The official language of the small Caribbean country of Guadeloupe is French, although Creole is also commonly spoken. English is also spoken although the numbers are low compared to French and Creole.
Location & Geography
Guadeloupe is the southernmost of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean Sea. The total area of the islands is about 1,600 square kilometers with a population of over 400,000 residents. It is a popular tourist destination. The most widely spoken languages are of course French and Creole but English, Carib and other languages are also spoken in some areas but in relatively much lower numbers. The climate is tropical with temperatures ranging around 25 °C throughout the year.
The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493. The French set foot in the island following that and by 1635 Guadeloupe was chosen as a preferable place for settlement. The island was annexed to the Kingdom of France in 1674. Over the next few centuries, the island changed many hands between the British, French and Sweden eventually ending up in French possession again. It is now a French Overseas Region and therefore French is the official and most widely spoken language in the islands.
Almost all inhabitants of Guadeloupe speak French as it is the official language. Tourists are generally advised to brush up on their French or learn basic conversation and signs so it is easier to interact with the locals. An extension of the French language is the French sign language. Several gestures which may be normal in other languages and cultures are considered insulting or outright derogatory in French. For example, joining your index finger and thumb to form a circle and raising all the other fingers is generally meant to portray approval but in French, this means worthless and counts as an insult. Attempts to speak French are usually appreciated on all the French islands and mini-phrase books or dictionaries may prove invaluable.
Guadeloupean Creole or Guadeloupean Creole French is spoken by about 430,000 people on the island. It is mainly French-Based, but also has some vocabulary from English, Bantu languages and American Indian languages. The language is also known as Patwa, Patois or Kreyol. Guadeloupean Creole is more or less mutually intelligible with the creoles of Martinique and Haiti. Creole was historically the language of the local community throughout the times of colonialism. It has retained its status as a symbol of the local cultural pride and unity. It is also taught in schools now which shows more acceptance by the ruling nation of France.
English is spoken and understood more by the local population now as it is the common language of the tourists. However, tourists should expect to communicate in English with tourism industry workers and those catering to tourists only and not general local populace. Communication in English should not be expected and, if necessary, only by employees of larger establishment and workers in tourist hotspots.
Though not a lot in number, the languages in Guadeloupe are stable with both French and Creole widely spoken and understood. Bookstores often carry simple cassette learning tapes that can assist in the proper pronunciation of a few basic phrases. However, a visitor should not forget that a smile is the easiest and most universal form of communication throughout the world and Guadeloupe is no different.
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