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Cape Verde: Creole and Portuguese Languages, an Unofficial Pair

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet.

May 5, 2011, was a day to celebrate Portuguese Language and Culture, as established by the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) at the XIV CPLP Council of Ministers held in Cape Verde, in 2009.

The Portuguese language was brought to the uninhabited Cape Verde islands, by the first settlers five centuries before, in 1460. Though the Portuguese language is official in the country today, the national language is Cape Verdean Creole, which has nine varieties of Portuguese-based Creole, and these are the mother tongues of the population spread across nine islands that make up the country, independent since 1975.

A recent speech by the Minister of Culture of Cape Verde, Mario Lucio Sousa, in Parliament stated [pt] the need “to make the Cape Verdean language official, as envisaged by the Constitution, pairing with the Portuguese language.”

Anti-drug poem in Creole. Photo by the artist Joel Bergner, coordinator of the Global Mural Project "Action Ashe!" (used with permission)

Anti-drug poem in Creole. Photo by the artist Joel Bergner, coordinator of the Global Mural Project "Action Ashe!" (used with permission)

Language and social spaces

The linguist Manuel Veiga points out the difference between “the linguistic status of the two languages” on the blog Sibila [pt]:

(…) enquanto a Lp [Língua Portuguesa] é língua oficial e do ensino, da literatura, dos mídia e das situações formais de comunicação, o Ccv [Crioulo cabo-verdiano] é língua de comunicação na família, língua das tradições orais, principal suporte musical, numa palavra, língua da oralidade e das situações informais de comunicação.

while the Portuguese language is the official language and the one used for education, literature, media and situations of formal communication, Cape Verdean Creole is the language of family communication, oral tradition, the main musical support, in a word, is the language of orality and of informal situations of communication.

Veiga goes further, mentioning in another article, that the politics of language in education favours the rich, who master the Portuguese language. Despite government efforts to promote Cape Verdean Creole in the country, Veiga says [pt]:

Para ter efeitos a longo prazo, uma política de oficialização teria de ser acompanhada por uma vasta implementação de condições estruturais direccionadas para a valorização do estudo e do uso do crioulo em todos os campos sociais.

In order to have long term effects, an official policy would be accompanied by a major implementation of structural conditions directed to enhancing the study and the use of Creole in all social areas.

The social role of Creole [pt] in education, particularly its adoption in primary and secondary schools, and also in religion, is often discussed, as was in the International Mother Language Day on 21 February, when the Comissão Nacional de Cabo-Verde (National Commission of Cape Verde), linked to the Instituto Internacional de Língua Portuguesa (International Portuguese Language Institute), hosted a debate on the issue and ended with a screening of the movie [pt] “Jesus” translated into Cape Verdean Creole.

Screbê Kriolu (Write Creole)

(…) alguns puristas da língua portuguesa começaram a considerar o CCV como meio de comunicação sem regras nem gramática; como mixórdia que não se pode escrever e que não tem importantes letras do alfabeto, como L de lei, R de rei, F de fé. Por tudo isto, o CCV constituía, no dizer deles, um perigo para a unidade do império.

some purists of the Portuguese language began to consider CCV [Cape Verdean Creole] as a means of communication without any rules or grammar, as a mishmash that one can not write and which has no significant letters of the alphabet, as the L of Lei (Law), the R of Rei (King), the F of Fé (faith). For all this, CCV represented, from their point of view, a danger to the unity of the empire.

The above quote is taken from the opening note of the blog KrioLUS [pt], from the University of Cape Verde. A few months before Cape Verde ratified the Reform of the Portuguese Ortography, in 2009, the Unified Alphabet for Cape Verdean Writing (ALUPEC) was adopted, aiming to establish an official standard for the language spoken in the archipelago, despite the variations of each island.

Diglossia: texts in Portuguese and Creole, Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde. Photography of Francisco Santos with Creative Commons 3.0

Diglossia: texts in Portuguese and Creole, Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde. Photography of Francisco Santos with Creative Commons 3.0

In the comments section of an article on the approval of the ALUPEC [pt], opinions were divided concerning its formalization and implementation. Marta Velozo believed that:

Merecem palmas todas as ações que lutam pela diversidade cultural

All actions that fight for cultural diversity deserve applause

As for Pedro V, “the ALUPEC is an aberration”:

Mostra um complexo do colonizado porque rejeita a origem portuguesa da nossa língua. Qual a necessidade de reinventar um alfabeto se o que utilizamos para escrever a língua portuguesa nos serve perfeitamente?

It shows a complex of the colonized because it rejects the Portuguese origin of our language. What is the need to reinvent an alphabet if the one we use to write the Portuguese language serves us well?

A Cape Verdean blogger, Et, who has maintained the blog Lingua di Kauverdi (Cape Verdean Language) [CCV] since 2008 with extensive documentation, research and learning materials in Creole, advocates [pt] the adoption of ALUPEC and asks:

Como será materializado o desenvolvimento do ensino da Língua Cabo-verdiana em todos os cantos de Cabo Verde? Sem um código (aceitável) convencional, normativo para representar os sons da nossa fala…

How will the development of language teaching in Cape Verdean in every corner of Cape Verde be materialized? Without a conventional (acceptable) code, normative to represent the sounds of our speech …

On the blog Coral Vermelho (Red Coral) [pt], Ondina Ferreira comments on one of the final recommendations from the Encontro de Quadros de origem cabo-verdiana na Diáspora (Summit of Cape Verdean Professionals in the Diaspora), held in Mindelo (island of São Vicente) last month, which claimed that “Creole should be be better and more taken care of”:

Apenas estranhei, e muito, o facto de nessa mesma recomendação para servir aos falantes das ilhas, não se ter acrescentado igualmente a de Cabo Verde cuidar bem e melhor da Língua portuguesa que é também a nossa língua. (…) Ambas definem a nossa identidade cultural mestiça. Ambas são nossas com toda a legitimidade e legalidade. (…) A Língua portuguesa tão nossa como o Crioulo que nela tem origem, tem a idade da nação cabo-verdiana.

I only find strange, very strange, the fact that this same recommendation to better serve the speakers of the islands, doesn't include the Portuguese language which is also our language. (…) Both define our mixed cultural identity. Both are ours, with all  legitimacy and legality. (…) The Portuguese language, as ours as the Creole that has its origin in it, with the same age as the nation of Cape Verde.

While in Cape Verde the mother language(s) are apparently being valued, researchers believe that the opposite is taking place in East Timor – “strugling so that its co-official language, Portuguese, is mastered by a bigger portion of the population” – , as reported [pt] on the blog Observatório dos Países de Língua Oficial Portuguesa (Portuguese Language Countries Watch). In a future post, Global Voices will explore the linguistic diversity of the first nation of the millennium, namely their online representations.

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet.

This article was co-written with João Miguel Lima and was proofread by Janet Gunter.

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