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For the languages, see Creole language

The term Creole is used with different meanings in different contexts, which can generate confusion. Generally it refers to a people or a culture that is distinctive or local to a region, but with various additional shades of meaning.


Development of a Creole

While the uses of the words "creole" and "pidgin" usually mix when referring to trade languages, linguists consider them two seperate categories. Creoles are categorized as a bridge in langage development between a pidgin and a language. When a simple form of communication is created by combining and simplifying the traits of two or more languages, a pidgin is created. Pidgins have no native speakers and usually have no standard pronounciation, vocabulary, or grammar. A creole is the next step up from a pidgin, having native speakers, and a somewhat standardized yet simple vocabulary and word order. Creoles can become their own language, as with Old English, which merged the dialects and languages of Northern Germany and Scandanavia. This also happened with Tok Pisin, which has become a pidgin, creole, and now a language in a period of 90 years. Creoles can remain as a sort of second, local standard, like the Haitian creole, or they can be absorbed into the local dialect, which has happened in Latin America and a little in Hawai'i.

Latin American Creole

In most of Latin America Creole (Spanish, criollo, Portuguese, crioulo) generally refers to people of unmixed Spanish or Portuguese descent born in the New World. In Brazil, though, the word is a pejorative slang for a black individual.

Throughout the colonial history of Latin America, the Spanish caste system made distinction between criollos and the higher-ranking and governing peninsulares, despite both being of pure Spanish ancestry — the only distinction being that the latter were born on the Iberian Peninsula, hence the name.

This formed a discontented criollo underclass that, together with the support of the other decreasing-in-rank underclasses — castizo, mestizo, mulatto, amerindian, zambo and ultimately black slaves — impelled the Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821) and the South American Wars of Independence (1810–1825) against Spain, culminating in the establishment of republics throughout the former Spanish Empire.

In Brazil, a very different process occurred, independence largely being granted without major war, and the relationship between unmixed Portuguese and mestiços kept mostly peaceful. Unlike in Spanish America, a Brazilian monarchy directly connected to the Portuguese monarchy was established. Those unmixed Portuguese born in Portugal living in Brazil were deemed galegos (literally Galicians, in reference to the northern Portuguese origin of most, but also used on those born in south Portugal).

"Filipino" Creoles

During the colonial era of the Philippines, the term "Filipino" served the same purpose as the term "Criollo" in Latin America. "Filipino" there implied an unmixed Spaniard born in the Philippines. "Insulares" (i.e. [Spaniards] of the [Philippine] Islands) had a synonymous meaning with "Filipino". Those Spaniards that were born in Europe, as in Latin America, were called "Peninsulares (i.e. [Spaniards] of the [Iberian] Peninsula).

The term "Filipino" drastically changed in meaning when during the Philippine Revolution it was taken by nationalistic natives off the governing Spanish and Spanish-mestizo minority, and transformed into a national designation that encompassed any person of the Philippines, this included the native majority. Today, "Filipino" stands for the exact opposite of its colonial meaning, and is now used in reference for the population majority, the unmixed native Malayans of the archipelago. Ironically, it now somewhat excludes the 1% mixed Spanish-descended minority (Spanish-mestizos) who are seen, and often regard themselves, as foreigners.

The population of Spanish-mestizos (native Malay and Spanish/Mexican) in the Philippines has never accounted for more than 1% of the demographics of the Philippines. Meanwhile, numbers of creoles have always accounted for even fewer than the Spanish-mestizos, and today number only 17,000 (0.02%) amid a population of native Filipinos not far from 90 million.

New Orleans and Louisiana Creole

In this context the word refers to people of any race or mixture thereof who are descended from settlers in Louisiana before it became part of the USA in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, or to the culture and cuisine typical of these people. Some writers from other parts of the USA have mistakenly assumed the term to refer only to people of mixed racial descent, but this is not the traditional Louisiana usage. In fact some locals, especially those of pure Spanish and French Creole descent, have often argued that the traditional usage excluded African lineage. However, Colonial era documents show that a broader usage of the term was already common by the late 18th century, with references to "free Creoles of Color" and even to slaves of pure African descent born in Louisiana as "Creole slaves". It is now accepted that Creole is a broad cultural group of people of all races who share a French or Spanish background. Louisianans who identify themselves as "Creole" are most commonly from historically Francophone communities with some ancestors who came to Louisiana either directly from France or via the French colonies in the Caribbean; those descended from the Acadians of French Canada are more likely to identify themselves as Cajun than Creole. Creole is still used to identify a person of Spanish, French, or African origin. Whites, Blacks, Indians, and those of mixed race can all be creole.

A definition from the earliest history in New Orleans; ie, circa 1718; is: a child born in the colony as opposed to France. The definition became more codified after the United States took control of the city and Louisiana, 1803. The Creoles, by that time included the Spanish ruling class, who ruled from the mid-1700s until 1800. By 1850, however, after many years of pejorative slights by the new "American" émigrés, the term included, in a more common way, persons of different and/or mixed ethnicities and races. For example, early German immigrants, who settled along the “German Coast” of the Mississippi River above New Orleans, were referred to as Creole. By 1850, the French and Spanish Creoles lost political power, and the term became increasingly inclusive of anyone or anything from the city; eg, people, animals, architecture, etc.

Because of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, many Creole people fear the extinction of their culture and unique community. Having been forced to evacuate New Orleans, and settle temporarily (and perhaps permanently) elsewhere throughout the United States, it is unclear whether enough will return to a rebuilt New Orleans to continue their ethnic and cultural traditions.[1]

Alaska Creole

People of mixed Native American (esp. Alaskan) and European (esp. Russian) ancestry. The intermingling of promyshleniki men and Aleut women in the late 18th century gave rise to a people who assumed a prominent position in the economy of fur trading in the northern Pacific...

Portuguese Creole

People of mixed Portuguese and native ancestry that Portuguese had contact since the 15th century, and who spoke a Portuguese Creole language.

Mixed Portuguese and African ancestry.

Mixed Portuguese and Asian ancestry.

People of mixed Portuguese and Native ancestry that the Portuguese had contact with since the 15th century but who didn't speak a Portuguese creole are known as mulatos, mestiços, caboclos and pardos.

See also: Portuguese Creole

Caribbean creole

In the Caribbean region the term creole is used to describe anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, who was born and raised in the region. It also refers to the syncretism of the various cultures (African, French, British and Spanish among others) which influenced the area. This is also referred to as the creolization of society "due to its ability to suggest some of the complex sociocultural issues also involved in the process".(Manuel,p14) Linguistically speaking,it denotes the evolution of the blending of two or more languages to form a distinct new language that becomes the primary language of future generations.

In Reunion island and Mauritius, in the Indian ocean, the term denotes someone whose ancestry is so mixed that they don't belong to the other categories (small white, big white, pakistani, indian, chinese, and so on). Reunionese creole language (bourbonnais) derives from French, with very few foreign terms, and a highly idiosyncratic development. The same thing applies to Mauritian Creole language, which has more or less the same historical origin as Reunionese creole.


  • Manuel, Peter (1995) Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music From Rumba to Reggae Philadelphia: Temple University Press ISBN 1-56639-339-6

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