Jo-Anne S. Ferreira - The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine/SIL International

{{1. Introduction}}

In Venezuela,1 Patuá or Venezuelan French Creole (VFC) is spoken in the Paria
Peninsula bordering Trinidad, once a French Creole-speaking territory, although
never governed by the French. Venezuela and Trinidad share a maritime boundary
in the Gulf of Paria, and are only seven miles or eleven kilometers apart at the
nearest point. The area has been a point of exchange between the two areas since
pre-Columbian times with speakers of Amerindian, European (Spanish, French,
and English) and Caribbean Creole (French-lexified and English-lexified) languages
going back and forth.

This paper will focus on the French Creole language of Paria, although French
Creole is also spoken in El Callao in Estado Bolívar, home to migrants from Trinidad,
St. Lucia, and Haiti. VFC is mainly spoken in Güíria in Estado Sucre (in which
the Paria Peninsula is located). The French voyager, Dauxion-Lavaysse, writing in
the early nineteenth century, notes that Güíria and Guinima were “deux villages
établis par des Français et des Espagnols, qui ont émigré de la Trinidad pour se soustraire aux vexations du gouvernment anglais” (1813.2:225–226). [Blaquire’s
translation: Güíria and Guinima were… “two villages established by the French
and Spaniards, who emigrated from Trinidad, to avoid the vexations of the British
Governor” (Dauxion-Lavaysse 1820:115)].

VFC is mostly an offshoot of Trinidadian French Creole (TFC), a variety of
Lesser Antillean French Creole, and is therefore not listed by Gordon (2005) as a
separate national variety. VFC is also made up of other varieties originating from
areas besides Trinidad, and is also spoken in areas such as El Callao in Estado
Bolívar by descendants of migrants looking for work in the gold mines.

On the whole, regardless of origins (Lesser Antillean or Greater — Haitian),
and although not necessarily a homogeneous whole, VFC is an endangered variety,
with a low level of ethnolinguistic vitality. This is so since only very few
bilingual elderly persons continue to speak VFC as a home language today, the
language having given way to Spanish at the wider community level.

This is similar
to the case for its direct parent Trinidadian French Creole, which has given way to
English and English Creole, although that FC variety appears to be far healthier in
terms of its vitality and long-term potential to survive (cf. Holbrook and Ferreira
2002). One estimate suggests that there are fewer than one hundred speakers of
VFC and that all speakers of VFC are bilingual in VFC and Spanish, and some also
speak English as a first, second or third language (Juan Facendo, e-mail interview,
March 22, 2007). If this is the case, then the language is seriously moribund, and
there may be no real hope of revitalization, only hope of promoting the language
as an ancestral, ethnic tongue to be taught in select schools.
VFC is generally associated with a subset of Afro-Venezuelan culture. Other
cultural aspects include English (and French) surnames from the Lesser Antilles,
calypso (especially in El Callao, the city in Venezuela best known for calypso, see
Baptiste 2002:12), steelpan, the sport of cricket, as well as Trinidadian foods such
as pelau, callaloo (“kalalu”), souse (“saus”), roti,2 and curried dishes (see Díaz and
Urbano J. 2005). Michelangeli (2003) has commented on this Trinidadian influence
on Güíria cuisine (see also the Gastronomía link at ‘Güíria: Tierra de Gracia’ accessed July 30, 2006.) Note that the presence of roti,
an Indo-Trinidadian dish, confirms that contact continued between the two sides
of the Gulf of Paria well into the mid-nineteenth century, since Indians first went
to Trinidad in 1845 and not before, and their descendants would have gone to

The history and future of Patuá in Paria 141
Venezuela after that time. The continuing contact between Trinidad and Venezuela
into the twentieth century does not necessarily signal the reinforcement of
Patuá, since the majority of migrants probably spoke English or English Creole.


{{Jo-Anne S. Ferreira}}

{The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine/SIL International}

1. In Iberian America, not surprisingly, French-lexicon Creole (FC) is spoken mainly in border
areas, that is, national borders between French/French Creole-speaking areas and Spanish or
Portuguese-speaking areas. The three French Creole varieties that are found in border situations
(land or maritime) are as follows: a) Haitian French Creole in the Dominican Republic (bordering
Haiti), b) Brazilian Karipúna and Amapá French Creole (bordering French Guiana, and in
an area once claimed by France, cf. Ferreira and Alleyne 2007) and c) Venezuelan French Creole.
San Miguel French Creole of Panama, almost extinct, is the only FC spoken in Latin America
that is not a border language. It was taken there by St. Lucian migrants and is therefore also an
offshoot of Lesser Antillean FC. In non-Latin South America, French Creole is also spoken by
pockets of migrant communities in Guyana (with migrants from St. Lucia), and in Suriname,
west of French Guiana.

2. Roti and curry are made at home by some families of Güíria, of Afro-Venezuelan descent. A
recent (Arab-)Trinidadian migrant opened a roti shop, hiring an (Indo-)Trinidadian roti maker
from the town of San Juan in Trinidad. The rotis were sold out of a food van and were very
popular among the community of Güíria. The business closed down with the cook’s return to


Source : [>]
Jo-Anne S. Ferreira. Short note: The history and future of Patuá in Paria: Report on initial language revitalization efforts for French Creole in Venezuela. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 24:1
2009. pp. 139–158