According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Creole was originally used in the 16th century to refer to locally born [born in America] individuals of Spanish, Portuguese, or African descent as distinguished from those born in Spain, Portugal, or Africa” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). However, in the early 17th century, the term creole was adopted into French to mean someone of African or European descent who had born in American or the Indian ocean colonies. The word creole has also been used as an adjective to, “characterize plants, animals, and customs typical of the same regions” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica).  In the 21st century, there were many different groups who referred to themselves as creoles including: people of African or mixed descent in Mauritius, any locally born person living on the island of Réunion, locally born people of full European and mixed indigenous-European decent in Argentina and Uruguay, and descendants of Africans and descendants of French and Spanish colonials (who lived there before the Louisiana Purchase) living in Louisiana. So, up until the late 1600’s, the term creole basically meant that an individual was living in a different place than where his or her ancestors came from (and maybe that the individual did not mix their blood line with the natives).

Since the late 1600’s, creole has meant, “a simplified form of language (or pidgin) that becomes the native language of a community” (Dr. Chisholm’s notes). “Creole was first applied to language by the French explorer Michel Jajolet, sieur de la Courbe, In Premier voyage du sieur de la Courbe fait a la coaste d’Afrique en 1685, which means the, ‘First voyage made by Sieur de le Courbe on the Coast of Africa in 1685’” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). Jajolet used this term in reference to the people living in Senegal who spoke a Portuguese-based language. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the creole – as a linguistic term – was applied to other languages. In English, the linguistic term creole was not widely used until 1825. (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica)

There are three major hypotheses for how creoles came about that scholars and creolists have argued over for years now. These three hypotheses include: the substrate, superstrate, and universalist hypothesis (substrate meaning non-European languages; superstrate meaning European languages). “According to substratists, creoles were formed by the languages previously spoken by Africans enslaved in the Americas and the Indian Ocean, which imposed their structural features upon the European colonial languages” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). The superstrate hypothesis claims that, “the primary, if not the exclusive, sources of a creole’s structural features are the colonial nonstandard varieties of the European languages from which they developed” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). And lastly, the universalist claim is that creole was developed by the, “children who were exposed to a pidgin at an early age created a creole language by adopting only the vocabularies of the pidgin” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). These are the three-main hypothesis for the development of creole, but they are not the only theories in the world. More research is still needed before we can ever really understand how creole languages are developed.



The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Creole Languages | Linguistics.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Ed. Salikoko Sangol Mufwene. N.p.: Encyclopedia Britannica, 30 Nov. 2015. Website. 26 Feb. 2017.

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