17 January 2010

English and creoles

Searching for mixed-language poetry is always fun. I was alerted to the mixing of languages in Guinea-Bissau by an isolated sentence in Wikipedia: "Lyrics are almost always in Guinea-Bissau Creole, a Portuguese-based creole language, and are often humorous and topical, revolving around current events and controversies, especially AIDS." Wikipedia itself describes the language: "Guinea-Bissau Creole (native name kriol,kiriol or kriolu varying with dialects; crioulo da Guiné in Portuguese) is the lingua franca of the West African country of Guinea Bissau. It is a Portuguese-based creole language, closely related to Cape Verdean creole. Kriolu is spoken as a first language by approximately 15% (190,000) of Bissau-Guineans, and as a second language by approximately 46% (600,000); it is also spoken in parts of Senegal, primarily as a trade language. Portuguese itself is the official language of Guinea Bissau, although it is not spoken regularly by a majority of the population."

This bit of information is interesting to me because, in the Philippines, which touts itself as the "world's third-largest English speaking nation," English "is not spoken regularly by a majority of the population." English is an official language and is supposed to be the primary medium of instruction, but in reality, it is the national language called Filipino that is spoken in cities and schools, and it is various vernacular-based creoles spoken outside the major cities. In literature, most English writers write in what they consider "pure" English (labeled by linguists as "Philippine English" or the variety of English that is written only by Filipinos); when the actual language spoken on the streets is used is literature, the effect (like that in Guinea Bissau) is often deliberately comic.

By the way, the ranking of the Philippines in the list of English-speaking countries varies widely from Number 18 in Nationmaster to Number 5 in Wikipedia. Only Filipinos who have never been to India, the USA, Nigeria, UK, and China claim that the Philippines is up there with the biggies. Don't ask me why it should be a source of pride to speak English. Ethnologue says that English is only the third most-spoken language in the world, trailing Chinese and Spanish. (For Philippine languages: Filipino is Number 37, Tagalog 39, Cebuano 57, Ilocano 98, Hiligaynon 115, Bikol 130.)

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