Dominica's Kwéyòl

Although English is the official language spoken on the Island of Dominica, Antillean Kwéyòl (a cultural heritage language, more commonly known as Kwéyòl, Creole, Patois or Patwa), is also spoken on the island.

Antillean Kwéyòl emerged in the Lesser Antilles around the 17th Century, during the era of the transatlantic slave trade. The particular circumstances made it necessary for diverse groups of people, i.e. West Africans from different tribes who were enslaved by European colonisers, to communicate with one another.  This led to the slaves developing their own unique form of communication, using a mixture of their own languages alongside some of the words of their colonial rulers, which they adapted and used when forming their own common language.  This new language spread throughout some of the Caribbean islands as the slaves were transported and assigned to different plantations.

Dominica's Kwéyòl language and culture contains a mélange of influences (notably African, Carib and European), but basically, the language is a French-based Creole, with much of its grammatical structure being of West Africa origin.

Until relatively recent times, Kwéyòl was mainly an oral tradition.  There was no universal formal writing system across the different islands where Kwéyòl was still in use, so consequently various writing methods emerged.  In the mid-1970s, following the establishment of research committees by eminent scholars, creolists and linguists from some of the Antillean Kwéyòl-speaking islands, extensive research was carried out into the use of Kwéyòl.  This led to the development and introduction of a formal Kwéyòl orthography (the GEREC system (Group d'Etudes et de Recherches en Espace Creolophone), which Dominica adopted in the early 1980s following two Orthography Conferences held in St. Lucia by the Standing Committee on Creole Studies. This Committee included representatives from the various Antillean Kwéyòl-speaking islands.  Although the GEREC system is widely used across the Lesser Antillean Kwéyòl-speaking islands, variations can be found from island to island.


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