Curaçao is one of the ABC islands located in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean. Curaçao is the largest of the ABC islands, with an area of 171 square miles and a population of more than 150,000. Curaçao is an autonomous constituent country of the Dutch republic, which uses Dutch, English, and Papiamentu as the nation's official languages. The languages spoken in the country reflect the rich linguistic history of the island that has developed through the years of interaction between various people from different linguistic backgrounds. The extent and use of these languages are also dependent on the situation surrounding the speaker. Like most of the Caribbean islands, Spanish is also a common language spoken by the people of Curaçao. Most of the islanders are familiar with at least two of the commonly used languages.
Official Languages of Curaçao
Before gaining its independence in 2010, Curaçao existed as an island territory of the Dutch Antilles. The Dutch arrived on the island in the 17th century, bringing with them their cultures and language. The Dutch established themselves as the colonial power and controlled the slave trade on the island. The Dutch language was mainly used in colonial administration. Later in the 19th and 20th centuries, the use of the language expanded to become a commonly spoken language within the island, and attempts were made to introduce Dutch as a means of instruction in schools. Currently, Dutch is the language used for administrative and legal functions on the island. Dutch is also the first language for about 8% of the total population.
Papiamentu is a Portuguese creole language, with its origin in the late 18th and early 19th century interactions between African slaves and the Portuguese. The development of the language through the centuries has been influenced by other languages such as English, Dutch, Spanish, and indigenous American languages. The relationship of Papiamentu with Spanish and Portuguese is highly contested, with disagreements arising as to whether Papiamentu grew from the influence of Spanish or Portuguese. Papiamentu is currently the most widely spoken language on the island, and a first language for about 82% of the population. Papiamentu has been used as a medium of education in primary schools of Curaçao since 1993. Besides being an official language in Curaçao, Papiamentu is also an official language in Aruba and the Caribbean Netherlands.
English is a co-official language in the island of Curaçao, introduced by the British in the early 19th century. The use of English increased during the 20th century due to the growth of the petroleum industry. English is the first language for about 2% of the population, and is mainly used in economic activities and tourism. The language is also taught as a subject in schools alongside Spanish.
The presence and use of Spanish on the island dates back to the 18th century. The language grew as a result of economic interactions with the Spanish colonies of Venezuela and Colombia. During the 19th century, Spanish was the preferred language for teaching in schools, mainly because the religious-based institutions preferred the use of Spanish to other languages such as Dutch. The preference of the language was based on the argument that Spanish was more useful due to its wide use in the neighboring colonies. Spanish is a widely spoken language and a first language for about 4% of the island population.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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