Native to
Native speakers
271,261 (1999–2011)[1]
Portuguese Creole
  • Upper Guinea Portuguese

    • Papiamentu
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2 pap
ISO 639-3 pap
Glottolog papi1253[3]
Linguasphere 51-AAC-be

Papiamentu (English /ˌpɑːpiəˈmɛnt, ˌpæp-/)[4] or Papiamento (English pronunciation: /ˌpɑːpiəˈmɛnt, ˌpæp-/) is the most-widely spoken language on the Caribbean ABC islands, having official status in Aruba and Curaçao. The language is also recognised on Bonaire by the Dutch government.[2]

Papiamentu is a language derived from African and Portuguese languages[5] with some influences from American Indian languages, English, Dutch and Spanish.[6]


The precise historical origins of Papiamento have not been established. Its parent language is Iberian but scholars dispute whether Papiamento is derived from Portuguese or from Spanish. A summary of the century-long debate on Papiamento's origins is provided in Jacobs (2009a).[7]

Historical constraints, core vocabulary and grammatical features that Papiamento shares with Cape Verdean Creole suggest that the basic ingredients are Portuguese, and that other influences occurred at a later time (17th and 18th centuries, respectively). The name of the language itself comes from papia, pap(e)o or pap(e)ar ("to chat", "to talk"), a word present in Portuguese (um papo, "a chat") and colloquial Spanish; compare with Papiá Kristang ("Christian talk"), a Portuguese-based creole of Malaysia and Singapore, and the Cape Verdean Creole word papiâ ("to talk"), or elsewhere in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba) papear[8]—"to talk excessively" (and without sense) or "to stutter" (but also, "to eat" or "food". Castilian Spanish papeo,[9] Portuguese papar is a children's term for "to eat"). Spain claimed dominion over the islands in the 15th century, but made little use of them. Portuguese merchants had been trading extensively in the West Indies, and with the Union with Castille, this trade extended to the Castillian West Indies, as the Spanish kings favored the free movement of people. In 1634, the Dutch West India Company (WIC) took possession of the islands, deporting most of the small remaining Arawak and Spanish population to the continent, and turned them into the hub of the Dutch slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean.

The first evidence of widespread use of Papiamento in Aruba can be seen through the Curaçao official documents in the early 18th century. In the 19th century, most materials in the islands were written in Papiamento including Roman Catholic schoolbooks and hymnals. The first Papiamento newspaper was published in 1871 and titled Civilisado (The Civilizer). Civilizado (stress on /za/) is Spanish and Portuguese for "civilized" but can also be understood as having a suppressed final "r" in the word Civilizador (stress on /do/) (Civilizer).

An outline of the competing theories is provided below.

Local development theory

There are various local development theories. One such theory proposes that Papiamento developed in the Caribbean from an original Portuguese-African pidgin used for communication between African slaves and Portuguese slavetraders, with later Dutch and Spanish (and even some Arawak) influences. Another theory is that Papiamento first evolved from the use in this region since 1499 of 'lenguas' and the first Repopulation of the ABC islands by the Spanish by the Cédula real decreed in November 1525, in which Juan Martinez de Ampués, factor of Española, had been granted the right to repopulate the depopulated Islas inútiles of Oroba, Islas de los Gigantes and Buon Aire (Columbus took ten natives back to Europe precisely so that they could acquire knowledge of the Spanish language and culture, a policy he maintained throughout future voyages. On his return to America, Columbus was accompanied by two interpreters ('lenguas', literally, 'tongues'), Alonso de Cáceres and a young boy from Guanahani (the Bahamas) who was given the name Diego Colón. Subsequent expeditions followed the same pattern. In 1499 Alonso de Ojeda, Juan de la Cosa and Amerigo Vespuccio took captives to serve as lenguas. Ojeda actually married his native interpreter and guide, Isabel.[10] The evolution of Papiamento continued under the Dutch Colonization under the influence of the 16th century 'Dutch'/European/Native American (ABC islands) and 'Portuguese'/Native American (Brazilian) languages with the second Repopulation of these ABC islands under Peter Stuyvesant, who arrived here from the ex-Dutch Brazilian colonies.

The Judaeo-Portuguese population of the ABC islands increased substantially after 1654, when the Portuguese recovered the Dutch-held territories in Northeast Brazil  causing most of the Portuguese-speaking Jews in those lands to flee from religious persecution. The precise role of Sephardic Jews in the early development is unclear, but it is certain that Jews play a prominent role in the later development of Papiamento. Many early residents of Curaçao were Sephardic Jews either from Portugal, Spain, or Portuguese Brazil. Therefore, it can be assumed that Judaeo-Spanish was brought to the island of Curaçao, where it gradually spread to other parts of the community. As the Jewish community became the prime merchants and traders in the area, business and everyday trading was conducted in Papiamento with some Ladino influences. While various nations owned the island and official languages changed with ownership, Papiamento became the constant language of the residents.

European and African origin theory

Peter Stuyvesant's appointment to the ABC islands followed his service in Brazil. He brought Indians, soldiers, etc. from Brazil to Curaçao as well as to New Netherland. In Stuyvesant's Resolution Book, document #4b in the Curaçao Papers presents the multi-ethnic makeup of the garrison and the use of local Indians as cowboys: "... whereas the number of Indians, together with those of Aruba and Bonnairo, have increased here by half, and we have learned that they frequently ride ..." They communicated with each other in 'Papiamento' a language originating when the first Europeans began to arrive on these islands under Ojeda, Juan de Ampues, Bejarano and mixing with the natives. Stuyvesant also took some Esopus Indians captives in New Netherland and brought them as slaves to Curaçao. There was little Dutch government activity in the management of DWI because during the period 1568–1648, they were actively fighting for their independence and were not in a position to manage their colonies.

A more recent theory holds that the origins of Papiamento lie in the Afro-Portuguese creoles that arose almost a century earlier, in the west coast of Africa and in the Portuguese Cape Verde islands. From the 16th to the late 17th century, most of the slaves taken to the Caribbean came from Portuguese trading posts ("factories") in those regions. Around those ports there developed several Portuguese-African pidgins and creoles, such as Guinea-Bissau Creole, Mina, Cape Verdean Creole, Angolar, and Guene. The latter bears strong resemblances to Papiamento. According to this theory, Papiamento was derived from those pre-existing pidgins/creoles, especially Guene, which were brought to the ABC islands by slaves and/or traders from Cape Verde and West Africa.[11]

Some specifically claim that the Afro-Portuguese mother language of Papiamento arose from a mixture of the Mina pidgin/creole (a mixture of Cape Verdean pidgin/creole with Twi) and the Angolar creole (derived from languages of Angola and Congo). Proponents of this theory of Papiamento contend that it can easily be compared and linked with other Portuguese creoles, especially the African ones (namely Forro, Guinea-Bissau Creole, and the Cape Verdean Creole). For instance, compare mi ("I" in Cape Verdean Creole and Papiamento) or bo (meaning you in both creoles). Mi is from the Portuguese mim (pronounced [mĩ]) "me", and bo is from Portuguese vós "you".[12] The use of "b" instead of "v" is very common in the African Portuguese Creoles (probably deriving from the pronunciation of Portuguese settlers in Africa, numerous from Northern Portugal). However, because of the similarities between Portuguese and Spanish, it can also be argued that these two words derive from Spanish "mi" and "vos" (usually pronounced bos).

Papiamento is, in some degree, intelligible with Cape Verdean creoles and could be explained by the immigration of Portuguese Sephardic Jews from Cape Verde to these Caribbean islands, although this same fact could also be used by dissenters to explain a later Portuguese influence on an already existing Spanish-based creole.[13]

Another comparison is the use of the verb ta and taba ta from vernacular Portuguese (an aphesis of estar, "to be" or está, "it is") with verbs where Portuguese does and with others where it does not use it: "Mi ta + verb" or "Mi taba ta + verb", also the rule in the São Vicente Creole and other Barlavento Cape Verdean Creoles . These issues can also be seen in other Portuguese Creoles (Martinus 1996; see also Fouse 2002 and McWhorter 2000), but some are also found in colloquial Spanish.

Linguistic and historical ties with Upper Guinea Portuguese Creole

Current research on the origins of Papiamento focuses specifically on the linguistic and historical relationships between Papiamento and Upper Guinea Portuguese Creole as spoken on the Santiago island of Cape Verde and in Guinea-Bissau and Casamance. Elaborating on comparisons done by Martinus (1996) and Quint (2000),[14] Jacobs (2008,[15] 2009a, 2009b[16]) defends the hypothesis that Papiamento is a relexified offshoot of an early Upper Guinea Portuguese Creole variety, transferred from Senegambia to Curaçao in the second half of the 17th century, a period in which the Dutch controlled the harbour of Gorée, just below the tip of the Cape Verde Peninsula. On Curaçao, this variety underwent internal changes as well as contact-induced changes at all levels of the grammar (though particularly in the lexicon) due to contact with Spanish and, to a lesser extent, Dutch as well as with a variety of Kwa and Bantu languages. These changes notwithstanding, the morpho-syntactic framework of Papiamento is still remarkably close to that of the Upper Guinea Creoles of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau/Casamance.

Present status

Many Papiamento speakers are multilingual and are also able to speak Dutch, English and Spanish. Papiamento has been an official language of Aruba since May, 2003.[17] In the former Netherlands Antilles (which at the time comprised Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten) Papiamento was made an official language on March 7, 2007.[18] After its dissolution, the language's official status was confirmed in the newly formed Caribbean Netherlands (part of the Netherlands proper, and compromising Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius),[19] until January 1, 2011; since then, Bonaire is the only portion of the Caribbean Netherlands in which it is recognized,[2]

Papiamento is also spoken elsewhere in the Netherlands, particularly on Saba and Sint Eustatius, and on St. Maarten, by immigrants from Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao.

Venezuelan Spanish and American English are constant influences today. Code-switching and lexical borrowing between Papiamento, Spanish, Dutch and English among native speakers is common. This is perceived as a threat to the further development of Papiamento due to a language ideology that is committed to preserving the authentic African or Creole "feel" of Papiamento.


Papiamento has two main dialects, one in Aruba and one in Curaçao and Bonaire, with lexical and intonational differences.[20] There are also minor differences between Curaçao and Bonaire.

Spoken (Aruban) Papiamento sounds much more like Spanish. The most apparent difference between the two dialects is given away in the name difference. Whereas Curaçao and Bonaire opted for a phonology-based spelling, Aruba uses an etymology-based spelling. Many words in Aruba end with "o" while that same word ends with "u" in Curaçao and Bonaire. And even on Curaçao, the use of the u-ending is still more pronounced among the Sephardic Jewish population. Similarly, there is also a difference between the usage of "k" in Curaçao and Bonaire and "c" in Aruba.

For example:

English Papiamento Portuguese Spanish
Stick Palu Pau Palo
House Cas Casa Casa
Knife Cuchú Faca Cuchillo



There are two orthographies: a more phonetic one in Curaçao and Bonaire, and an etymological spelling used in Aruba.

Vowels and diphthongs

Most Papiamento vowels are based on Ibero-Romance vowels, but some are also based on Dutch vowels like : ee /eː/, ui /œy/, ie /i/, oe /u/, ij/ei /ɛi/, oo /oː/, and aa /aː/.

Papiamento has the following nine vowels.[21] The orthography (writing system) of Curaçao has one symbol for each vowel.

IPA Curaçao orthography Aruba orthography
a a in kana a in cana (= walk)
e e in sker, nechi e in scheur (= to rip)
ɛ è in skèr, nèchi e in sker (= scissors)
i i in chikí i in chikito (= small)
o o in bonchi, doló o in dolor (= pain)
ɔ ò in bònchi, dòler o in dollar (= currency)
u u in kunuku u in cunucu (= farm)
ø ù in brùg u in brug (= bridge)
y ü in hür uu in huur (= rent)

There are dialects that exist in the island itself. An example is the Aruban word, "dolor" ("pain"), which is the same in Curaçao's version, but written differently. The R is silent in certain parts of the island. It is also written without the R.

In addition to the vowels listed above, schwa also occurs in Papiamento. The letter e is pronounced as schwa in the final unstressed syllables of words such as agradabel and komader.[22] Other vowels in unstressed syllables can become somewhat centralized (schwa-like) in rapid casual speech.

Stress and tone

Papiamento is one of only two languages worldwide that distinguish both lexical stress and tone[23] and is the only language in the world known to use both stress and prosodic accent.

Polysyllabic words that end in vowels are stressed on the next-to-last syllable; most words ending in consonants are stressed on the final syllable. There are exceptions. When a word deviates from these rules, the stressed vowel should be indicated by an acute accent mark. The accent marks are often omitted in casual writing.[24]

Papiamento words have distinct tone patterns. According to recent linguistic research, there are two classes of words: those that typically have rising pitch on the stressed syllable, and those that typically have falling pitch on the stressed syllable.[25] The latter category includes most of the two-syllable verbs in the language. Any given word's tone contours may change depending on discursive factors such as whether the sentence is affirmative, interrogative, or imperative.[26]

Altering tone in Papiamento can distinguish meaning and grammatical function: compare noun 'para' (PA-ra: bird) with verb 'para' (pa-RA:stand or stop)

Independently from tone, stress can also be altered: compare 'pa-ra' (stand or stop) with 'pa-ra' (stopped or standing).

Papiamento/u uses prosodic accent. Tone (with stress) is largely dependent on the grammatical function of the word in sentence. Compare:

word(s) meaning grammatical functions stress pattern accent pattern
kini-kini falcon noun substantive ki-ni-ki-ni kini-KI-ni (low-x-high-x)
divi-divi Caesalpinia coriaria tree noun substantive di-vi-di-vi divi-DI-vi (low-x-high-x)
blanku blanku "snowwhite" (emphatic doubling) adjective blan-ku blan-ku BLAN-ku blanku (high-x-low-x)
palu haltu tree+high 'tall tree' noun substantive+adjective pa-lu hal-tu PA-lu haltu (high-x-low-x)
poko-poko slow/calm adverb po-ko po-ko PO-ko poko (high-x-low-x)
bira ront turn+round (to) turn around verb+adverb bi-ra ront bira RONT (low-x-high-x)
masha bon very+good adverb+adjective masha bon masha BON (low-x-high)

The following are the grammatical rules of Papiamento intonation:

-Verbs usually have rising tone; a following adverb receives high intonation (ex. 'bira RONT:' turn around).

-Nouns (substantives) and adjectives usually have falling tone, a following adjective receives low intonation (ex. 'PA-lu haltu:' tall tree).

-In words of more than three syllables, grammatical tone or accent will fall on the last stressed syllable. The first stressed syllable receives the opposite tone for contrast: compare noun 'kini-kini' (kini-KI-ni): falcon with adverb 'poko-poko' (PO-ko-poko): slowly.

-An adverb has rising tone, so a following adjective receives high tone (ex. 'masha BON' very good).

!!! – The adverbs 'bon' (good) and 'mal' (bad), even though they are adjectives, in grammar will always have adverbial, rising tone character (ex. 'bon ha-SI:' well-done). They will always behave like adverbs, even when they qualify nouns (ex. 'bon DI-a:' good day). They behave like adverbs even when doubled for emphasis ('bon-BON:' very good).

(Note: in all above examples, primary stress remains on the second word, while secondary stress remains on the first word, independently of tone changes. It is thus more accurate to transcribe 'PA-lu hal-tu' and 'bira RONT', with bold typing indicating stress and CAPITAL LETTERS indicating high tone syllables. Unstressed syllables' tone is dependent on contact syllables.)

-The particle of negation 'no' always receives rising tone: the following verb is inevitably raised in pitch: compare 'mi ta PA-pia' (I speak) and 'mi no TA PA-pia' (I do not speak). This negating pitch-raise is crucial and is retained even after contraction of the particle in informal speech: 'mi'n TA papia' ("I don't speak")

It is theorised that the unusual presence of both stress and tone in Papiamento is an inheritance of African languages (which use tone) and Portuguese (which has stress)



Most of the vocabulary is derived from Spanish and Portuguese and most of the time the real origin is unknown due to the great similarity between the two Iberian languages and the adaptations required by Papiamento. A 100-Swadesh List of Papiamento can be found online.[27] Linguistic studies have shown that roughly two thirds of the words in Papiamento's present vocabulary are of Iberian origin, a quarter are of Dutch origin, some of Native American origin, and the rest come from other tongues. A recent study by Buurt & Joubert inventoried several hundred words of indigenous Arawak origins.[28]

Examples of words of Iberian and Roman, Latin origin, which are impossible to label as either Portuguese or Spanish:

While the presence of word-final /u/ can easily be traced to Portuguese, the diphthongization of some vowels is characteristic of Spanish. The use of /b/ (rather than /v/) is difficult to interpret; although the two are separate phonemes in standard Portuguese, they merge in the dialects of northern Portugal, just like they do in Spanish. Also, a sound-shift could have occurred in the direction of Spanish, whose influence on Papiamento came later than that of Portuguese.

Other words can have dual origin, and certainly dual influence. For instance: subrino (nephew): sobrinho in Portuguese, sobrino in Spanish. The pronunciation of "o" as /u/ is traceable to Portuguese, while the use of "n" instead of "nh" (IPA /ɲ/) in the ending "-no", relates to Spanish.

Portuguese origin words:

Spanish origin words:

Dutch origin words:

English origin words;

Italian origin words:

Native American words:


Author: N. N.; Publisher: Impr. del Comercio; Year: 1876 Possible copyright status: NOT_IN_COPYRIGHT; Language: Spanish Digitizing sponsor: Google Book from the collections of: Harvard University Collection: americana Notes: Cover-title: Guia-manual para que los españoles puedan hablar y comprender el papiamento ó patois de Curazao y vice-versa … [29]




Phrase samples

NOTE: These examples are from Curaçao Papiamento and not from Aruban Papiamento.

Comparison of vocabularies

This section provides a comparison of the vocabularies of Portuguese, Papiamento and the Portuguese creoles of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. Spanish and Catalan are also shown for contrast.

English Portuguese Curaçao and Bonaire Aruba Guinea-Bissau Cape Verdean* ** Spanish Catalan
Welcome Bem-vindo Bon biní Bon BiniBô bim drito Bem-vindo*** BienvenidoBenvingut
Good morning Bom dia Bon diaBon dia Bon diaBon dia Buenos días Bon dia
Thank you Obrigado / Obrigada Danki Danki Obrigadu Obrigadu Gracias Gràcies
How are you? Como [é que] [tu] vais / [você] vai? Como está? Como estás?Kon ta bai? Con ta bay? Kumá ku bo na bai? Kumo bu sta? ¿Cómo estás? ¿Cómo te va? Com et va?
Very good Muito bom Mashá bon Masha bonMutu bon Mutu bon Muy bueno, Muy bien Molt bé
I am fine Eu estou bem/(bom) Mi ta bon Mi ta bon N' sta bon N sta bon (Yo) Estoy bien (Jo) Estic bé
I, I am Eu, eu sou Mi, Mi ta Ami ta, Mi taN', Mi i N, Mi e Yo, yo soy Jo, jo sóc
Have a nice day Passa/Passe/Tenha um bom dia Pasa un bon dia Pasa un bon dia Pasa un bon dia Pasa un bon dia Pasa/Pase/Tenga un buen díaPassa un bon dia
See you later Vejo-te depois/ Te vejo depois/ Até logo Te aweró/ Te despues Te aworo, Te despues N' ta odjá-u dipus N ta odjâ-u dipôs, Te lógu Te veo después/ Hasta luego Et veig després
Food Comida / Vianda Kuminda Cuminda Bianda Kumida ComidaMenjar
Bread Pão Pan Pan Pon Pon Pan Pa
Juice Sumo (not common in Brazil) / Suco Djus Juice Sumu Sumu Zumo (common in Spain) / Jugo (common in Latin America) Suc
I like Curaçao Eu gosto de Curaçao Mi gusta Kòrsou Mi gusta Corsou, Mi gusta Korsou N' gosta di Curaçao N gosta di Curaçao Me gusta Curazao M'agrada Curaçao

*Santiago Creole variant
**Writing system used in this example: ALUPEC
***Portuguese expression used in creole.

See also


  1. Papiamentu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. 1 2 3 Papiamentu can be used in relations with the Dutch government.
    "Invoeringswet openbare lichamen Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba" (in Dutch). Retrieved 2011-01-01.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Papiamentu". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Wells, John C. (2008), Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.), Longman, ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0
  5. Jacobs, Bart (2012-03-23). "The Upper Guinea origins of Papiamentu" (PDF). Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.
  6. Romero, Simon (2010-07-05). "Willemstad Journal: A Language Thrives in Its Caribbean Home". The New York Times.
  7. Jacobs, Bart (2009a) "The Upper Guinea Origins of Papiamento: Linguistic and Historical Evidence". Diachronica 26:3, 319–379
  8. Papear. Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
  9. Papeo. Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
  10. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on January 24, 2011. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  11. Baptista, Marlyse (2009). On the development of nominal and verbal morphology in four lusophone creoles (seminar presentation given 6 November 2009, University of Pittsburgh).
  12. E.F. Martinus (1996) A Kiss of the Slave: Papiamento and its West African Connections
  13. McWorter (2002) The Missing Spanish Creoles. Berkeley: University of California Press
  14. Quint, Nicolas (2000) Le Cap Verdien: Origines et Devenir d’une Langue Métisse. Paris: L’Harmattan
  15. Jacobs, Bart (2008) "Papiamento: A diachronic analysis of its core morphology". Phrasis 2, 59–82
  16. Jacobs, Bart (2009b) "The origins of Old Portuguese features in Papiamento". In: Nicholas Faraclas, Ronald Severing, Christa Weijer & Liesbeth Echteld (eds.), Leeward voices: Fresh perspectives on Papiamento and the literatures and cultures of the ABC Islands, 11–38. Curaçao: FPI/UNA
  17. Migge, Bettina; Léglise, Isabelle; Bartens, Angela (2010). Creoles in Education: An Appraisal of Current Programs and Projects. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 268. ISBN 978-90-272-5258-6.
  18. "Nieuwsbrief 070313 – Papiaments officieel erkend". Retrieved 2011-11-21.
  19. "Tijdelijke wet officiële talen BES" (in Dutch). Retrieved 2010-10-24. Artikel 2: De officiële talen zijn het Engels, het Nederlands en het Papiamento. (English: Article 2: The official languages are English, Dutch and Papiamento)
  20. Kook, H., & Narain, G. (1993). Papiamento. In G. Extra & L. Verhoeven (eds.), Community Languages in the Netherlands (pp. 69–91). Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger.
  21. Philippe Maurer. Die Verschriftung des Papiamento, in Zum Stand der Kodifizierung romanischer Kleinsprachen. Gunter Narr Verlag, 1990
  22. Mario Dijkhoff. Ortografija di Papiamento. Münster, 1984.
  23. Bert Remijsen (2003) "New perspectives in word-prosodic typology" in: International Institute for Asian Studies Newsletter 32:29
  24. E.R. Goilo (1994) Papiamento Textbook, ninth edition. Oranjestad-Aruba: De Wit Stores NV
  25. Bert Remijsen and Vincent J. van Heuven (2005) "Stress, tone and discourse prominence in the Curaçao dialect of Papiamento" in: Phonology 22:205–235
  26. Raúl Römer (1991) Studies in Papiamento Tonology. Amsterdam Centre for Caribbean Studies
  28. Gerard van Buurt & Sidney M Joubert (1997) Stemmen uit het Verleden, Indiaanse Woorden in het Papiamento. Curaçao
  29. "GUIA para los españoles hablar papiamento y viceversa: Para que los de … : N. N. : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". 2001-03-10. Retrieved 2012-06-16.


External links and further reading

Papiamento edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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