Sri Lankan Portuguese Creole - Origin


The Portuguese were established for twenty-years in Goa before coming to Sri Lanka in 1517. By that time a distinct pidgin of Portuguese had probably begun to develop, and this was used as the basis for communication with the new territory’s inhabitants. There is very little documented evidence of the linguistic situation at the time, however, it is clear that by the early 17th Century a Portuguese-based pidgin was in use in the Portuguese controlled littoral, and was not unknown in the kingdom of Kandy because of its frequent dealings with outsiders. Also, a creole community had been established consisting of two groups or creole speakers: the Topazes (Tupasses, mestiços, etc.), ‘dark skinned or half-cast people claiming Portuguese descent, and Christian profession, and Kaffirs (Caffres, etc.), or East Africans.

The Topazes were children of local or half-caste mothers and Portuguese or half-caste fathers. They would have been exposed to pidgin/creole Portuguese at home. They identified with Portuguese, a natural occurrence, considering that the Portuguese were at the apex of the social order, though they probably had local family ties as well. The Portuguese brought black slaves to Sri Lanka from East Africa, Kaffirs. These people would have spoken pidgin Portuguese, and it is likely that many were native creole speakers, but maybe not of the Sri Lanka variety. Because they mainly served as domestic servants, they would have introduced the very young children of Casados (married men who had come with their Portuguese wives as settlers to Sri Lanka) to the pidgin/creole. There may have also been children of chance unions of Portuguese or Topazes with Kaffirs, but it is unclear which group they would have belonged to.

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