Word formation and lexico-semantic developments in Portuguese Creoles

Like other Atlantic creoles, Angolar (AN) and São-Tomense (ST) - two creoles spoken in São Tomé and Príncipe (West Africa) - have a lexicon which predominantly derives from a European language, in this case Portuguese. On the other hand, the creole lexicon also reflects their particular social history in that the Angolares were initially a maroon community which developed outside the plantations on which São-Tomense originated. Thus, Angolar has a vocabulary which clearly demonstrates both the Kwa influence it shares with São-Tomense but, more significantly, its unique set of Kimbundu-derived words.

In this paper I will analyze and compare the vocabulary of Angolar and São-Tomense in order to identify general lexico-semantic processes and word incorporation mechanisms both Portuguese and African-derived lexicon underwent in the two creoles. For example: comparative data for body parts in the two creoles illustrates interesting tendencies of the Portuguese-derived lexicon:

  1. Some creole words come directly from Portuguese, both in meaning and in form, allowing of course for their phonological adaptations: AN and ST orya < PT orelha ‘ear’.
  2. Some creole words reflect an archaic Portuguese usage: ST zunta ‘knee’ < PT junta ‘articulation’; cf. modern Portuguese joelho.
  3. Some creole words are different from their Portuguese etyma, yet related to them via a semantic change through inference: ST tlashi ‘back’ < PT atrás ‘behind’; cf. PT costas.
  4. Morpheme boundaries can become reanalyzed as is common in the case of articles plus nouns: AN and ST ope ‘foot/leg’ < PT o 'masc. def. art.'+ ‘foot’.
  5. Compounds of mixed sources (African + PT) are attested: AN pena nte ‘hair’ combines PT pena ‘feather’ with Kikongo ntu ‘head’; cf. ST has kabelu from PT cabelo 'head'.
  6. The Portuguese-derived word in the creole is a semantic extension of the African word: mo ‘hand/arm’ and pe ‘foot/leg’; cf. PT mão 'hand' and braço 'arm', but Kimbundu lukuaku ‘hand/arm'.

One sees even from this limited number of creole words that the Portuguese and African contribution to the creole lexicon underwent various lexicosemantic developments and word formative mechanisms, summarized as follows:

Finally, it will be shown that the lexicosemantics, studied in conjunction with other linguistic subsystems of Angolar and São-Tomense, supplies critical evidence on the question of the genetic relationship of these two Portuguese-lexified creoles.