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Where there are people, there will be the use of language – languages which may be different. With the interaction of these people, their languages will also come into contact, and this can produce a variety of results. The outcome of such situations, however, is dependent on many factors which speakers may or may not have control over. In many instances, languages influence each other, which can result in words being borrowed. Persons may work to learn each other’s languages as well, which will result in bilingualism or multilingualism. In the Caribbean however, the unwanted invasion of Europe, lead to language death in many regions as a result of genocide, and the intense collision of European languages with African languages caused language shift and the formation of whole new languages which are the basis of Creole spoken in the Caribbean today.
Barbados was one of the first British colonies when they settled there in 1627, after finding it deserted by the Arawaks who were the island’s previous inhabitants. As the island was deserted, the British faced no opposition upon entry and after seeing how rich the land was during their expedition, they established a settlement there, with the Crown’s approval of course, as finances would be needed. They began planting tobacco and cotton, and the profitability of their tobacco production and export on the island further contributed to Britain’s already formidable economy. Naturally, they sought expansion. In the initial stages, whites from Britain were brought to Barbados as indentured servants. These servants were from the lowest class of the English labor force, who were willing to take advantage of greater opportunities in the New World and were recruited for a mere few shillings per person. This continuous flow of English servants was well established into the 1630s, especially as they began to cultivate sugarcane as well, with ships of as many as 800 whites leaving London and Southampton to work in Barbados. It is also recorded that a London merchant gathered 56 Irish servants and shipped them to Barbados in 1637.
After 1648, Cromwell began “to Barbados” his prisoners of war, which included prisoners who were captured in the battles of Preston and Colchester, as well as during the Irish rebellion. Barbados essentially became Cromwell’s landfill where he disposed of those who were not seen as fit for trial, which were supporters of his enemies, prisoners, and even soldiers, and recycled them as easy labor in order to meet the needs of the increasing demand for products on the island. This practice became the norm. Scotland began to ship rebels to Barbados as well.
Over time, the shipment of indentured laborers from England to Barbados decreased as more opportunities became available in other colonies such as Jamaica which had better incentives such as shorter contracts, in addition to acres of land. The establishment of anti-emigration policies also negatively affected the labor supply, as merchants were tried for kidnapping and beguiling persons to be servants on the island. The Navigation Acts of 1660 and 1661 became a deterrent to the Scottish servant trade because it became illegal for ships to transport servants from Scotland without going to an English port for cargo registration. Scottish merchants were not pleased with this change, which caused them to remove themselves from the equation, and ultimately meant less plantation laborers for Barbados. All these changes caused the price of white labor to increase, as now the merchants were even mandated to have their ships searched by police officers and have medical checks done on their servants. Needless to say, white labor became unappealing. It is said that it is at this time, that Britain took the advice of their Dutch and Sephardic counterparts, who the Portuguese had cut ties with during the Brazilian civil war, and partnered with them to get slaves from West Africa, as prime male slaves were being sold inexpensively. Thousands of African slaves were then shipped to Barbados and forced to work on the plantations along with the white indentured laborers who were still on the island at that time.
1627 to 1650 marks the foundational phase of language contact between Africans and Europeans in Barbados. As stated before, Barbados was predominantly inhabited by whites of British, Scottish, and Irish origin during this period, with a small number of African slaves. These African slaves lived near the European laborers in small farm dwellings. Living alongside them it was not uncommon for there to be contact and this would have made language acquisition very likely, especially boasting the largest white population of all Caribbean colonies. However, we must recall the nature of this contract situation. Firstly, The Europeans in Barbados were from varying nations and, based on their social class and their backgrounds, it is expected that they spoke nonstandard English. Also, most importantly, the Africans were forcefully shipped to Barbados and torn from their families and motherland. As such it is natural that they would detest the Europeans which would lead to resistance of their language as well. Instead of adopting the language of their oppressors, the Africans created their own language. This language not only served as a means of effective communication between African slaves but also signified triumph. They had no say in their migration and enslavement but one thing they could control was the language they spoke. Establishing their own language enabled them to keep some distance from the European language and the culture, and oppression with which it was associated.
The phases of exonormative stabilization and nativization took place between 1650 to 1961. Many things occurred during this period. Firstly, the Africans now outnumbered Europeans, as sugar cultivation required more labor, and indentured laborers were not willing to take on this task. As a result, the British began to use Africans as their primary labor force while many indentured laborers moved on to higher-ranking positions. These newly imported Africans acquired Creole as their second language. Also, by this time there were many children born who acquired Creole as their native language. It is even said that the European laborers took on the lisping language of the negroes, as the language of local whites was highly influenced by Creole.
It is said that the large number of whites inhabiting Barbados is the reason that Bajan is such a light variety of creole in comparison to the rest of the Caribbean. Due to its Irish, Scottish, and English influence, Bajan Creole sounds like a strange mix of a Caribbean accent with a European essence. It is very similar to English but does have some of the classic Creole lexicon and characteristics. Barbados’ flat terrain is also noted as a factor in its Creole being close to English as it’s landscape does not facilitate remote communities. Bajan has come a far way since emancipation and independence in 1966. Blacks, who make up most of the population, now have political power, and the country is united by a sense of belonging, overcoming, and patriotism. Bajan symbolizes not only unity, but identity and it is used by all Bajans, both black and white, and is accepted, and even encouraged in certain professions such as media and literature, especially poetry, which has rich Creole pieces. Being a diglossic society, English is of course still the official language of Barbados, used in formal situations, while Creole is reserved for informal situations such as a conversation between friends and family, and is still regarded by many as an inferior derivative of English, used by the uneducated or undisciplined, but in recent times acceptance of the vernacular is high, and a shift in perspective can be seen, namely in the younger generations. There have also been steps taken to codify Creole which has been done with the publication wait for the dictionary of Caribbean English usage.
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