I realise some readers might not know much about Reunion Creole, the language which is spoken as mother tongue by about 90% of the population* on the island where I live, La Réunion, in the Indian Ocean.
1) Until the late 17th century the island was uninhabited so there was no local population and thus no indigenous language. When the island started being inhabited it was initially by people from France and Madagascar, later by slaves from East Africa. When slavery was abolished in 1848 indentured labourers were brought in from India and China. All these factors led to a linguistic melting-pot, with French dominating but with input from Malagasy, Portuguese, Tamil, Gujarati and Hindi, and this led to the development of Réunion Creole.
2) What is a Creole? Briefly, a Creole is a language which has developed from parent languages and which is spoken as the native language by those growing up where the Creole is spoken. The word itself comes from criollo (Spanish) and crioulo (Portuguese), words used in the 16th and 17th centuries in the colonies to describe those born and raised locally as opposed to those who immigrated as adults. A study carried out in 1977 by Ian Hancock counted 127 different Creoles world-wide, 15 of which are French-based.
3) Following are a few examples of Reunion Creole words and their origin:
- carri – the name of the main type of dish in Reunion (from the Tamil kari)
- papang – a bird of prey (from the Malagasy papango)
- Le Tampon is a local place name which comes from the Malagasy tampona, meaning ‘summit’.
- macatia – a type of sweet bread roll (from the Swahili mkate)
- malbar – person of Indian origin (from the Portuguese malabar)
- bringèle – aubergine (from the Portuguese berinjela)
5) The meaning of some words have been transformed or adapted from their original French, for example kanyar (cagnard) means thug, and bonbon la fesse (literally “bottom candy”) is a suppository.
6) Today Reunion Creole still has no official orthography. It is not taught in schools, but university students can study for a degree in it.
* As of 1st January 2012 the population was 837 868 inhabitants.