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Review of  A History of Afro-Hispanic Language

Reviewer: Silke Jansen
Book Title: A History of Afro-Hispanic Language
Book Author: John M. Lipski
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Portuguese
Issue Number: 16.2183

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Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2005 12:06:28 +0200 (CEST)
From: Silke Jansen
Subject: A History of Afro-Hispanic Language: Five Centuries, Five

AUTHOR: Lipski, John M.
TITLE: A History of Afro-Hispanic Language
SUBTITLE: Five Centuries, Five Continents
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2005

Silke Jansen, Romanisches Seminar, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany)

This book provides an overview about the historical development of Afro-
Hispanic language found in the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America from
the fifteenth to the twentieth century, focusing on both extra-linguistic
conditions and linguistic impact of Afro-Iberian language contact.

Chapter 1: Africans in the Iberian Peninsula, the slave trade, and
overview of Afro-Iberian linguistic contacts
Following a brief introduction to the topic, chapter 1 describes the
historical background of the formation and development of Afro-Iberian
language, focusing on such aspects of the Atlantic slave trade that are
pertinent to linguistic issues.

Starting with the Roman Empire, the author gives an overview about the
African slave-trade and its cultural and linguistic implications. As Arab
and other Muslims had been involved in slave trading since the Middle
Ages, sub-Saharan Africans were present in Spain long before the beginning
of the Atlantic slave trade. However, the number of black Africans
increased beginning from the early fifteenth century, when the Portuguese
explorations and exploitations, especially in the Congo Basin and Angola,
laid the groundwork for the Atlantic slave trade. By the early sixteenth
century, the Spanish government authorized the first importation of
African slaves to the Americas, in order to compensate the unsuccessful
attempts to enslave Native Americans. However, Spain and Portugal
continued to export slaves until the middle of the nineteenth century.

As for the origin of the slave population, the geographic or ethnic names
found in Golden Age texts from Spain and early colonial Latin America fail
to give trustworthy information. Rather than referring to a particular
region or tribe, they were meant to connote a vague sense of "black
Africa". Estimates about the number of slaves brought to the New World
vary between 3.5 million and 25 million. Again, it is the lack of reliable
information in the historical sources, together with political and
ideological issues, which makes it difficult to determine the real extent
of slave introduction.

Chapter 2: Early Afro-Portuguese texts
Chapter 2 presents the first attestations of Afro-Iberian language in
Portugal. Although it is known through historical accounts that the
initial Afro-Portuguese contacts took place in West Africa and gave rise
to the formation of contact vernaculars, pidgins, and lingua francas, the
first written attestations of Afro-Iberian language come not from Africa
but from Portugal. The earliest known Afro-Portuguese text is a poem by
Fernam da Silveira dated 1455 and published in 1516 in the Cancioneiro
geral. The largest single corpus of early Afro-Lusitanian language,
however, is provided by the plays of Gil Vicente, written in the 1520 and
1530, which contain a number of grammatical features that are consistent
with other Afro-Iberian literary examples and are also found in Afro-
Iberian creoles.

The black character, linguistically characterized by his fala de preto or
habla de negros, becomes an established stereotype in Portuguese and
Spanish plays by the middle of the sixteenth century, which makes it
difficult to determine to which extent his speech reflects authentic
peculiarities of the Portuguese as learned by Africans, rather than
stylized literary patterns.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, most of the Afro-Portuguese
accounts are anonymous songs and poem fragments which reflect a greater
fluency in Portuguese than Gil Vicente's early examples. During the last
phase of the Afro-Portuguese texts, the most consistent instances of
língua de preto appear in the so-called literatura de cordel (pamphlets
characterized by a formulaic use of stereotyped elements). According to
the author, this pamphlet literature hints at the existence of a stable
Afro-Portuguese pidgin in seventeenth-century Portugal. In addition, some
occasional instances of Afro-Lusitanian speech reflect how African
speakers in Africa, Brazil and Asia may have used Portuguese.

Chapter 3: Early Afro-Hispanic texts
As for accounts of Africanized language in the Spanish speaking world, the
first known texts are some coplas by Rodrigo de Reinosa and the farsas of
Sánchez de Badajoz. The best-known examples of sixteenth-century Afro-
Hispanic language, however, stem from Lope de Rueda, who uses the habla de
negros in three of his plays written between 1538 and 1545. The
Africanized features found in these texts do not only provide a high
degree of mutual consistency, but are also consistent with Afro-Iberian
texts from all time and periods, which makes them among the most important
early literary accounts.

After Lope de Rueda, the habla de negros became an established stereotype
in seventeenth-century Spanish and Portuguese literature, and the greatest
writers of the Golden Age, namely Góngora, Lope de Vega and Calderón de la
Barca, made use of this literary device in their works. However, the
excessive appearance of African characters as buffoons in Golden Age
plays, especially by Lope de Vega, casts some doubt about the authenticity
of these sources, since the departures from Spanish usage could be due to
established stereotypes rather than to an exact imitation of Afro-Hispanic
models. During the course of the seventeenth century, examples of
literary "Africanized" language become even more stereotyped.

As for the accounts of "Africanized" speech in Baroque texts from Latin
America, these don't show major deviation from the Spanish models and
probably simply continue the established Iberian literary tradition.
However, some innovations in the writings of Sor Juana de la Cruz, the
most important writer to use bozal Spanish in seventeenth-century Latin
America, already hint at some evolutions in Afro-Hispanic language that
would later evolve into patterns that differ considerably from the models
attested in the Iberian Peninsula.

From his brief overview about more than three centuries of Afro-Hispanic
literary accounts, the author concludes that these documents are likely to
be considered as a relatively viable source of evidence on earlier Afro-
Hispanic speech, appealing to three main arguments: First of all, the
phonetic and morphological traits documented in Afro-Iberian speech are
also attested in existing Afro-Iberian pidgins and creoles or are logical
extensions of African area characteristics. Secondly, there is no obvious
non-African source for the linguistic traits that characterizes the
literary habla de negros. Finally, historical and social circumstances
suggest that both key authors and the general public were familiar with
Afro-Hispanic pidgin.

Chapter 4: Africans in colonial Spanish America
Chapter 4 presents historical data about the most significant African
populations in Latin America in a country-by-country order. Although
during the course of the centuries, the population of African descendent
blended into the mestizo populations, Peru and Mexico presented a
considerable African population at various times and places during the
colonial period. However, due the social circumstances in the colonial
societies, there are only few identifiable vestigial Afro-Hispanic
linguistic traits in these areas.

In contrast to Peru and Mexico, the majority of Africans in Argentina and
Uruguay were still bozales, speaking African languages and little or no
Spanish, in the early part of the eighteenth century. Africans in colonial
Cuba, however, came from all parts of Africa, as well as from other
Caribbean territories. Although the Dominican Republic contains a high
proportion of population of African descent, there are no accounts of
bozal language in the literary and folkloric corpus. In Puerto Rico, there
was never a number of African bozales large enough to have a strong
influence in Puerto Rican culture and language. Given that toward the end
of the nineteenth century and continuing through the first decades of the
twentieth century, labourers from other Caribbean territories migrated in
significant number to Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico,
creoloid features in Caribbean Spanish may be due to language contact with
Afro-European creole languages rather than to the creolization of Spanish
in the American soil. The majority of the Afro-Ecuadorian population is
concentrated in the northwest part of the country, although there is a
significant African-descendant population in the highlands in the Chota
river valley, whose origins remain uncertain. Through the port of
Cartagena, which was the principal entry of African slaves to much of
South America, Colombia received a large number of slaves who worked both
in agriculture and in mines. During the colonial period, maroon
communities were found throughout the country, in one of which - San
Basilio de Palenque - a Spanish-based creole language emerged. Throughout
its history, Panama has been characterized by strong Afro-Hispanic
contacts, given that almost al slaves that were brought to the Pacific
coast of Spanish America passed through Panamanian ports. Although
Venezuela imported slaves during the colonial period, it was never a major
agricultural producer, and racial mixture was immediate and continuous.

CHAPTER 5: Afro-Hispanic texts from Latin America: sixteenth to twentieth
Country by country, chapter 5 discusses the most salient Afro-Hispanic
texts found in Spanish America over the last centuries.

While the first examples of Afro-Hispanic language in Latin America,
coming from the mining regions in Peru, Bolivia, Mexico and Colombia,
still reflect the established Spanish stereotype of habla de negros,
plausible examples of the imitation of "Africanized" speech can be found
in Latin American literary works by the end of the eighteenth century.

A special focus lies on the Cuban bozal texts, which form the centre of
the reconstruction of earlier Afro-Hispanic speech and its presumable
contributions to Caribbean varieties of Spanish. A great amount of Cuban
costumbrista texts, narratives, anthropological works, popular songs, and
a few religious texts, together with occasional fragments in stories,
newspaper articles and travellers' descriptions, depict what could have
been the speech of Cuban bozales. Given the extent of the Afro-Cuban
corpus, the author limits his analysis to a representative selection of
texts, paying special attention to the problem of linguistic authenticity
of bozal representations. After having presented some early references to
and attestations of Cuban bozal Spanish, he discusses the work of
Bartolomé José Crespo y Borbón, who, under the pseudonym Creto Gangá, used
a literary version of bozal language in newspaper columns and plays - one
of the most extensive, but at the same time most controversial sources of
Afro-Cuban bozal language in the nineteenth century. Comparing them to
other sources of bozal language, which show the same kind of deviations
from standard Spanish, Lipski ascribes a high degree of credibility to
Crespo y Borbón literary production.

Fernando Ortiz, the Cuban anthropologist and ethnographer, can be seen as
another key figure in the study of Afro-Cuban language and culture. His
works, which mainly deal with Afro-Cuban cultural and religious practices,
are filled with words and phrases used by the Afro-Cuban population. These
examples, according to Lipski, are crucial to the study of bozal speech in
that they represent authentic transcriptions by the author, and not
literary inventions as the bulk of the Afro-Hispanic corpus.

Another key figure in the study of Afro-Cuban language and culture is
Lydia Cabrera, whose writings play a central role in the current debates
on the nature of bozal language and its possible creolization. However, as
for the other bozal sources already mentioned, the reliability of
Cabrera's transcriptions is highly controversial among scholars.
Considering Cabrera's research methods - she used notebooks and note cards
to record her observations during her field interviews - as well as her
comments about her own anthropological and fictional work, Lipski warns
against seeing her writings as accurate linguistic transcriptions. Rather,
her bozal fragments represent "approximations written on the fly, or
reconstructed long after the fact from the author's recollections of the
general speech patterns of her Afro-Cuban informants." (p. 167) According
to the author, this does not invalidate her entire corpus, but should
nonetheless "introduce a critical element of caution" (p. 168) as for
detailed linguistic analyses on her writings.

Chapter 6: Survey of major African language families
After having discussed the extra-linguistic circumstances of the formation
and documentation of bozal language in Chapter 1 to 5, the author turns to
essentially linguistic problems in chapter 6, which gives an overview
about the main African language families and their linguistic features in
order to discuss possible substratum influence on Afro-Hispanic language.
Although, according to Lipski, the deviations from standard Spanish found
in bozal texts can generally be put down to imperfect second language
acquisition rather than to language contact phenomena, there are some
recurring traits which may reflect African patterns. However, substratum
influence can probably be found only in those linguistic domains where
African patterns coincide with more efficient learner's strategies.

Among the 13 major African language families discussed by Lipski, the
Bantu family plays a significant role thanks to the remarkable
resemblances in formal structure, which suggests a higher degree of
substratum coherence for certain time periods and colonial regions where
the Bantu element was predominant.

As for the consequences of the diversity of African languages in Afro-
Iberian contact situations, Lipski calls into question the widespread
assumed linguistic heterogeneity aboard slaving vessels, stating that the
chances for slave dealers of obtaining a linguistic more or less
homogenous group where rather high. Under these circumstances, the
pressure to creolize Portuguese and Spanish would have been relatively
low, and the chances of noticeable substratum influence increases.

Chapter 7: Phonetics/phonology of Afro-Hispanic language
Chapter 7 focuses on phonetic and phonological peculiarities of bozal
varieties and their possible African origins.

One major typological difference between European and African language is
the presence of phonemic lexical tones among the latter. Like contemporary
learner's varieties of Spanish in Africa, bozal speech may once have been
influenced by African intonation patterns. Among the syllabic structures
shared by a wide range of prominent African languages, the lack of coda
consonants, the non-distinction between /l/ and /r/, the presence of nasal
vowels and prenasalized consonants as well as the absence of onset
clusters are noteworthy. Some, but not all of these characteristics can be
found also in early Afro-Iberian language. While the reduction of onset
clusters through loss of the liquid is almost never found, the treatment
of the Spanish opposition /l/ : /r/ varies across time and space.

Special mention must be made of the elimination of syllable-final /s/ in
Afro-Hispanic speech, for which Lipski suggests a morphological origin
(reduction of the redundant plural-markers). At the same time, he rejects
that this change could be due to an Andalusian influence. In connection
with the striving for a canonical CV syllable and the breaking of
consonant clusters, he claims that the strategies involved are more
complicated than a simple truncation, paragogic and epenthetic vowels or
metathesis also being used. Another typical feature of bozal consonantism
is the introduction of the nasal /n/ in word-final or word-internal
syllable-final position (cf. negro > nengtre/ningre/nengue/nenglo, p.
233). The frequency of word-final nasalization in bozal texts sheds a new
light on the particles lan/nan, which have been analyzed as direct
transfers from African languages or creoles. Actually, what was
interpreted as a word-final /n/ reflects the presence of a prenasalized
obstruent in the following word, which is a common feature of many West
African languages.

As, in the course of the eighteenth century, certain South American
Spanish dialects undergoe some important phonetic transformations, the
phonetic shape of Afro-Hispanic language changes. The weakening of
syllable-final consonants (especially /s/, sometimes also /r/ and /l/) in
Spanish is also reflected by bozal texts.

Chapter 8: Grammatical features of Afro-Hispanic language
Chapter 8 focuses on grammatical features of Afro-Iberian language. Again,
Lipski compares the peculiarities found in bozal texts to the most
important characteristics of African languages in order to detect possible
substratum influence.

As the majority of African languages involved are SVO-languages, no
modification of Spanish or Portuguese word-order would be expected. Given
the possibility of OV-constructions in medieval Spanish and Portuguese, it
is problematic to attribute occasional lapses into SOV word order to an
African substratum. The overuse of overt subject pronouns in bozal texts,
especially from the Caribbean, could possibly have its origin in African
languages where subject clitics take the place of verbal suffixes.
However, no cases of Ibero-Romance pronouns being used as real subject
clitics (e.g. *Juan él sabe..., p. 251) have been documented, and, at the
same time, even in non-creole Spanish dialects the obliteration of verbal
endings may lead to categorical use of subject pronouns (Andalusia,
Caribbean Spanish).

As for the use of direct objects, Afro-Iberian language maintains SVO
order even with direct objects pronouns and uses disjunctive pronouns
wherever possible (cf. vêjo ele in Brazilian Portuguese), according to
recurring patterns among most African language families.

Double negation is among the Afro-Iberian features that have been traced
to Bantu influence. However, Lipski claims that, given the diversity of
negation patterns among African languages, a unified "African" negation
pattern in bozal Spanish is rather unlikely. It also seems possible that
double negation is the result of contact with other languages (e.g. French
Creole, Quechua etc.).

As for interrogative construction, the sentence-initial position of
interrogative words is frequent among African languages, but as Spanish
and Portuguese possess the same strategy, no deviations from standard
Spanish would be expected. African languages also lack subject inversion
both in WH- and in yes-no questions, but similar structures are found in
the Canary Island, Galicia and the Caribbean area, which makes an African
interpretation difficult.

Bozal language does not expose special syntactic or morphological devices
for signalling plural, although Bantu and other African languages possess
pluralization strategies clustering around the use of prenominal and
postnominal particles. Eventually, a tendency of marking plurality only on
the first element of the noun phrase could be observed.

In the use of definite articles, bozal speech often fails to agree the
articles in gender and number with the respective noun phrase. A striking
element is the preference of la before masculine nouns, rather then the
generalization of the unmarked masculine article el generally found in
creole languages, probably due to phonetic factors.

The verb system has been a key argument in the discussion of a possible
creolization of Spanish. As African languages of the Kwa-Benue group and
all Afro-European creoles use verbal subject clitics instead of verbal
inflection, the wide use of ta as an obvious aspectual particle in 19th
century Cuban bozal texts has led to claims that Spanish and Portuguese
elements were reinterpreted as verbal markers. However, according to
Lipski, this only holds for the Cuban case, where a strong Yoruba
substratum can be postulated.

Chronologically speaking, Afro-Iberian speech previous to the 19th century
is characterized by imperfectly conjugated verbs, the sue of (a)mí as
subject pronoun, disjunctive object pronouns, the omission of definite and
indefinite articles, only sporadic gender and number concord between nouns
and adjectives and the invariant copula sa/sã alternated with correctly
and incorrectly conjugated forms of ser and estar. Nineteenth-century Afro-
Caribbean speech, however, is qualitatively different from bozal languages
of other periods and regions, and among its most salient traits are the
frequent use of third person singular verb forms as invariant verbs, the
use of son as invariant copula, alternating with correct forms, the
frequent lack of noun-adjective concordance, the frequent use of
disjunctive postverbal object pronouns, especially mí, instead of object
clitics, and the frequent use of the third person singular
undifferentiated pronoun elle/nelle.

Chapter 9: The Spanish-Creole debate
This chapter discusses the question of whether Spanish ever creolized,
which continues to be a controversial issue among scholars. In connection
with colonial bozal speech, the hypothesis that Spanish DID once creolize
in the Americas is of particular interest, given that those text may
contain evidence in support of this viewpoint.

A number of creole researchers and Hispanists have claimed that bozal
Spanish creolized in the Caribbean and perhaps elsewhere in the New World,
given that many characteristic features of bozal language can also be
found in creoles. Lipski, however, makes clear that, for several reasons,
the historical documents do not support this hypothesis. First of all, the
considerable disparities among Afro-Hispanic manifestations suggest that
bozal speech was rather a transitory phenomenon that did not survive
transgenerationally. It is true that 19th century Cuban and Puerto Rican
bozal Spanish forms a nucleus of shared characteristics (unstable
inflections and verb conjugation, variable loss of articles and
prepositions, occasional confusion of pronominal case, frequent phonetic
and phonological deformation), but these features are also found in
vestigial Spanish varieties where no African influence can be
demonstrated. They should therefore be considered as natural consequences
of imperfect second language learning: "All of these characteristics are
natural consequences of imperfect learning, of the possible interference
of a variety of non-Romance languages, of the lack of a wide pool of
adequate native speaker models, and the absence of individual and societal
monitoring and feedback mechanisms that would partially counteract
reductive tendencies." (p. 300) At the same time, the presence of a range
of European creole languages in the Caribbean in the 19th and 20th century
may have lead to the borrowing of creoloid features into Spanish or have
reinforced certain creoloid patterns already existent in bozal Spanish.


Lipski's book provides an excellent and very detailed overview of all
significant issues and aspects related with Afro-Hispanic language,
something that - to my knowledge - had never been done before in such
great detail.

The text is very accessible, but, given the enormous amount of
information, a short summary of the most important ideas at the end of
each chapter would facilitate the reading of the book. Although the
structure of the book is en general very clear, it would sometimes have
been more natural to organize the information according to subject
matters, rather than presenting it country-by-country, which at times
leads to repetitions. It is sure that the last chapter dealing with the
Spanish-Creole debate many of the ideas presented in the preceding
chapters are taken up again to underpin the author's position, but
nonetheless, it would be useful to have a final chapter to summarize the
whole book and present some overall conclusions about bozal speech.

Special mention must be made of the Appendix, available as a free online
resource in pdf-format, which contains not only the largest-known
anthology of primary texts on Afro-Hispanic speech, but also listings of
bozal-attestations in different countries and a compilation of phonetic,
morphologic and syntactic examples that complete the examples discussed in
the book and exemplify the author's argumentation. Comprising more than
300 pages, it is almost as extensive as the book itself. The material is
organized according to the structure of the book, what facilitates
utilization. However, if one is looking for a special example or text, a
table of contents and/or an index would be useful.

One innovative element of the book is the detailed and critical discussion
of the historical bozal documentation, which - in addition to problems
related with the fact that most of the sources reflect established
literary patterns often used to ridicule a socially marginalized group -
also considers biographic instances of the bozal authors in order to
determine the degree of authenticity of their texts. For example, Lipski's
critical evaluation of Lydia Cabrera's works (p. 163 ff.), often regarded
as being one of the best sources of information about Cuban bozal
language, seems very convincing to me inasmuch as he discusses Cabrera's
texts in a biographic setting, taking into account her working methods as
well as her personal attitude on her work.

Although the author's aim is to give a general overview about Hispanic
bozal language, he does not desist to discuss single problems in a
detailed way, giving some interesting and innovative interpretations on
many occasions (e.g. his analysis of lan/nan as a "unique combination of
African areal characteristics and a particular interpretation of Spanish
and Afro-Hispanic phonotactic patterns by Africans and Spanish speakers
alike", p. 235-57). In this and in many other cases, the author weighs his
arguments with a great deal of caution, always trying to build his
hypothesis on an empirical basis. Given the ideological turn that the
study of Afro-Hispanic language and culture contact has sometimes taken,
this is one of the most significant merits of this book.

A History of Afro-Hispanic Language is a very well substantiated and
highly informative book that should not be missing in any collection with
holdings on Afro-Hispanic language contact.


Silke Jansen received her Ph.D. in Romance Linguistics from the University
of Münster (Germany). She is currently a lecturer for Romance linguistics
at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany). Her teaching and
research interests include semantics, languages in contact and historical
linguistics of the Romance languages.

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ISBN: 0521822653
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