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Spoken in Netherlands Antilles, Aruba and Netherlands
Region Caribbean islands
Total speakers 329,002
Language family Creole language
Official status
Official language in  Aruba
 Netherlands Antilles
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 pap
ISO 639-3 pap

Papiamento (or Papiamentu) is the official and most widely spoken language on the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao (the so-called "ABC islands"). Papiamento is also spoken on the island of Sint Eustatius.

Papiamento is a creole language derived from the Portuguese language[2] with vocabulary influences from African languages, English and Arawak native languages.



The historical origins of Papiamento are still not very well known. It is disputed whether Papiamento originated from Portuguese or from Spanish. Owing to the resemblance between Spanish and Portuguese, it is difficult to tell whether a particular word came from one or from the other, or even from Italian (old Genovese).

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 century, respectively). The name of the language itself comes from papear ("to chat", "to talk"), a word present in Portuguese 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 to Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba) "papiar" - to talk excessively (but also, "to eat"). Spain claimed dominion over the islands in the 15th century, but made little use of them. In 1634, the Dutch-based 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 though the Curacao 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).

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 Aruac) influences.

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.

African origin theory

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 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.

Some specifically claim that the Afro-Portuguese mother language of Papiamentu 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".[3] The use of "b" instead of "v" is very common in the African Portuguese Creoles.

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.[4]

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.

Present status

Many Papiamento speakers are multilingual and are also able to speak Dutch, English and Spanish. In the Netherlands Antilles, Papiamentu was made an official language on March 7, 2007.[5]

Papiamento is also spoken on St. Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius, all of which are also Dutch overseas territories. Venezuelan Spanish as well as American English is a constant influence today. Code-switching and lexical borrowing among Papiamentu, Spanish 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: Papiamento in Aruba and Papiamentu in Curaçao[6] and Bonaire. Although the Papiamentu in Curaçao and Bonaire are largely the same, there are still minor differences.

Spoken (Aruban) Papiamento sounds much more Spanish. The most apparent difference between the two dialects is given away in the name difference. Whereas Curaçao and Bonaire opted for a phonologically based spelling, Aruba uses an etymologically 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. Similary, there is also a difference between the usage of "k" in Curaçao and Bonaire and "c" in Aruba.

For example:

Papiamento: Palo (tree) Cas (house) Papiamentu: Palu (tree) Kas (house)

Furthermore, there is also an intonation and lexical difference between Papiamento and Papiamentu[7].


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/.[citation needed]

Papiamento has the following nine vowels.[8] The orthography (writing system) of Curaçao has one symbol for each vowel.

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

There are dialects that exist in the island itself. An example is the arubian word, "dolor" ("pain"), which is the same in curacao'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.[9] 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 stress and tone 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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12]

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 Papiamentu 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 Papiamentu 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 Papiamentu. Linguistic studies have shown that roughly two thirds of the words in Papiamentu's present vocabulary are of Iberian origin, a quarter are of Dutch origin,and some of Native American origin and the rest come from other tongues. A recent study by Buurt & Joubert inventarised several hundred words of indigenous Arawak origins[13]

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

  • por fabor = please - Spanish/Portuguese, por favor
  • señora = mrs, madam - Spanish, señora'; 'Portuguese, senhora;
  • kuá? = which? Spanish, cuál?; Portuguese, qual?;
  • Kuantu? = how many? - Spanish, cuánto?"; Portuguese, quanto?;

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:

  • sapato = shoe - Spanish, zapato; Portuguese, sapato;
  • cacho = dog - Spanish, cachorro; (puppy); Portuguese, cachorro (dog or puppy);
  • bisiña = neighbour - Spanish, vecino, vecina; Portuguese, vizinho, vizinha;
  • galiña = hen or chicken - Spanish, gallina; Portuguese, galinha;

Spanish origin words:

  • ciudad (ciudadnan) = city - Spanish, ciudad; Portuguese, cidade
  • sombre = hat - Spanish, sombrero; Portuguese, chapéu
  • cashon = trousers - Spanish, pantalon or calzon/es; Portuguese, calção
  • homber = man - Spanish, hombre; Portuguese, homem

Dutch origin words:

  • apel = apple - Dutch, appel
  • blauw = blue - Dutch, blauw
  • buki = book - Dutch, boekje
  • lesa = to read - Dutch, lezen

English origin words;

  • bek = back
  • boter = bottle

Italian origin words:

  • cushina/cushna = kitchen - Italian "cucina"; Spanish "cocina"
  • lanterna/latern = lantern - Italian "lanterna"; Portuguese, "lanterna"

Native American words:

  • horcan = hurricane - Taino, hurakan; Carib, yuracan, hyoracan;


  • Mansur, Jossy M. (1991) Dictionary English-Papiamento Papiamento-English. Oranjestad: Edicionnan Clasico Diario
  • Betty Ratzlaff (2008) Papiamentu-Ingles, Dikshonario Bilingual e di dos edishon. Bonaire: St. Jong Bonaire
  • Websters online Papiamento – English Dictionary


  • E. R. Goilo (2000) Papiamentu Texbook. Oranjestad: De Wit Stores N.V.

Writing system

There are two orthographies: a more phonetic one called Papiamentu (in Curaçao and Bonaire), and the etymological spelling used in Aruba.


Phrase samples

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

  • Kon ta bai? or Kon ta k'e bida?: "How are you?" or "How is life?", Portuguese, Como vai?/Como está a vida?, Spanish ¿Cómo te va? ¿Cómo te va la vida?
  • Por fabor: "Please" Portuguese/Spanish por favor
  • Danki: "Thank you" Dutch, Dank je'
  • Ainda no: "Not yet" Portuguese Ainda não
  • Mi (ta) stima bo: "I love you" Portuguese Eu (te) estimo (você) / Eu te amo
  • Laga nos ban sali!: "Let's go out!", Spanish ¡Vamos a salir!
  • Kòrda skirbi mi bèk mas lihé posibel!: "Remember to write me back as soon as possible!" Portuguese: Recorde-se de me escrever assim que for possivel.
  • Bo mama ta mashá simpátiko: "Your mother is very nice" Portuguese Tua/Sua mãe é muito simpática.

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 also shown for contrast.

English Portuguese Papiamentu Guinea-Bissau Cape Verdean* ** Spanish
Welcome Bem-vindo Bon Biní Bô bim drito Bem-vindo*** Bienvenido
Good day Bom Dia Bon dia Bon dia Bon dia Buenos días
Thank you Obrigado Danki Obrigadu Obrigadu Gracias
How are you? Como vais?/como vai? Kon ta bai? Kumá ku bo na bai? Módi ki bu sa ta bai? ¿Cómo te va?
Very good Muito bom Mashá bon Mutu bon Mutu bon Muy bien
I am fine Eu estou bom/bem Mi ta bon N' sta bon N sta dretu Yo estoy bien
I, I am Eu, Eu Sou Mi, Mi ta N', Mi i N, Mi e Yo, yo soy
Have a nice day Passa um bom dia Pasa un bon dia Pasa un bon dia Pasa un bon dia Pasa un buen dia
See you later Vejo-te depois/ Te vejo depois Te aweró/ Te despues N' ta odjá-u dipus N ta odjâ-u dipôs, Te lógu Te veo después
Food Comida Kuminda Bianda Kumida Comida
Bread Pão Pan Pon Pon Pan
Juice Sumo/Suco Djus Sumu Sumu Zumo / Jugo
I like Curaçao Eu gosto de Curaçao Mi gusta Kòrsou N' gosta di Curaçao N gosta di Curaçao Me gusta Curazao

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


  1. ^ Also debated as to whether it is a Spanish Creole or an Iberian Creole.[citation needed]
  2. ^ Baptista, Marlyse (2009). On the development of nominal and verbal morphology in four lusophone creoles (seminar presentation given 6 November 2009, University of Pittsburgh). 
  3. ^ E.F. Martinus (1996) A Kiss of the Slave: Papiamentu and its West African Connections
  4. ^ McWorter (2002) The Missing Spanish Creoles. Berkeley: University of California Press
  5. ^ Nieuwsbrief 070313 - Papiaments officieel erkend
  6. ^
  7. ^ Kook, H., & Narain, G. (1993). Papiamento. In G. Extra & L. Verhoeven (eds.), Community Languages in the Netherlands (pp. 69-91). Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger.
  8. ^ Philippe Maurer. Die Verschriftung des Papiamentu, in Zum Stand der Kodifizierung romanischer Kleinsprachen. Gunter Narr Verlag, 1990
  9. ^ Mario Dijkhoff. Ortografija di papiamento. Münster, 1984.
  10. ^ E.R. Goilo (1994) Papiamentu Textbook, ninth edition. Oranjestad-Aruba: De Wit Stores NV
  11. ^ Bert Remijsen and Vincent J. van Heuven (2005) "Stress, tone and discourse prominence in the Curaçao dialect of Papiamentu" in: Phonology 22:205-235
  12. ^ Raúl Römer (1991) Studies in Papiamentu Tonology. Amsterdam Centre for Caribbean Studies
  13. ^ Gerard van Buurt & Sidney M Joubert (1997) Stemmen uit het Verleden, Indiaanse Woorden in het Papiamentu. Curaçao


  • Efraim Frank Martinus (1996) The Kiss of a Slave: Papiamentu's West-African Connections. University of Amsterdam Press.
  • Gary Fouse (2002) The Story of Papiamentu. New York: University Press of America
  • John H. Holm (1989) Pidgins and Creoles Volume One. Theory and Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • John McWhorter (2000) The Missing Spanish Creoles: Recovering the Birth of Plantation Contact Language. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Gerard van Buurt & Sidney M Joubert (1997) Stemmen uit het Verleden, Indiaanse Woorden in het Papiamentu. Curaçao

See also

External links

Papiamento edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:




Alternative spellings

Proper noun


  1. A creole language based on Portuguese, spoken in the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba.


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