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Cape Verde and the 800th anniversary of the Portuguese language: an umbilical and inevitable tie 02 Agosto 2014

The Portuguese language is currently celebrating eight centuries of existence, and Cape Verdean Crioulo, the first offspring it generated in the tropics in a coming together of shipping routes, peoples and cultures is already more than 500 years old – indeed, even before Portuguese arrived in the Americas or Asia, it helped create a new language molded in its relationship with the African tongues brought by the slaves to this archipelago, discovered in 1460 by Portuguese navigators. Today, the Portuguese language is spoken by 244 million people on all continents, but Cape Verdean Crioulo was its first full experiment in globalization – a unique and complete example of Creoleness that is enchanting, but is not enough for Cape Verdeans to be able to communicate with the rest of the world – hence its inevitability. The Portuguese language, one of the world’s most spoken, will always be Cape Verdeans’ bridge to the rest of the world. But this inextricable relationship is not just a one-way street, because the future of the Portuguese language also resides in the international affirmation of Cape Verdean culture, which is expressed in all of its creole potential.

Cape Verde and the 800th anniversary of the Portuguese language: an umbilical and inevitable tie

Text by: Teresa Sofia Fortes

The celebrations marking the 800th anniversary of the Portuguese language are based not on the tongue’s genesis – which, of course, would be impossible to determine with exactness – but on the date on which the will of the third King of Portugal, Afonso II, was written, on June 27, 1214. The document is the most important point of reference for Portuguese as a written language. Today, the countries in which Portuguese is an official language account for 7% of the world’s terrestrial territory – Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, East Timor, São Tomé and Príncipe and Cape Verde.

It is in this territorial and human representativeness – assured mainly by Brazil and by the Portuguese-language African countries – that, believes Alberto Carvalho, resides a “rather promising future” for the language. According to Carvalho, a professor emeritus from the University of Lisbon, the future of languages within the international context is dependent upon the political and economic power of the nations that speak them. It is estimated that the countries that share Portuguese as an official language represent 4% of the wealth in the world. “They are linguistic spaces of major human potential – because they’re very new countries where the population is still going to grow considerably – and economix porential, because they are very rich countries,” affirms Carvalho.

They are, therefore, points that will attract the world to the Portuguese language. All one has to do is look at the interest that the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) has awakened with countries such as Equatorial Guinea, which has recently joined the community, as well as Japan, Turkey, Georgia, Morocco, Namibia and Peru. The demand for Portuguese grows with each passing da yin the world’s major linguistics centers. It’s the sixth most-spoken language on Earth, the fifth most-used on the Internet and the third most-used in social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. It is believed that by 2050 there will be more than 350 million speakers of Portuguese, enough to keep it at the top of the list of the world’s most spoken languages.

Despite admitting that this future is “tied” to the political and economic success of the Lusophone countries – several of which are rich in petroleum and other natural resources – Alberto Carvalho prefers to believe that the importance of Portuguese in comparison to other languages depends much more on culture. “A living culture in the African countries, in Brazil, in Portugal...A human culture in society, written in books, in musical genres and in so many other forms that it has a rather promising future,” declares the professor.

The Portuguese language in Cape Verde

It’s an historical fact. Schools came to Cape Verde with the beginning of Portuguese settlement – first, ecclesiastical schools for several centuries, then, beginning in the mid-18th Century, with the policies developed by the Marquis of Pombal, and, a century later, with Portuguese liberalism, lay schools were set up in the then-colony, through diligences undertaken by the Cape Verdean legislators in the Court, in 1845. This was made reality by the founding of the Principal School on the island of Brava, in 1848, which began a process that was never again to be interrupted.

As a result of this history, Cape Verde possesses a certain “know-how on the level of administrative writing at the service of State organization.” This was visible upon Independence. “Cape Verde immediately took over its institutions without any problems,” says Alberto Carvalho. Indeed, many of the country’s main leaders following independence on July 5, 1975, were former colonial administrators educated in schools in Cape Verde itself and in Portugal.

Economic activities in Cape Verde are also structured by concepts inherited from Portuguese language and culture, according to Carvalho – for example, the concept of property. “On the island of Santo Antão, when a landowner’s animal wanders into or destroys the garden of a neighbor, the owner of the garden says, ‘I’m going to order so-and-so to pay a fine.’ In other words, he plans to go to an institutional court to punish his neighbor. The concept of private property, though, is not African. And it is, I believe, a well-disseminated concept in Cape Verde as a result of Judeo-Christian ideology, as a result of the Jews who made their way to Cape Verde in the early 16th Century,” explains the former University of Lisbon faculty member.

Another facet of Cape Verdean public life inherited from Portugal, or, if one prefers, Europe, is the talent for large-scale commerce. “This aptitude Cape Verdeans have for retail commerce, with a store featuring a door open to the public, with accounting that features what is had and what is owed and that distinguishes revenue from profit and with an acute sense of honor, is not common in African cultures. If we look at things coldly, we see that, even today, in the part of Africa nearest to Cape Verde, most open-door commerce is owned by Lebanese. I repeat, Cape Verdeans have historic know-how in this economic-mercantile domain that comes, in large part, from the Judeo-Christian school of thought introduced in the archipelago in the 16th Century by the Jews who had been expelled from Portugal,” affirms Alberto Carvalho.

It is not, however, only in the organization of the state and of the economy that the heritage linked to the Portuguese language is expressed. It is also experienced in the local culture created in these Atlantic isles. “A surprisingly rich culture, more so that one unfamiliar with its reality would expect,” and one which has become increasingly visible on the international stage. And this, despite the country’s tiny size, population and economy, “is, as is commonly said nowadays, an added value,” according to the professor – added value both for the country and for the Portuguese language, which are forever tied to one another by birth.

Cape Verdean literature, except for notable exceptions, is written in Portuguese, despite the importance of Cape Verdeans’ maternal language, Crioulo. Crioulo, “although it is a fully matured language from the historical, philological, grammatical and lexical point of view, has a very specific radius of action, rooted in the islands and, of course, in the many émigré communities, some of which have an impressively high number of speakers. But this empirical reality of mainly popular scope does not translate into an equivalent socio-political and cultural weight,” laments Alberto Carvalho. “In émigré communities, the working class does not have the time, motivation or activist training to disseminate the Crioulo language, except, of course, in music and in the notable fact that it is considered an official minority language in the United States of America.”

“Cape Verdeans who write in Crioulo tend to tie their ideas to the island context,” explains the professor. And, as such, “the readers’ horizon tends to be that of the islands and diaspora communities.”

Even those who do speak and read in Crioulo “will tend to read Crioulo narratives as something from a world that tends towards the exotic, inevitably and unfortunately. The issue of the sociology of literary reading is tied to language, after all, to that which, in theory, is defined by a literary mediator and by this mediator’s irradiation ability,” adds the professor. As such, inasmuch as the Portuguese language is one of the five great languages of culture in the world, “Cape Verdean writing in Portuguese has available to it a vast horizon of potential readers, and an enormous editorial apparatus to translate it into other widely-spoken languages. Authors know or feel this. There’s no point in fooling ourselves,” says the specialist in Cape Verdean literature.

Cape Verdean writers have used Portuguese as a literary mediator, but almost exclusively to transmit representations of the Cape Verdean universe. In other words, Cape Verdeans created the Crioulo language, while at the same time the Crioulo language created them and their social and human world, as Gabriel Mariano would say. But at the same time they lived next door to Portuguese – hence this particularity of Cape Verdean writers being able to express their genuine Cape Verdeanness in Portuguese. If we think about it, these writers end up bending the Portuguese language to express their identity, the identity of a nation.

The writer Manuel Lopes, exemplifies Alberto Carvalho, “lived between the ages of 12 and 16 in the Portuguese city of Coimbra, before returning to Cape Verde. Later, as an adult, he began working for the international telecommunications company, which sent him to the Azores, from the Azores to Carcavelos, from Carcavelos to Grândola and from Grândola to Lisbon, by this time in his old age. However, his entire oeuvre, written in Portuguese, delves into his Cape Verdean roots, with the exception of a number of Lisbon-themed poems – as he said, just to relax.” But it’s not just the Cape Verdean environment and ambience that Cape Verdean writers transport into their works, stresses the professor.

“Wherever they live, they incorporate into their writing not only Cape Verdean contents but also Crioulo expressions and language in order to create an effect of popular authenticity, of deep-rootedness, of colloquialness, of spontaneity, of familiarity. It’s a type of stamp that is periodically placed on the work,” explains Carvalho, who cites several examples. “Baltasar Lopes, with the wisdom of a great linguist, ends up giving Portuguese a surprisingly Crioulo tonality. In their prose, different from Lopes’, pro example Manuel Lopes, Germano Almeida, Nuno de Miranda and Gabriel Mariano introduce sentences, expressions and forms of thought that are also manifestations of genuine Cape Verdeanness.”

“Even if they prove difficult to comprehend, such expressions preserve their literary sense. A foreigner who does not understand the exact meaning does not need to understand them, as he or she may surmise it from the context. Hence the usefulness of glossaries,” says the researcher, in whose opinion this is “very elegant and productive from the point of view of literary effects. It gives a touch of local color to the dialogue, the atmosphere and the characters.”

The co-existence of the two languages in the Cape Verdean literary universe is so cordial that there is no history of friction to speak of. On the contrary, the relationship “is pacific inasmuch as they are two very close languages. Crioulo is a neo-Latin language that derives from Portuguese, just as Portuguese derives from popular Latin. The vocabulary underwent transformations in order to adapt to Cape Verdean reality, but the articulatory movements in speech production are identical. Due to this familiarity, the switching back and forth between the languages also becomes familiar.”

In contrast with the literary area, the percentage of Cape Verdean music sung in Portuguese is, however, little more than residual. The art of music is not founded on rationality, logic, causality or messages intended for understanding. The art of music is universal by nature, a signifier that can exist devoid of meaning. The icon that was Cesária Évora always sang in Crioulo, with the exception of one or two songs in Portuguese or Spanish, and this is likely what captivated fans throughout the world - from France to the United States, from Russia to Japan, from Germany to Australia – just as happens now with Mayra Andrade, Nancy Vieira and Gabriela Mendes, all of whom also sing in their native language. Those who died the opposite, such as Fernando Quejas, who lived and had his career in Portugal singing in the Portuguese language, was not immune to condemnation from Cape Verdeans, especially those who defended the supposed purity of Cape Verdean music.

Few were those bold enough to repeat his gesture. Those who did dare to write and sing Cape Verdean music in Portuguese always did so in a specific context. B. Leza, one of Cape Verde’s greatest composers, wrote “Beijo de Saudade,” a declaration of love to Cape Verde in Portuguese in an imagined dialogue with the Tagus River, which flanks Lisbon.

But from the diaspora, Cape Verdean music has, in recent times, seen a new phenomenon. Lyricists and singers of kizomba, Cape Verdeans born or raised abroad, even in non-Portuguese-speaking countries, are including more and more of the Portuguese language in their repertoire. The strategy is aimed at pleasing and increasing the number of non-Cape Verdean fans in, for example, Portugal, Angola and Brazil – fans who often resort to the Internet to seek translations into Portuguese of the lyrics to the songs these artists sing in Crioulo in an effort to understand the stories they tell.

Whether or not this fad will continue to spread to the traditional Cape Verdean genres such as morna, funaná and batuko remains to be seen. The tendency toward Portuguese has, however, made it into Cape Verdean theater.

Juventude em Marcha, the oldest active theater group in the country, only performs for Cape Verdeans when it travels abroad, be it in the United States, Luxembourg or Portugal, because all of their plays are entirely in Crioulo. The theater troupes that choose to stage plays in Portuguese, such as the Mindelo Portuguese Cultural Center Theater Group, Solaris and Sikinada, have managed to secure invitations to festivals in places like Portugal, Brazil, Angola and Mozambique.

Cape Verdeans’ familiarity with the Portuguese language is, as such, inevitable, as a result of their desire to communicate with the rest of the world, believes Alberto Carvalho. “There’s no way to escape this, and luckily so, because in addition to the historical ties, Portuguese serves as an excellent umbrela for Cape Verdeans.” In other words, Portuguese is the window through which the world sees Cape Verde.

Crioulo, the first act of globalization carried out by the Portuguese

In another sense, it can also be said that the Portuguese language lives through Crioulo. If Cape Verdeans’ mother tongue has a genetic and lexical affiliation with the Portuguese language, the language Crioulo is an element of inventive heritage and a factor of unity among peoples and cultures of Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

Like all offspring, it is different from its parents, both its European and African one, but has nevertheless inherited many of its progenitors’ characteristics. “This, as Baltasar Lopes stressed, also permits another form of coming and going. The vocabulary, phonology and semantics of 15th- to 17th-Century Portuguese can help clarify the characteristics of Crioulo, while at the same time Crioulo, with its current forms, can elucidate the particularities of the history of the Portuguese language,” explains Carvalho.

But the native language of Cesária Évora, Maniel Lopes, B. Leza, Jorge Barbosa, Eugénio Tavares, Pedro Cardoso, Ano Nobo, Germano Almeida, Betú, Ildo Lobo and Arménio Vieira also borrowed phrasal and lexical forms from the languages spoken by the thousands of slaves of diverse origins brought to Cape Verde. In his book “Africanisms in the Cape Verdean Language,” French linguist Nicolas Quint identifies some 80 words, some 3% of the Cape Verdean lexicon, including words of Mandinga, Wolof and Timene origin.

The Cape Verdean language is, thus, the first result of the experiment in globalization begun by the Portuguese at the time of the Discoveries, before making their way to Brazil and India. In an encounter initially forced upon them by historical circumstances and the country’s very geography, Portuguese and Africans carried out more than just a simple exchange of civilizations in Cape Verde. They created a new language and a distinct society, the main factors in the definition of a local culture, a culture that was new as well.

Bilingualism: advantage or disadvantage?

This is why, in practice, Cape Verdeans are historically bilingual. They have available to them Portuguese, their official language, which also connects them to the world, and Crioulo, the mother tongue in which they lead their everyday lives. This particularity, affirms Alberto Carvalho, “puts them in a vanguard position, because the future, according to linguists Celso Cunha and Lindley Cintra, lies in bilingualism or trilingualism. So Cape Verdeans are very well situated” to face the years ahead, Carvalho believes.

This “wealth” “can, if analyzed from a non-political and non-ideological point of view, can help other Portuguese-language countries that still have linguistic integration problems to resolve to find their way. This is the case of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau,” affirms the Portuguese academic, who for decades taught Portuguese-language African literature at the University of Lisbon. Each of these three countries have an average of more than a dozen and a half languages spoken by a significant number of people, and “will have to decide which one or ones will subsist. All of them can’t subsist. It’s going to be painful for those that are going to be sacrificed. Cape Verdeans, on the other hand, have saved themselves from this pain,” says professor Carvalho.

This “split” personality, or, if we prefer, the distinct profile of each of the languages in the construction of reasoning, given that languages construct our thoughts before we communicate them, can, however, make learning Portuguese more difficult, creating “glitches” in both written and oral language. Many are the professional Cape Verdeans – including those with university-level education – who still speak Portuguese with the “logic” of Crioulo.

Often, they translate literally from one language to the other – in other words, they think in Crioulo and transfer the thought, word for word, into Portuguese. This explains the difficulties often seen, for example, with gender and number agreement when speaking Portuguese.

Many words in Crioulo are identical to Portuguese words, or at least nearly so. But the grammar of the Crioulo language, as Nicolas Quint writes, is mainly of African influence, especially in terms of verb morphology. According to Quint, “with the same inflection, different verb tenses are conjugated. If we translate this directly into Portuguese, it sounds very strange.”

This means that “conjugations in Crioulo are governed by aspect rather than tense. It’s a very radical change in relation to romance languages like Portuguese,” affirms the linguist. In other words, “what confuses Cape Verdeans is the fact that the lexical points are phonetically the same, but they are two entirely different mental schemes,” affirms Quint. How can this problem be resolved? “Raising the Cape Verdean population’s awareness of the fact that Crioulo is not Portuguese would help a great deal in learning the Portuguese language,” he suggests.

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