Sociolinguistic variation and language change in El Palenque de San Basilio (Colombia)

Thomas Barry Morton, University of Pennsylvania


This study is a sociolinguistic investigation into the Spanish spoken in El Palenque de San Basilio, a maroon village established in the 17th century on Colombia's Atlantic coast near Cartagena de Indias. Palenque presents a unique opportunity to observe the dynamics of an "insular" variety of regional Spanish that has been in contact for more than 250 years with a Spanish-based creole language (Lengua). The results provide fresh insights into the evolution of Caribbean Spanish in general and (Afro) Spanish varieties in particular. Linguistically, Palenquero Spanish (PSp) faces in two directions; in contact with monolingual regional standard Spanish and with the creole, whose influence is discernable both qualitatively and quantitatively. The phonology and morphosyntax of PSp share features in common with the most popular varieties of Caribbean-Spanish and with particular speech varieties spoken in several Afro-descended Spanish-speaking communities throughout Latin America. Palenquero also shares features with Portuguese-based Creoles. Features unique to PSp but that may be traced to Lengua also occur. While codeswitching is common, it is not omnipresent among competent speakers of Lengua. Previously unidentified instances of linguistic convergence with Lengua occur in PSp in camouflaged form. The universal variability of intervocalic /d/ (V/d/V) makes it a strategic locus for investigating similarities and differences across all Spanish-based creoles, as well as non-standard and standard Spanish varieties. Quantitative results on V/d/V suggest that PSp has changed radically within the past 80 years, away from the creole and towards the monolingual local standard. Variation in V/d/V is constrained by contact both with Lengua and with monolingual Spanish. The pan-Hispanic non-standard "zero" variant, while very high, is decreasing across apparent time and the standard fricative form is increasing. The occurrence of the local non-standard non-lenited variants remained remarkably steady across older age groups, even increasing somewhat among the youngest group (15-25). Passive bilingualism has a negative affect on the occurrence of the non-lenited variant. Older women reverse a local trend and increase their use of non-standard "zero" to surpass that of men and continue their use of the local nonstandard [r] after 35-years of age.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Morton, Thomas Barry, "Sociolinguistic variation and language change in El Palenque de San Basilio (Colombia)" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3197717.