Papiamento – the secret language of the Caribbean

Papiamento – the secret language of the Caribbean

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Papiamento is a Creole language that contains elements of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English and French, as well as Arawakan and African languages. It is primarily spoken in the lower Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao also known as the ABC islands. Papiamento is spoken by around 400.000 people worldwide but centered on these touristic paradises and in the Netherlands through their diaspora. Only these 3 places in the whole world speak Papiamento, indeed a secret language.

The ABC islands all fall under the Kingdom of the Netherlands and as such, learn Dutch from a young age through the Dutch education system. However, the mother-tongue remains Papiamento. It is important to know that Papiamentu is indeed a language, not a dialect, and evolved from several older languages as most languages today have done.

This Creole language exists in two not very different forms. In Curaçao and Bonaire, the language is known as Papiamentu and in Aruba, it is known as Papiamento. The main difference is found in spelling, whereas Curaçao and Bonaire use a phonology-based spelling, Aruba uses an etymology-based spelling. This basically means that in Curaçao and Bonaire, you write the words as they sound, while in Aruba, it’s based on rules and origin. Whichever way you decide to spell it, the meaning will stay the same and it will remain the easiest language to learn.

Where is Papiamento spoken?

The ABC islands consist of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao and have a collective land area of 925 km2. The islands can be found in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea just off the coast of Venezuela and outside the hurricane alley. They are all part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands also known as the Dutch Caribbean together with the other Dutch islands, more precisely Curaçao and Aruba are constituent countries and Bonaire is known as a special municipality within the Netherlands.

Thanks to their white sandy beaches and dry climate, they have been touristic havens for a few decades. Their main attraction is the beach but they are also known for being popular because of their diving spots. Additionally, one can also enjoy other activities such as seeing the impressive salt piers on Bonaire, walking in the beautiful old town of Curaçao known as Punda and taking a road trip through the adventurous rugged national park of Aruba known as Arikok.

The history of Papiamento

Where, how and when was Papiamento born? There is no concrete proof to be able to say with certainty where and how it took place, however we do know that the oldest text that exists in Papiamento is a letter from the year 1775 written by a Jewish man on Curaçao. This means that Papiamento exists for more than 250 to 300 years already.

Even though there is no consensus about the origins of this Creole language, there are 2 leading theories. A group of authors defends the theory that Papiamento, just like most other Creole languages, came from a single Afro-Portuguese language that existed on the west coast of Africa. This theory draws attention especially due to the big similarities between Papiamento and other African Creole languages such as Cape Verdean Creole and Guinea-Bissau Creole.

The other group says that Papiamento was born out of the need for communication between the Spanish and the indigenous population. Having been discovered by Spanish explorers and being in proximity to Venezuela does make this theory very plausible as well.

Papiamento and its simplicity

The official language of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire is simple and laid back. This makes it the easiest language to learn. This is especially true if you are able to speak or have knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese. This Creole language is based on these two romance languages so if this is the case, then Papiamento is for you.

There is no conjugation

Verbs do not change forms from person to person, as in Spanish and other European languages. For example, you can see the conjugation of the verb “to be” below (the Papiamento translation is in brackets):

Person  Verb (to be) 
I (ami) Am (ta) 
You “singular” (abo) Are (ta) 
He, She & It (e) Is (ta) 
We (nos)  Are (ta) 
You “plural” (boso) Are (ta) 
They (nan)Are (ta) 

No gender

You will be relieved to know that in Papiamento articles do not have gender. Unlike Spanish and French, there are no male or female nouns therefore, when it comes to articles it is the same. Just like in English there is no gender, only definite article and indefinite article. Here’s an example:

English articles 

Papiamento articles 

  • A book  
  • The book  
  • Un buki  
  • E buki  

Almost no tenses

In Papiamento, we mainly use the present, past and future without much variation or change.

Past Present  future 
  • I walked 

 

  • Ami tawata cana 
  • I walk  

 

  • Ami ta cana 
  • I will walk 

 

  • Ami lo cana 

When it comes to a continuous act, just like in English, we specify the tense and add “–ing” or in the case of Papiamento “–ando” when the verb ends with an A or “–iendo” if it ends in I, E or O.

Past Present Future 
  • I was eating 

 

  • Ami tawata comiendo 
  • I am eating 

 

  • Ami ta comiendo 
  • I will be eating 

 

  • Ami lo ta comiendo 

Multilingual population

The inhabitants of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao are known for being able to speak 4 languages. Due to tourism, the relationship with Europe and proximity to South America, a big percentage of the population is able to speak Dutch, Spanish and English with ease. This makes it easy to communicate as well as be able to easily borrow words from these languages and it will still be understandable.

Today’s instant international communications have added elements such as computer jargon, food-related words and the colorful slang of many countries, that has allowed Papiamento to grow and evolve into a fuller language while still keeping its Caribbean flavor.

Lastly, Papiamento is fun! It’s a Caribbean language so it’s all good and chill. It has a rhythm of its own, however, because it has a comparatively small vocabulary, one must pay attention and put the emphasis on the right syllable. Some words that are spelt the same way have a totally different meaning when pronounced incorrectly. But remember to have fun with it and enjoy the learning process all while impressing your Antillian friends or locals when you decide to visit these paradises. Is it the best language to learn? Yes. Is it the easiest language to learn? Also yes.

Learning Papiamento

If you have ever put in Google the words “Aruba language” to try to get information on Papiamento or “Papiamento Aruba” to try and learn it then, we got the answer for you. You can finally join in on the fun and learn Papiamento. You can be part of the elite group of people that can speak this secret language. Impress the natives of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire by speaking Papiamento. Back home no one will know what you are talking about so you can easily gossip about someone and they won’t even know. That is the power of this Creole language.

Head on over to VocApp and learn Papiamento with hundreds of Papiamento lessons on different subjects. You will learn how to say so many words in Papiamento. Combine the easiest language to learn with the best language learning platform, the result of this combination is Papiamento on Vocapp If you want to have a little part of the Caribbean in your pocket you can also download VocApp on your phone and learn Papiamento on the go. For Android users you can click here to download the app and if you’re using Apple then click here to download VocApp. Hurry up and download the app, this secret language of the Caribbean is waiting for you!

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