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date: 24 April 2018

French-Based Creole Languages

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.

French-Based Creole Languages (FBCLs) may be characterized as a group by one historical and two linguistic properties. Their shared historical feature is that they arose between the 16th and 19th centuries as vehicular (hence oral) languages in French colonies, through language contact between oral varieties of French spoken by the colonists, and typologically and genetically diverse languages spoken by imported slaves—or imported workers or the local people in the case of Tayo, which emerged in the 19th century after the abolition of slavery and whose status as an FBCL is controversial. The linguistic features characterizing FBCLs are (1) that their lexicon is derived from French while their grammar (phonology and morphosyntax) is both reminiscent of, and different from, that of known varieties of spoken, nonstandard, dialectal French; and (2), that they stand as first languages (L1s), namely, they are acquired by children through the natural process of language acquisition and are used for all-purpose communication—as opposed to pidgins, a type of contact languages only used as vehicular L2s for specific-interaction purposes (e.g., trade).

FBCLs thus defined currently include on the American continent: Gwiyané/Guyanais (in French Guyana) and Karipuna Creole (Brazil, near the French-Guyana border); Lwizyané/Louisianais (on the decrease), in Louisiana, USA; in the Caribbean: Ayisyen/Haitian (in the independent Republic of Haiti); Senlisyen/Saint-Lucian (in the state of Sainte-Lucie), and the creoles spoken in the French-controlled territories of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominique, Saint-Barthélémy, and the northern part of Saint-Martin; in the Indian Ocean, off the shores of Eastern Africa: Morisyen/Mauritian (in Mauritius), Seselwa/Seychellois (in the Seychelles), Rodrigé/Rodriguais (in the Rodrigues islands, controlled by Mauritius), Réyinyoné/Réunionnais (in the island of Réunion, a French-controlled territory); and in Southern New Caledonia: Tayo.

Beyond the shared defining features proposed above, there is much variation among FBCLs with respect to the places, periods, and historical conditions of their emergence; the relevant contact languages involved in their development; and their resulting grammatical properties.