Why do we still refer to our language as a “Portuguese dialect”???? 

(If you don’t want to get mad you may not want to continue reading)

Why do we refer to our Kriolu language as “Portuguese dialect”? Or a mixture of Portuguese and African?

Both terms are factually incorrect. A dialect infers mutual intelligibility. Portuguese and Kriolu are not. Secondly, Portuguese is a language and Africa is a continent! “African” is not a language… it’s crazy that I even have to make this distinction! It’s a continent…!!!!

Most Cape Verdeans understand Portuguese because it’s taught in the schools and is the language of business and commerce. It’s a second language for them. Unless Kriolu is being taught in Portuguese classrooms somewhere that I’m not aware of, it’s a safe bet that Portuguese aren’t referring to our language as a dialect of their own, as they would the Portuguese spoken in the Azores, Madeira or Brazil.

As a matter of fact, we only have to read historical texts, that they wrote in their own words, to see depictions of Kriolu speakers as dumb and uneducated. They ridiculed our ancestors and the way they spoke! It was a “nonsense” language. They NEVER attempted to identify it as a “dialect” of their language. We, Kriolu speakers, are the only ones making this argument. They don’t claim it so why are we holding on to an idea that only perpetuates colonization of our minds and identity.

Why do we insist on calling the language that embodies our “Caboverdeanidade” something IT IS NOT!?!?!

Even if we hold on to the false narrative that we speak a “dialect”, why can’t it be a dialect of Wolof, Fula or Serer? Those were the mother tongues of the majority of the blacks that set foot on the islands as enslaved captives.

So much has been done to erase our black history and ignore the contributions that our ancestors made. Can we really continue to ignore that they made significant contributions to the language we use to identify ourselves?

Kriolu is not a dialect but a “Creole language”. It basically means that vocabulary from various contributing languages were combined with a grammatical set of rules that some believe we are all born with (Bickerton). In our case, the grammatical system is primarily based on the Mande language and other West-Atlantic languages, according to Dr Marlyse Baptista, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Michigan and Cape Verdean American. This (very simple) definition implies and demands that there is more than just Portuguese contributions (or Spanish, Italian, etc for that matter) in Kriolu.

I am very sure that Blacks weren’t a literal “silent” majority in Cabo Verde to the extent that their native tongues were not an integral part in the creation of Kriolu. To ignore this fact is to perpetuate an already egregious insult to our ancestors. They deserve to be remembered just as much as we remember AND celebrate our European ancestors.

What we speak is a LANGUAGE… it is NOT a dialect, nor a slang and definitely not some nonsense jargon.

I understand the legacy of colonization is to blame, I just don’t agree with perpetuating my own colonization.

When I speak the language of my ancestors, I honor them.

N ta papia Kriolu, e bo?


Author: The Creola Genealogist

My name is Anna Lima. I am the daughter of immigrants, born and raised in Massachusetts. I am the mother of two and a Speech Pathologist. My love of family history began as a child listening to my elders speak of “the old country”. Through their stories grew a love for the culture and traditions of my ancestors and I wanted to know more about who they were. My great-grandmother, our family Griot, was my greatest inspiration as she passed down stories and traditions that have helped me become the person I am today. I believe that remembering our ancestors strengthens who we are. I hope to continue my great-grandmother’s legacy, to continue to pass down the stories of not only my own family history but also the stories of the ancestors of anyone who wishes to remember. My blog is dedicated to the ancestors, those remembered and those yet to be found.

34 thoughts on “Why do we still refer to our language as a “Portuguese dialect”???? ”

  1. Terrific piece! Cultural anthropologist, Isabel Rodrigues, recently published a fascinating article suggesting a provocative, historically grounded analysis of the role that Portuguese likely played in the early formation of Kriolu in Cabo Verde. Called “Grammars of Faith for Unruly Speakers: Creolization and the Transmission of Portuguese in Cabo Verde,” the article appeared in the journal, Mande Studies. I’m happy to e-mail a PDF of the article to anyone who’s interested. Alma Gottlieb

      1. José–I tried e-mailing you a PDF of that article, but I received an error message rejecting the note. Do you have another e-mail account I could use? Alma Gottlieb

    1. I study Portuguese at Rhode Island College in Providence, and I would love to have a copy of this
      article! I am very interested in New World contact languages….muita obrigada!

      1. Sure, Charity, I’ll be happy to send you this article. Can you please let me know your e-mail address? –Alma Gottlieb

  2. Great article. I agree with your take on our language 100%. I have always advocated that exact point for many years. The problem with some of our so-called elites is that they suffer from a case of the Stockholm Syndrome. That is to say that even though they have reached a certain degree of education and some even are a the highest level of government, they still feel the need to refer to the European Culture in order to feel relevant. Their minds are still not emancipated from colonization despite being independent for 50 plus years. Cabral did make that exact point in his book ‘Return to the Sources’. The challenge is to create a curriculum where the future generation can feel free to express themselves with the mental chain of having to refer to their colonized as if they were family members. A Luta continua!
    No pintcha!

    1. MOHAMMED–The other reason the Caboverdeanos may have felt they were “part of the Portuguese
      family” is the fact that, since Cabo Verde was legally a “part” of “overseas Portugal”, they were, in fact,
      LEGAL citizens of Portugal–in the same way that people of United States territories and possessions
      overseas are legally citizens of the United States. The Caboverdeano insistence that they were “Portuguese” is in one way, their REFUSAL to accept Portuguese rejection of them AS citizens of
      Portugal. The false and racist “Lusotropicalismo” of Portuguese society was the root cause of their
      mistreatment of their subjugated colonies.

      The genetic truth, however, is that Cabo Verdeanos are descendants of Portuguese Sephardic
      Jews–who in turn are descendants of Afro-Asiatics of the Mediterranean world–and these Jewish
      populations are OLDER than many of the Celtic-descended Portuguese populations. Ancient Jewish populations settled in the Iberian peninsula CENTURIES before the Germanic Visigoths and Celts
      began to invade (after the 400’s AD.) Portuguese Sephardim expelled to, and exiled in, Cabo Verde
      were descendants of the ancient Afro-Asiatic/Levantine populations of Jews that had settled in
      Portugal and Spain before the rise of the Roman empire.

      The Moorish invasions of Iberia infused both Jewish and non-Jewish populations with additional
      North and Sub-Saharan African DNA. The Black Berbers and Tuaregs were among the many
      African ethnic groups whose genes–in addition to the Afro-Asiatic Jewish populations–widened
      the genetic mosaic of Portuguese populations. Between 1444 and 1492, the Portuguese imported
      over 350,000 Africans into Portugal. Many of these slaves were from North and Northwest
      Africa and these populations of enslaved workers eventually were ABSORBED INTO the Portuguese

      Portuguese denial of their North African, Sub-Saharan African and Middle Eastern/Levantine origins DOES NOT CHANGE THE TRUTH CODED IN THEIR GENES AND CHROMOSOMES. If all Portuguese people submitted to genetic testing, they would receive multiple genetic SHOCKS,
      including the African origins they so desperately try to DENY. Cabo Verdeanos are the direct
      descendants of both ancient Jewish and African populations of ancient Iberia, in addition to the more
      modern African populations brought to Cabo Verde during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade era.

  3. I agree with most of what the Creole Genealogist said in this article.
    I have been defending this point since I can remember, although I call it Criolo and no Kriolu, because I do not approve the imposition of Alupec. However I prefer our language the Capeverdean language.
    We have also to accept that although tha Capeverdean language is not a dialect of anyother language, Portuguese contributed in approximately 95% of its lexicon. This fact needs to be taken into consideration when the so called experts make affirmations on the reasons for the creation of this language.

    1. Mr Pinheiro- you make very valid points. Portuguese vocabulary is prevalent however one must also take into account that even the Portuguese words we use are not understood my modern day speakers because it’s basis is more “Galaga” as well as Judeo-Portuguese which supposedly died in the 18th century. Grammatical input, and even intonation and phonology can be correlative with many spoken languages spoken in Western Africa. We just haven’t done as much study as this topic so richly deserves.
      My point is that how we identify aspects of our culture affect our overall identification. Language was an important tool in our colonization and has to be taken into consideration while preserving our caboverdeanidade.
      The fact that ALUPEK is phonetically based strengthens the argument for the use of /k/. As with any phonetic program, like IPA, the sound /k/ is represented by the character k.

  4. WOW, such a quest and answer beautifully done and excellent comments, suggestions and ideas made.
    The Cape Verdean Creole to English Dictionary is an example of how we need to continue to cultivate and produce materials and resources for our children of the future. We don’t need to define our language, we need to create and recreate
    curriculum materials to promote and dignify our language.

    1. Manuel – I always refer to you as “The Godfather of Kriolu” and I am so honored that you have commented on this piece! And I completely agree on the part regarding curriculum… as long as we are not perpetuating our own colonization through it! 😊
      Tyson keeps his dictionary with him all the time! Your work is a great example and just the first step in validating and signifying our language!

    2. SENHOR GONCALVES–I have seen numerous articles that discuss the linguistic changes in Iberian
      Portuguese brought about through the new “reverse colonization” of Lusophone African speakers
      who now live in the larger metropolitan centers of Portugal and study in the universities in Lisboa,
      Faro and Coimbra. The Kriolu language is also exerting its influence upon the Portuguese language,
      not only through the languages of Guinea-Bissau and the Sao Tome/Principe archipelago, but also through the creative rap music of Cabo Verdeano artists:

      CAPE VERDE, LET’S GO: Creole Rappers and Citizenship in Portugal.
      Derek Pardue. University of Illinois Press, 2015.

      Creoles also shift and change over time, and the Kriolu spoken in Portugal will not only gain modern
      Portuguese vocabulary, but also impact Continental Portuguese; just as African American Vernacular
      English (AAVE)–an English-based Creole–has had a profound impact upon American English. The
      Kriolu stress and more open vowel sound will probably produce similar shifts in Iberian Portuguese,
      which is also being impacted by the Brazilian variant, which retains the more vowel-stressed
      sounds of the Portuguese of the 1500’s–1800’s.

      There are also many fascinating articles that also compare the Cabo Verdeano Kriolu to Papiamento–spoken in Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao–and the other Portuguese-based creoles of Guinea-Bissau,
      Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome/Principe.

      You may want to consider publishing a Kriolu-Portuguese dictionary, as this will be needed by not
      only Kriolu speakers in Portugal, but also by speakers of Iberian Portuguese; Lusophone African
      speakers of Portuguese who now reside in Portugal (Angolanos and Mozambicenses) and
      Anglophones like myself who are studying Portuguese! 🙂

  5. Being raised in the United States by a non Cape Verde parent I never learned any of the history of My Cape Verde parent. With sites like this I’m learning more about where I come from and who I am, and for this I’m BLESSED and very GRATFUL. I may never speak anything other than English, but at least I can pass some important information to My grandchildren. Thank you for sharing.

      1. Thank you for the reply. Yes we do have a wonderful history and culture, as I am slowly learning. I look forward to every bit of history you pass on just as much as My appreciation of ALL the wonderful food I’m blessed to learn of and of course eat. Again thank you for the warmth your information gives me.

    1. Angela–You may want to explore studying Portuguese, which is the major substrate language for many of the Portuguese-based creoles, including Cabo Verdeano and Papiamento, which is the Portuguese-based creole spoken in Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. You can study Portuguese free on the internet from several sources, including numerous YouTube files. One useful source for Portuguese instruction on the internet is this website, put together by Jim Becker, a retired language
      professor: http://www.uni.edu/becker/PortugueseWebsites.html

      1. One of the major textbooks used today for Portuguese instruction is PONTO DE ENCONTRO.
      This book is available on Amazon and in college/university bookstores. It enables you to learn
      both the Brazilian and European varieties of Portuguese. It has an internet platform of exercises
      that you can access if you enroll in a college course and thereby purchase the access code. There are also laboratory manuals for either the Brazilian or European variant of Portuguese.
      You can also purchase the DVD for the book, which enables you to see and hear native Portuguese
      speakers from Brazil, Portugal and the Lusofone African countries.

      2. My family is African-American, and we discovered our Portuguese origins when I started a genetic
      testing project for my immediate family. My brother’s Y-DNA results came back PORTUGAL when
      we tested with AfricanAncestry.com. When I tested my mother with DNATtribes.com, Iberian also
      showed up, among all the African and Native American DNA ethnic clusters. I suspect that millions of us African-Americans are also of Portuguese descent, but we cannot discover this unless we either
      have a Portuguese surname or some story or family history pointing to Portuguese origins. There are many African-Americans families in the south with names such as Barreira, Coutinho, Andrade,
      Pegues and Rodrigues/Rodriguez. There are some Cabo-Verdeano families that intermarried with African-Americans and many Native Americans here in the United States. This is certainly true in the New England states.

      3. Portuguese Sephardic Jews also journeyed to West Africa after the expulsion from Portugal in the years of 1492-1497. These merchant families settled in northwest and western Africa. This is documented in the book:

      THE FORGOTTEN DIASPORA, by Peter Mark and Jose Da Silva Horta.
      Wesleyan University Press, 2011.

      Many of these Portuguese Sephardim also settled in Cabo Verde, marrying African women from various ethnic groups. In addition, colonies of Portuguese Sephardic Jews settled in the state
      of Georgia after 1735. It is known that some of them also had children by African women, presumably
      the servants/slaves of their households. The offspring of these unions were probably also
      the Afro-Portuguese people whose names are reflected in some African-American families today.

  6. Wow I’m really amazed as an cape verdean and living here in usa I have lost a lot of my culture the language Creole I speak it broken and Portuguese you can forget it wouldn’t understand it ..its very important that we learn our culture and our history and our religion cause I really believe we weren’t Catholic we need to teach our children everything from food to our names starting with myself and our family then our neighbors and friends the list goes on….Iam a cape verdean Muslim i,’ve been to Mecca and medina (Saudi Arabia) and I know there’s Muslims in cape verde now I would love to visit…islam has reach Africa years ago and I know cape verde had to have Islam or Jewish history before Portuguese invaders came…..

    1. Hi Olavo- while there has been some written accounts of the possibility of Jalofa’s living in the interior of Santiago when the Portuguese arrived, I don’t know if they were Muslim. Islam did reach Africa by way of the slavery as well just a few centuries before. I did find an account from the 1720’s of a couple of enslaved male Africans who were Muslim. Not much in the way of Islamic traditions, language, etc seemed to have survived. I’m guessing it may be that it was easier to extinguish the traditions of the enslaved vs the enslavors who were predominantly Catholic. You are also right that there were many Jews who were exiled during the Inquisitions. There is more evidence of them in our cultural traditions today than any other religion besides Catholicism. My dream is to one day reach the mainland and find the villages of my ancestors. Through DNA, I have discovered I am mostly Senegalese/Fula and have matches in Sierra Leone and Camaroon, as well.

  7. I enjoyed this article which discusses the Cabo Verdeano Kriolu language in its historical and social context. Conquerors and colonizers typically attempt to destroy the languages of the conquered and usually do NOT want the conquered/colonized to master the language of domination. The conquered typically employ the creative strategy of constructing their own lingua franca as a means of communication between speakers of diverse languages. Traders, merchants and neighbors of diverse ethnic group–who live/trade within a particular locality–typically employ a “pidgin”, a language comprised of parts of multiple languages. This process can be observed in the evolution of contact languages during the eras of European colonial expansion and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
    Pidgins typically have vocabulary derived in various percentages from the parent languages, and the grammar and syntax slowly become solidified. At the point at which the “pidgin” is passed down to the next generation, this language is now termed a “creole.”

    1. There are many New World creoles, including African American Vernacular English (AAVE), widely
    spoken in the United States; Papiamento, a Portuguese/Spanish creole spoken widely in the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao; and Kreyol Ayisyen, the French-based spoken vernacular language of the island of Haiti. Linguists today typically avoid language terms with pejorative meanings, such as “patois”–which implies that something is “broken”. The term “speech variety” is employed to describe languages that lie along a continuum.

    2. It is true that creoles typically evolve over time, and may move in any linguistic direction, or even
    multiple directions. For example, Kriolu as spoken in Cabo Verde may begin to integrate more
    Portuguese vocabulary into its lexicon. Other varieties spoken in West African countries may integrate
    more French or English into their vocabulary base, in addition to the lexicon of the indigenous languages
    of these countries.

    3. The Portuguese language itself is also evolving and changing in both the Iberian peninsula and
    in Brazil. As large populations of Cabo Verdeanos, Brasileiros and Luso-African speakers “colonize”
    Portugal–and Portugal continues to import Brazilian television, for example–the so-called “lingua
    materna” or Portugal will become increasingly “creolized” as it accepts vocabulary, grammar and
    syntactical structures of Kriolu, as well as Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous Brazilian loan words and

    Languages continue to evolve and change, merge and separate, integrate and fracture and sometimes
    “re-integrate” themselves into multiple varieties over time. The Kriolu of Cabo Verde can also be expected to exert its influence upon Iberian Portuguese in the major metropolitan centers and universities of Portugal.

  8. I am amazed with this site of yours!
    You speak a lot of truths Capeverdean Creole isnt a dialect (dialect are like the Variations from the language spoken in the different islands), its a linguage!

    But one thing is True, Cape Verdian language (this is the right name for me) is a language kinda different from the other languages in Senegal/Gambia/Bissau. And it looks more similar to Portuguese because of the vocabulary, so an uniformed person would say its portuguese dialect and never a Serer/Wolof dialect because most words dont have any connection with those two languages.
    And frankly if you speak Capeverdean Language but never heard of Portuguese language or Serer/Wolof you re obviously gonna understand way way better the Portuguese Language and probably gonna Understand pretty much nothing of the other two.

    In fact Capeverdean language is a Afro-European language, no way to deny that, because like 90% of the vocabulary is basically Portuguese or Portuguese derived but the Gramamar is totally West african (Mandé) and alike the languages in Senegal/Gambia/Bissau and far from the european one.

    In fact it is said that the languages that influenced our were Mandinga,Portuguese and Wolof.. (found this online yay)

    I am from Santiago Island, and really would like to do the Dna test..

    You did yours already?

  9. Well done Criola-geonologist. I am glad you are cleaning the colonial mind instilled on us.
    I hope your hard work pays off.
    Best Wishes.


    Click on “language.” There are many websites for online study of CVC.


    1. CAPE VERDEAN DICTIONARY, Creole-English. $80.00
    Manuel Da Luz Gonçalves. Mili-Mila.

    2. Pa Nu Papia Krioulu–Let’s Speak Krioulu. $45.00
    Manuael Da Luz Gonçalves. Mili-Mila.

    Mili-Mila Headquarters
    18 Longmeadow Street, 3rd Floor
    Roxbury, MA 02119
    Mili-Mila also has a FACEBOOK page.

    3. LET’S SPEAK CAPEVERDEAN: Language and Culture.
    Nicolas Quint. Battlebridge Publications, 2015.
    ISBN 9781903292327
    ISBN 1903292328

    This is the English version of the author’s book, originally published in French in 2003.


    1. CAPEVERDE, LET’S GO: Creole Rappers and Citizenship in Portugal.
    Derek Pardue. University of Illinois Press, 2015.
    ISBN 025208117X
    ISBN 9780252081170

    2. THE DIALOGIC NATION OF CAPE VERDE: Slavery, Language and Ideology.
    Márcia Rego. Lexington Books. 2015.
    ISBN 0739193775

    Hephaestus Books, 2011.
    ISBN 1244198919

    4. THE SURVEY OF PIDGIN AND CREOLE LANGUAGES, Vol. II–Portuguese-based, Spanish-
    based, and French-based. (Part of a three-volume set on contact languages.)
    Susanne Michaelis; Philip Maurer; Martin Haspelmath.
    Oxford University Press, 2013.
    ISBN 019969141X
    ISBN 978-0199691418

    5. THE SYNTAX OF CAPE VERDEAN CREOLE: The Sotovento Varieties.
    Marlyse Baptista. Johns Benjamin Publishing Company, 2003.
    ISBN 158811290X


    and Sociolinguistic History. Gerardo A. Lorenzino.
    LINCOM Publishers, 1998.
    ISBN 3895865451
    ISBN 978-389586-5459

    2. KRIOL SYNTAX: The Portuguese-Based Language of Guinea-Bissau.
    Dr.Alain Kihm. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1994.
    ISBN 978-1556191688

    Philip Havik; Malyn Newitt.
    Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015.
    ISBN 1443880272
    ISBN 978-1443880275

      1. De nada! I hope you’ll soon post the results of the “Poderoza” conference held last week! By the way, I’m still studying Português at Rhode Island College.
        We currently have four Cabo Verdeanos in our Composition & Conversation class. Rhode Island College has a good number of Cabo Verdeano students, and the head of the Special Collections at Adams Library on campus–Ms.
        Marlene Lopes–is also Cabo Verdeana. Ms. Lopes can help navigate you through all the wonderful collections of Cabo Verdeano interest at the library, and is a gold mine of information! She can be reached at: 401-456-9653.

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