Breaking Down Sranan Tongo To Understand Linguistic & Cultural Heritage

Creole languages are unique. They are a hodgepodge of languages which arise in situations where people exist without a shared common language. People end up using bits of different languages. Over generations, these admixed languages become fully fledged natural human languages, known as creoles. André Sherriah and Hubert Devonish, two linguists at the University of the West Indies, teamed up with a psychologist Ewart Thomas and a biologist Nicole Creanza, to write this paper, “Using features of a Creole language to reconstruct population history and cultural evolution: tracing the English origins of Sranan,” on applying methods from biology to study a specific creole language.

As you can see from the title, Sranan is a Creole language spoken. It is spoken in the linguistic diverse Tiny Suriname, where people also speak Dutch, Hindi, Javanese, Portuguese, Cantonese, and a variety of indigenous languages. Sranan is English-based. The bulk of Sranan vocabulary comes from English but with Dutch and Portuguese and even African linguistic heritage.

Their goal was to see if Sranan words could be analyzed to see where in England the colonists had come from. The dialects across England were compared to Sranan words. The results imply two major dialects contributed majority of Sranan: one from the southwest of England, near Bristol, and another from the southeast, in Essex. Historical records already told us that the majority of English people who came to Suriname originated from these areas. So this method of forensic linguistic analysis is validated.

With a validated method, this can be applied to trace the fine details of African origins of West Indies. African languages have been less intensively studied than English, partially because they make up less percentage of modern day creoles. But with little historical record of where African people came from during the slave trades, this way of deconstructing creole languages can be used to trace peoples cultural heritage that was lost to time.

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