In the heart of the Caribbean, where turquoise waters caress the shores of San Andres, lies a unique linguistic treasure: San Andres Creole. This language, spoken by the raizal population of the San Andres and Providencia archipelago, is a reflection of the rich history and cultural fusion that defines this region.
Although similar to the Creole spoken in Bluefields and Mosquitia in Nicaragua, the Province of Limon in Costa Rica, and the provinces of Bocas del Toro and Colon in Panama, San Andres Creole has its own characteristics that make it truly special.
Language as a Reflection of Identity
One of the most notable characteristics of Creole is its vocabulary, which has its roots in English. However, this language has evolved over time and has incorporated 7 to 10 percent of loanwords from Spanish and African and French languages, including Twi, Ewe, Ibo, Mende, and Mandinka. But San Andres Creole also has its own distinctive grammar that sets it apart from standard English.
One of the most interesting grammatical features is the use of the auxiliary “wen” (benmen) to indicate past tense, adding depth to the temporal structure of sentences. Additionally, the auxiliaries “beg” and “mek” are used at the beginning of sentences to indicate request or permissiveness, serving as modal markers for the sentence.
Exploring the Island’s Treasures
The Creole also uses modality markers placed before the verb, adding nuances to communication. These markers can indicate probability, future, obligation, potential, or desire, allowing for rich and nuanced expression.
Another interesting feature is the presence of twelve aspect markers preceding the verb, enabling the expression of a wide range of meanings related to the duration and nature of an action. This grammatical structure enriches storytelling and communication in San Andres Creole.
In San Andres and Providencia, San Andres Creole is an official language alongside Spanish, as established by the 1991 Constitution of Colombia. Most speakers of this Creole language are trilingual, as they also speak English and Spanish.
Throughout history, English has remained present in churches for Bible reading, religious services, and choirs, while the presence of mainland immigrants and economic, political, and administrative activities has promoted the use of Spanish, which is fluently spoken by the raizal youth. However, schools and satellite television have contributed to a resurgence in the use of the local Creole among natives.
San Andres Creole is much more than a language; it is a reflection of the cultural, historical, and linguistic diversity of San Andres and Providencia. It is a legacy that deserves to be valued and preserved, enriching the identity and heritage of the raizal population. When visiting these beautiful islands, it’s an invitation to explore not only their beaches and landscapes but also their fascinating world of words and meanings that lie beneath the surface.