John M. Lipski

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



The claim has frequently been made by scholars that Africans in the Spanish Caribbean, deprived of the opportunity for learning the prevailing dialects of Spanish, developed a Spanish-based creole. The most ambitious theories assert that this Afro-Hispanic language permanently affected other varieties of Caribbean Spanish. An accompanying claim is that the postulated creole was built upon an earlier Afro-Portuguese trade jargon, pidgin, or even fully nativized creole, originally formed on the coast of Africa, and learned in the African slaving stations and on slave ships crossing the Atlantic. The present study injects a note of caution, after considering a wider corpus of Afro-Hispanic materials than has heretofore been examined. It is shown that most recurring features of Afro-Hispanic language are common to second-language learners, and that only two or three features link Afro-Caribbean Spanish to creole languages. Moreover, all the features in question come from a small group of 19th century Cuban and Puerto Rican texts. Closer examination of the texts, together with an inquiry into the demographic shifts of black slaves and laborers in the 19th century Caribbean, suggests that the most creole-like features of Afro-Caribbean Spanish may have been acquired from speakers of other Caribbean creole languages, especially Papiamento. In other cases, spontaneous blending of Spanish and African languages yielded combinations which bear a superficial resemblance to creole structures.


Latin American and Iberian Institute

Language (ISO)



Creole, Afro-Caribbean, Spanish, Dialect, Language, Texts