Karipúna French Creole language

Karipúna French Creole
Karipúna Creole French
Native to Brazil (in the Uaça Indian Reservation in the state of Amapá)
Native speakers
1,726 (2001)[1]
French Creole
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kmv
Glottolog kari1301[2]
Linguasphere 51-AAC-cdd

Karipúna French Creole language is spoken by the Karipúna community, which lives in the Uaçá Indian Reservation in the state of Amapá, on the Curipi and Oyapock rivers.[3] It is mostly French-lexified except for flora and fauna terms, with an complex mix of substratum languages — mostly notably the extinct Tupian Karipúna language.

Ethnologue considers Karipúna French Creole to be “threatened,” with a rating of 6b on the Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS).[4] This designation seems generally due to the waning use of KFC as a mother tongue, and the steadily decreasing transmission rate. Anonby notes that Portuguese tends to be the mother tongue for speakers under 60 in the Karipúna community, and Karipúna French Creole is the mother tongue primarily only for speakers over 60.[5]


The Karipúna community is comprised of a staggering mix of ethnicities, to such a degree that at times (such as in the early 1930s) doubt arose as to whether or not the Karipúna should be referred to as Indians.[5] Alleyne and Ferreira explain that “today, the Karipúna people are a highly mixed group, comprising not only descendants of Amerindians, but also of Africans, Asians and Europeans, and mixtures thereof.”[6]

John Ladhams offers what is probably the best description of the migration and formation of the current-day Karipúna population. Members of the Arawak, Tupí, and Carib linguistic trunks were in contact with European explorers since the 16th century, and around 1830 to the 1840s, due to the Cabanagem Revolt, a group of Amerindians from the Pará region moved to modern-day Amapá (which was, at the time, claimed by French Guinea) and joined with the present ethnic groups, thus coming into contact with French or Guyanais speakers.[3][7] Moving between French Guiana and Brazil in hotly contested territory from the Ounary river, to the Oyapock river, and finally towards the Curipi river where the Karipúna now live, these groups were joined by “members of the Palikúr and Galibí tribes, as well as Guianan Creoles, Arabs, Chinese, Europeans, and Brazilians” and eventually settled in the Uaçá area.[3] “These were ‘displaced Brazilians … called Karipúnas’."[6] Furthermore in 1854, due to a gold rush in Approuague, many “coolies, Blacks, Chinese, Martinicans and French adventurers” moved to the Oyapock and Uaçá rivers, where the Karipúna inhabited, further contributing to the broad ethnic mix.[3]

Ladhams explains the adoption of a French creole by the group as a result of the broad ethnic backgrounds of the Karipúna. “Since at least the 1840s," the Karipúna community was "a highly disparate group ... and that there would have been an immediate need for a medium for inter-ethnic communication. A prime candidate for this would have been Guyanais," as it was already used by parts of the Amerindian members and most of the non-Amerindian members of the Karipúna community.[3]

In December 1900, the Amapá region was ceded to Brazil from France,[3] putting the Karipúna community in Brazilian territory, and in the 1920s, “Brazilian authorities deemed it necessary to implement projects for occupying the formerly contested territory whose ‘frenchified’ populations were seen as a threat to the country’s territorial integrity.” As a result the Oiapoque Colonization Commission was created in 1920. Later in 1927, an inspection commission commanded by the Ministry of War began to patrol the Oiapoque and report on the groups living there.[7] The reports were the first to use the term of “Karipúna” for the inhabitants of the Cupiri River, and has been the label employed since.[5] The intent of the Ministry of War was to “incorporate the Indians into society," and from 1934–37, and then from 1945 onwards, non-indigenous teachers were recruited by the government to teach in Karipúna villages. This education “played a fundamental role in formulating the contemporary identity of these groups, in the propagation of the use of Portuguese and in the configuration of the villages."[7]

The 1970s “were marked by greater political participation of the Uaçá leaders,” including the Karipúna amongst the other three groups in the Uaçá reserve, “who began to act in more organized fashion." Particularly, they opposed the installation of the proposed route for the BR-156 highway, and this struggle resulted in further pressure to fight for the demarcation of their land. A new route of the highway was eventually accepted with “the hiring of indigenous heads to assist in the inspection of the borders of the indigenous territory."[7]

It was also during this period that the “Kheuól-to-Portuguese bilingual education programme was instituted, largely through the efforts of CIMI (the Catholic mission) and with the approval of FUNAI, and later MEC.” Since this period, there has been a stated focus on promoting the maintenance of KFC as a second language and defending Amerindian rights while also providing a “bridge to the outside world," to a varying degree of success, often criticized, both by members of the community and linguistic anthropologists such as Jo-Anne Ferreira.[8] Only in the 1990s did indigenous teachers, however, begin to receive training first by CIMI, then by the Organization of Indigenous Teachers of Oiapoque established in 2005, and now “many of the teachers are Karipúna or Galibi-Marwono."[8]

Overall, Karipúna populations are healthily growing after the original migration from Pará that lessened populations drastically. Alleyne and Ferreira note that “the Karipúna population in 2001 is six times larger than it was in 1943."[6] However, despite the optimistic growth in population, the linguistic vitality of Karipúna French Creole is threatened.

Current Status

Today in the Uaçá Reservation there are three other Amerindian groups: the Galibi-Marwono, who also speak a French Creole language incredibly similar to Karipúna, and the Palikúr and Galibi do Oiapoque indigenous groups who speak their own non-creole languages. Members of the latter groups are often bilingual in Amapá French Creole, though only the Karipúna and Galibi-Marwono speak AFC natively. Anonby finds that “the differences between all the French Creoles do not pose a serious problem to intelligibility."[5]

The Karipúna people numbered 1,726 between 16 different villages in 2001. The largest, Manga, contained 465 people.[5] They are far more dispersed as compared to the Galibi-Marwono community in the same reservation, wherein 1,578 out of a total population of 1,787 Galibi-Marwono are concentrated in the Kumaruma village.

Linguistic Vitality

Ethnologue considers Karipúna French Creole to be “threatened,” with a rating of 6b on the Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS).[4] This designation seems generally due to the waning use of KFC as a mother tongue, and the steadily decreasing transmission rate. Anonby notes that Portuguese tends to be the mother tongue for speakers under 60 in the Karipúna community, and Karipúna French Creole is the mother tongue primarily only for speakers over 60. Anonby paraphrases from interviews with speakers, that “although most people understand KFC," a Karipúna speaker "admitted about half of the people in the village of Manga cannot speak it. He said there were no monolingual Karipúna speakers.”[5] Speakers of KFC tend to speak it as a second language, first learning Portuguese, and only learning KFC via a three-year Kheuól education primary school programme implemented by CIMI.[8]

Anonby notes that “generally, [Karipúna] people feel that the loss of KFC is not a good thing. They feel nostalgia for the time when they all spoke it. At the same time, people feel very positive about speaking Portuguese.” Ferreira likewise confirms this, referencing the “discontent felt by many indigenous leaders” who feel as though the state of education in KFC is not of a sufficient standard to be beneficial for the maintenance of KFC.[8] This program was implemented in the 1980s by CIMI, the Catholic mission, but recently a new modified version of this program, the Projeto Político Pedagógico das Escolas Indígenas Karipúna e Galibi-Marworno, is in the process of being implemented, although the value of the new program in maintaining KFC is unclear.[8] Overall, due to the difficulty in transmitting the language to younger speakers as either a mother tongue or second language, KFC is justifiably in a threatened state.

Linguistic Origins

French creoles in Brazil form two sub-groups, both in the Amapá regions.[6] Southern Amapá consists only of “Amapá French Creole” (or “Lanc-Patúa”) and is spoken mainly around Macapá, the capital of Amapá state. Northern Amapá consists of two (relatively mutually intelligible[5]) French-lexified creoles, both of which are considered “Amazonian French Creole,” also often referred to as “Kheuól,” “Crioulo,” and “Patuá.” The two languages are “Karipúna French Creole” (KFC) as well as “Galibi-Marwono French Creole” (GMFC)

Alleyne and Ferreira, inspired by Ladham’s social history generally agree that KFC is a direct descendent of Guyanais, or Guianan French Creole. As noted above, Ladham interprets the language as a tool which the ethnically fragmented early Karipúna communities employed to meet an “immediate need for a medium for inter-ethnic communication."[3] This confirms that KFC’s superstratum language is primarily French, but the other influences on the language are diverse and numerous. Alleyne and Ferreira suggest that the original “Karipúna” language — that is, that spoken by the original emigrants from Pará — “may or may not” have been a Tupi-Guarani language, and contributed to parts of the lexicon.[6] Chris Corne notes that the indigenous influence is “substantial, particularly in the vocabulary of flora and fauna.[9]

Despite the contact with African speakers[6] that GFC no doubt had in its creolization process, Corne explains that “the African contribution, on present information, is surprisingly small, including only a handful of words from Bantu, Kwa, and Senegambian languages," although the African influences in grammar are more obvious.[9] Lastly and unsurprisingly Corne mentions that “Portuguese has contributed basic vocabulary” of KFC for both lexical and functional categories of words. Some Kheuól words are even used in variation with Portuguese contributions to the lexicon, “for example, stilo and kanét (‘pen’), la nét and janél (‘window’)",[6] generally as a result of increasing sociohistorical pressures from the mid-1900s as the Portuguese education system began to erode the transmission of KFC.

Academic Literature

Karipúna do Amapá is referred to by a wide variety of names colloquially and in linguistic literature, including “Karipúna do Norte (Karipúna French Creole),"[10] Kheuól, Crioulo, Patoá, Patuá, Patúa, and Amazonian/Amapá/Amerindian French Creole (which all also include the closely related Galibi-Marwono French Creole language).[8] Ethnologue refers to the language as “Karipúna Creole French."[4]

Tolber provided what is apparently the first rigorous descriptive grammar of KFC.[11] His account includes a lexicon with around 300 words, phonetic description of KFC, and analysis of the grammar at sentence, clause, word, and morpheme-level. The description is in-depth, categorical, and provides examples for various basic and complex sentence structures and clause types, along with justification of the classifications made. Based on Tobler’s description and elicitation test, a phonetic inventory was made available for KFC online.[3] Ladhams also notes that Monserrat & Silva published a grammar of Karipúna in Portuguese in 1984.[3]

Also, in the same decade, two Karipúna-Portuguese dictionaries were published by A.W. Tobler (1987)[12] and Montejo (1988).[13] Tobler’s Dicionário Crioulo Karipúna is published in Portuguese and contains an (approximately) 2100 Karipúna words with their Portuguese translation, and vice versa, and also provides an IPA pronunciation guide for Kheuól orthography. Picanço’s O nosso dicionário Português-Kheuol is apparently unavailable online.

Corne criticizes the “lack of serious lexicological research” for Karipúna French Creole and Guyanais in general.[9] Despite the relatively large focus on documentation in the 1980s, little other linguistic documentation appears to be available. Ferreira states that “the Catholic mission, CIMI, has been largely responsible for promoting a three year Kheuól education primary school programme.” According to CIMI statements, the Karipúna and Galibi-Marwono have been working since 1978 to develop this educational process,[8] but the “materials [for language education]” are not readily available and are most likely used in the community for the three-year language education program. According to Anonby some of the Karipúna French Creole texts have been published and they are “mainly Biblical stories and folk tales,” along with language “primers, such as those edited and organized by Fransisca Picanco Montejo (1985)."[5]

Documentation Projects

The majority of rigorous Karipúna linguistic documentation was done in the 1980s, with Tobler (1983), Tobler 1987), Monserrat & Silva (1984) and Picanço (1988). Present-day language documentation agencies (such as Soas, Museu do Índio, Museu Goeldi, and Dobes, amongst others) do not seem to have assisted in the documentation of KFC.

Anonby’s A Report on the Creoles of Amapá[5] is the result of a joint study between SIL and the University of the West Indies to “investigate sociolinguistic aspects of the French-lexifier Creole languages spoken in the state of Amapá,” albeit not funded by a particular major documentation project.


A series of anthropological analyses of the Karipúna community have been undertaken, especially in light of the Karipúna identity and schooling system. Tassinari and Cohn in 2009 critically evaluated, just like Ferreira,[8] the bilingual education program and demonstrated the caveats in the CIMI-organized three-year educational programme.[14] Ladhams is a well-cited and succinct socio-historical investigation of the Karipúna community’s origins, which is generally accepted by anyone writing about KFC ethnography afterwards.[3]


Karipúna French Creole is comprised of 32 phonemes — 22 consonants and 10 vowels. Its phonology is notably simpler than its lexifier language, French, as typically expected in creole languages.


Karipúna French Creole’s 22 phonemic consonants are shown in the table below.

Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Palato-alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasals m n ŋ
voiceless p t͡ʃ k
voiced b d͡ʒ g
Fricatives voiceless f s ʃ h
voiced v z ʒ
Flap ɾ
Approximants l j w

Karipúna French Creole’s consonants are relatively similar to French, with some exceptions. The palatal nasal stop, /ɲ/, voiced uvular fricative, /ʁ/, and labialized palatal approximant, /ɥ/, or /jʷ/, all of which are present in French, are not in KFC. Furthermore, /t/ and /d/ from French are dentalized in KFC.[11][15] Lastly /h/ is present phonemically in KFC, despite having been lost in French due to historical sound changes.


Karipúna French Creole has 10 phonemic vowels.[15]

Front Central Back
plain nasal plain nasal plain nasal
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɛ̃ ɔ ɔ̃
Open a ã

Again, compared to French’s 17 vowels, KFC is significantly less complicated, losing /ɑ/, /ɑ̃/, /ɛː/, /ə/, /œ/, /ø/, and /y/.

Nonetheless, the French influence is obvious. Like in French, only the mid-low and low vowels have phonemic nasalized variants. Alleyne and Ferreira note that this is consistent with other French creoles, and evidence for the hypothesis that all (or many) Atlantic French Creole languages descended from a common creole ancestor

See also


  1. Karipúna French Creole at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Karipuna Creole French". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ladhams, I. (1995). "Investigating the background of Karipúna Creole French". In Baker, P. From Contact to Creole and Beyond.
  4. 1 2 3 Lewis, Paul; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D. (2016). "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth edition". SIL International.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Anonby, Stan (2007). "A Report on the Creoles of Amapá".
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Alleyne, Mervyn C.; Ferreira, Jo-Anne S. (2007). "Comparative perspectives on the origins, development and structure of Amazonian (Karipúna) French Creole". Synchronic and diachronic perspectives on contact languages. 32: 325.
  7. 1 2 3 4 "History". Povos Indígenas No Brasil. Instituto Socioambiental. February 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Ferreira, Jo-Anne S. (2010). ""Bilingual education among the Karipúna and Galibi-Marwono: Prospects and possibilities for language preservation."". Creoles in Education: An appraisal of current programs and projects.
  9. 1 2 3 Corne, Chris (1999). From French to Creole: The development of new vernaculars in the French colonial world. Westminster: University of Westminster Press.
  10. Moore, Denny (2005). "Brazil: language situation". Encyclopedia of languages and linguistics 2.
  11. 1 2 Tobler, S. Joy (1983). "The Grammar of Karipúna Creole". Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  12. Tobler, A.W. (1987). Dicionário Crioulo Karipúna/Português Português/Crioulo Karipúna. Brasília: SIL.
  13. Montejo, Francisca Picanço (1988). No Djisone Kheuol-Portxige: O Nosso Dicionário Português-Khueol (Povos Karipúna e Galibi Marworno). Belem: Edicoes Mensageiro.
  14. Tassinari, Antonella Imperatriz; Cohn, Clarice (2009). ""Opening to the Other": Schooling among the Karipúna and Mebengokré‐Xikrin of Brazil". Anthropology & Education Quarterly. 40. 2: 150–169.
  15. 1 2 "Inventory Karipuna Creole French (PH)". PHOIBLE. 2014.
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