusted — not blindly of course, but to a satisfying degree.

One should not lose sight of the fact that the authors’ aim was to create a LDP that would amuse the audience. One consequence of this concern for humor is that the record is never systematic, especially in matters of phonology. For instance, for the word “your” we sometimes find as vosso, apparently identical to Portuguese vosso, and other times as bosso with the LDP shibboleth /b/ instead of /v/. Shall we take this alternation as an indication of LDP’s inner variability, or as the author’s sloppiness? There might, however, also be another reason for such a lack of systematicity. Labov (1972: 247-251) demonstrates that in such situations of reporting about stigmatized forms of speech, writers and/or the audience are not consciously sensitive to differences in phonetic features (e.g. /b/ for /v/), but instead zero in on lexical stereotypes. This is precisely what we find in the Portuguese LDP record: certain words containing the stigmatized feature(s) are stereotyped and almost never vary in their transcription in a given text, e.g. boso ‘you’ for Portuguese vós, or bai ‘to go’ for Portuguese vai ‘s/he/it goes’. The fact that inflected verb forms occur amidst a majority of infinitive (all-purpose) forms may hint at a measure of grammatical inner variability in LDP, easier to notice than mere phonological variation.

In partial summary: we regard it as a historical fact that the enslaved African community that was a distinct part of Portugal’s population from the 16th to the second half of the 19th century had its own inner language, and we assume this to have been a lexically Portuguese-based BV that fossilized and conventionalized (Plag 2008a) into a post-BV without significant structural changes. Once slave imports to Portugal came to a virtual halt by the end of the 16th century due to the rapidly growing demand for slaves in Brazil, Portugal’s immigrant black community became fluent in Portuguese. However, contrary perhaps to expectations, LDP did not disappear and endured perhaps for as long as two centuries. Be it as it may, LDP’s exact fate after 1700 is of no consequence for the purpose of this paper: as we will argue in the next section, pre- rather than post-18th-century LDP is at the source of West African pidgins and creoles.

7. From Portugal to West Africa

7.1. Senegambia and Cape Verde

As mentioned above, one of the tasks performed by African slaves was to serve as interpreters aboard ships outward bound to West Africa. This fact, we propose, provides the crucial link needed to connect LDP to the WAPCs. Consider the following extract from Ca’ da Mosto’s memoirs (Academia Portuguesa da História 1988: 52; also see Carreira 1972: 268):

[…] metessemo fero / e de uoler mandar in terra vno deli nostri trucimanj / perche cadauno deli nostri navilij haueano trucimanj negri / portadi de portagallo / i quail trucimanj sono schiauj negri vendudi per quel signor de senega / ai primj christianj portagalesi che veneno a descoprir / el paexe de negri / i qual schiauj se fesseno christianj In portagallo / e impreseno ben la lingua spagnola I aueuemo habuti da suo misere per stipendio / e soldo de darli vna testa per vno a cernir in tuto el nostro monte / per sua fadiga dela trucimania e dando chadaun de questi truciman a suo misere 4 / schiauj lor li lassano franchi / e cossi per questo mezo molti schiauj son fati franchi dapoi / per questo mezo dela trucimania.

‘we cast anchor and decided to send a targoman [interpreter] ashore, for all our ships had black targomans brought from Portugal, which targomans are black slaves sold by this lord of Senegal to the first Portuguese Christians who came to discover the land of the Black. These slaves became Christians in Portugal and learned the Spanish language well, and we had obtained them from their masters in exchange of the wages and salary of giving them one head [slave] each to choose from all our cargo for their task of interpreting. And after each of these targomans had given their masters 4 slaves, they set them free. And by this means many slaves are made free afterwards, by this means of serving as targomans’. (our translation)5

These events occurred during Ca’ da Mosto’s first voyage of 1455. His ships were then anchored at the opening of the Sine River, about midway between the Cape Verde peninsula and the Gambia. The above quote contains three important pieces of information.

First, from it we learn that ten years or more after the first direct contacts the Portuguese had with Sub-Saharan Africa (which officially took place in 1444 with Dinis Dias’s voyage to the coast of Senegal, but may have been somewhat earlier), no variety of Portuguese was yet current along the Senegambian coast, since Ca’ da Mosto was cautious to provide himself with interpreters who proved their usefulness. We must therefore infer that these first trade contacts —when the returning interpreters were first sold “by this lord of Senegal”— proceeded without a common language, a rather usual practice, and one to which Ca’ da Mosto would have to revert further south (see Naro 1978: 318-319, Tinhorão 1988: 66-67, Fayer 2003).

Second, the text establishes that these interpreters could be enfranchised as long as they helped provide more slaves to their Portuguese masters. The text is, however, ambiguous on several counts. First, it does not explicitly say whether the practice was peculiar to this expedition, or whether it was common practice. The general tone of the section in question, especially the use of present tense verbs with habitual value (“they set them free”, “many slaves are made free”) suggests repetition. Moreover, bargaining through a returnee native to obtain slaves on profitable terms must have been convenient, so that the services of such an individual were likely to be employed more than once. Secondly, it is unclear whether the freed interpreters were released from bondage on the spot, or after their return to Portugal. Although the second possibility cannot be dismissed, the first one seems at least as likely: after all, why bring back interpreters to Portugal where they were no longer useful?

What would become of the interpreters after their release? In general we can only guess, although in the case at hand we do know from Ca’ da Mosto’s narrative: the interpreter was stabbed to death by ambushed local people almost as soon as he set foot on shore. As a result, Ca’ da Mosto abandoned further attempts to explore this portion of the coast and set sail southwards. He adds that everybody on board remained “stupefied and amazed” (stupefati e atonitj), suggesting it was the first time something of the sort happened during the expedition. A few hundred miles to the north, Ca’ da Mosto had spent three peaceful and profitable months as the honored guest of the king of Senegal. We may therefore presume that, in general, released interpreters were peacefully accepted into the African societies. Their status must then have been a very special one. They had returned from an unknown and unimaginable world; they had seen many strange things, and learned words never heard before. They thus were natural intermediaries between the local kings and foreigners who repeatedly returned to their African lands, bringing many desirable goods (on the early African-Portuguese trade in Senegambia, see Barreto 1938, Carreira 1972, Boulègue 1987, Godinho 1989, Brooks 2003). And since these interpreters were there to stay, they took wives and had children to whom we may suppose they taught the alien and so very useful language they learned to master while away, thereby guaranteeing the continuation of their profitable trade.

But what exactly was the nature of the L2 language spoken by the interpreter? Was it an approximation of native (vernacular) Portuguese, or perhaps a variety of LDP? Ca’ da Mosto’s qualifies it as “well-spoken Spanish”. This should not deter us, as we know that “Spanish” could mean “Portuguese” as well as “Castilian” or “Galician” (in contrast to Catalan and Basque, two languages of the Iberian Peninsula that are truly distinct from Castilian, Galician, and Portuguese). It is thus possible that the L2 in question was simply LDP, whose mastery would have been sufficient and satisfactory for the task the interpreters were given to perform.

There seems to be a case, then, for regarding these enfranchised interpreters as one channel through which LDP made it to the African continent, planting there the seeds of future creole languages, at least in the Senegambian area. Another channel for LDP to arrive in West Africa is through the so-called grumetes ‘ship boys’. The word refers to two distinct groups of people: (1) the interpreters we just discussed, and (2) young seamen (some may have held overlapping functions, working as interpreters as well as seamen; see Tinhorão 1988: 109-110, Couto 1992). A number of them may have jumped ship at some port of call along the way, taking LDP with them.

Creolized or pre-creolized Portuguese appears to have become a regional lingua franca as early as the 17th century. A body of interpreters helped to diffuse it (Brooks 2003). For instance, the bishop of Santiago, Dom Vitoriano Portuense, who journeyed to Bissau in 1694 to partake in the conversion and baptism of a Pepel king, made the following remarks about the king’s linguistic achievements:

Entende muito bem a língua portuguesa e podera falar o crioulo se quisera; porem, entre todos aqueles reis gentios está introduzido por gravidade o falarem por intérpretes ou chalonas.

‘He understands the Portuguese tongue quite well, and he could have spoken the creole had he wished to do so; however, owing to their majesty, all those heathen kings are accustomed to speak it through interpreters or chalonas.’ (Teixeira da Mota 1974, our translation)

In the same vein, reporting about the state of things at the mouth of the river Gambia at the beginning of the 17th century, Donelha (1625/1977: 138) wrote:

Os que vão a Cantor tomam aqui dous negros por lingoa e interprete que la chamam chalona, por prémio aos quais chamamos pilotos.

‘Those who go to Cantor take with them two Negroes to serve as interpreters. There they are called chalona, but to flatter them we call them “pilots”’.

Donelha’s term “pilot” suggests that these Africans did not only interpret when on board, but also worked as sailors, guiding the boats up the river. In this way they may be considered to have been the first grumetes ‘ship boys’, the other group besides the interpreters who proved most active in diffusing the developing creole.

As their name suggests these grumetes were African sailors who worked for Portuguese traders aboard boats and ships plying the Rios da Guiné (‘Rivers of Guinea’) and the sea route between Guinea and Cape Verde. Since they knew the local languages in addition to the creole, they served as go-betweens in trade relations as well. By the 18th century, they had become a social group in its own right, living on the outskirts of the Portuguese settlements (praças). They were nominally Christian, submitted to a special legislation, and notoriously disorderly and riotous (Rougé 1986). Given their intermediate position between the Portuguese and the local populations, they would have been the source of the pidginized Portuguese that ultimately creolized. The establishment of the group probably dates back to the end of the 15th century.6 Their pidgin Portuguese may have originated in two sources, discussed hereafter.

Possibles sources are the famous lançados or tangomãos. Soon after the first expeditions to Sub-Saharan Africa, all colonial trade was put into the hands of companies authorized by the Royal Court and endowed with a theoretical monopoly. The Portuguese government, however, never had the administrative means to enforce its own regulations. Official trade then had to compete with Portuguese smugglers, the so-called lançados. Without asking for permission, they settled in villages along the Senegalese Petite Côte and all the way down around Casamance and Rio Geba, trading in slaves and other goods with crews of any European nationality. They did so without paying taxes to the Portuguese Crown (see Silva 1970).

The names to designate these people are interesting in themselves and deserve a brief excursus. Lançado is transparent: lançados are castaways, from Port. lançar ‘to cast away’. Tangomãomãotangomãotangomãos