Saramaccan (autonym: Saamáka) is a creole language spoken by about 58,000 ethnic African people near the Saramacca and upper Suriname Rivers, as well as in the capital Paramaribo, in Suriname (formerly also known as Dutch Guyana), 25,000 in French Guiana, and 8,000 in the Netherlands. It has three main dialects. The speakers are mostly descendants of fugitive slaves who were native to West and Central Africa; they form a group called Saamacca, also spelled Saramaka.
Linguists consider Saramaccan notable because it is based on two European source languages, English (30%) and Portuguese (20%), and various west- and Central African languages (50%) but diverges considerably from all of these. The African component accounts for about 50% once ritual use is taken into account, the highest percentage in the Americas. African portions are derived from Niger-Congo languages of West Africa, especially Fon and other Gbe languages, Akan stainless steel drink bottles, and Central African languages such as KiKongo.
The Saramaccan lexicon is largely drawn from English, Portuguese, and to a lesser extent Dutch, among European languages football socks with numbers, and Niger-Congo languages of West Africa football classic shirts, especially Fon and other Gbe languages, Akan, and Central African languages such as KiKongo. The African component accounts for about 50% of the total.
Saramaccan phonology has traits similar to languages of West Africa. It has developed the use of tones, which are common in Africa, rather than stress, which is typical of European languages.
Over one quarter of Saramaccan’s words are from English. It is generally agreed that Saramaccan’s Portuguese influence originated from enslaved peoples who lived on plantations with Portuguese masters, and possibly with other slaves speaking a Portuguese creole. The masters might have brought the latter when migrating to Suriname from Brazil.
Saramaccan originators began with an early form of Sranan Tongo, an English-based creole, and transformed it into a new creole via this Portuguese influx, plus influence from the grammars of Fongbe and other Gbe languages.
An earlier idea that Saramaccan was an offshoot of a Portuguese pidgin spoken by slaves who had learned it on the West African coast is no longer
subscribed to by working creolists.
/c ɟ ɲ ɲɟ/ are more specifically dorso-postalveolar, but the palatal fricative /ç/ is dorso-palatal.
The language has two surface tones, high and low. Stress in European words is replaced by high tone in Saramaccan.
Thirty percent of the vocabulary of Saramaccan is derived from English, while 20% is derived from Portuguese. It is one of the few known creoles to derive a large percentage of its lexicon from more than one source (most creoles have one main lexifier language), and it is said to be both an English-based creole and a Portuguese-based creole.
About 50% of the vocabulary of Saramaccan is of African origin, the most of any creole in the Americas. Source languages for these words include Kikongo, Gbe languages, and Twi.
To English speakers not familiar with it, the English basis of this language is almost unrecognizable. These are some examples of Saramaccan sentences (taken from the SIL dictionary):
De waka te de aan sinkii möön.
“They walked until they were worn out.”
U ta mindi kanda fu dee soni dee ta pasa ku u.
“We make up songs about things that happen to us.”
A suku di soni te wojo fëën ko bëë.
“He searched for it in vain.”
Mi puu tu dusu kölu bai ën.
“I paid two thousand guilders to buy it.”
Examples of words originally from Portuguese or a Portuguese creole are: mujee (mulher) “woman”; womi (o homem) “man”; da (dar) “to give”; bunu (bom) “good”; kaba (acabar) “to end”; ku (com) “with”; kuma (como) “as”; faka (faca) “knife”; aki (aqui) “here”; ma (mas) “but”; kendi (quente) “hot”; liba (riba) “above”; lio (rio) “river”.
Two books have now been published in Saamaka, at the request of the Saamaka people, who have distributed them in their schools: Fesiten and Boo go a Kontukonde. Both have used the orthography now accepted by the Saamaka People, developed by Saamaka linguist Vinije Haabo.