TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. September 2010

Sektion 1.3. Re-writing linguistic history – (post)colonial reality on the fringes of linguistic theories
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Eric A. Anchimbe (University of Bayreuth, Germany)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Cape Verdean Creole in Lisbon – young generation’s perspective

Christina Märzhäuser (Munich, Germany / Coimbra, Portugal)



1. Introduction

Migration as a central element of globalization multiplies linguistic diversity in many countries, especially in the urban areas. The integration of non-native inhabitants and emerging linguistic minorities remains a great challenge to (often monolingual) nation-states. For the members of migrant minority groups, the language of origin which figures as a prominent marker of ethnic identity is important for keeping up local community networks and trans-national family ties. The competence in the language of the host country is supposed to function as socio-economic capital and key for successful integration.

For Cape Verdean migrants (the largest immigrant group in Portugal) and their descendants, Portuguese is the language of the host country while Cape Verdean Creole (CVC), referred to by its speakers also as Kabuverdianu or Kriolu, is the language of origin. Two successive case studies based on surveys, participating observation and qualitative interviews with young speakers of Cape Verdean descent from suburban Lisbon(1) show that CVC is definitely vital as an in-group language, and even spreading to non-Capeverdean peer group members. This occurs at different levels of competence, from single items picked up from Rap lyrics and conversations up to completely fluent non- native speakers who acquire CVC in the respective quarters and schools. The research shows how the bilingual speakers choose Kriolu as a marker of cultural identity, thus reversing the stigma attached to the Creole in an act of post-colonial emancipation, and investigates the motivations of using CVC in cultural productions such as Rap music.


2. Cape Verde and its Creole

The genesis of Cape Verdean Creole, a Portuguese-based Creole with West-African substrate-languages, with the greatest influence from Wolof and Mandinka, was on the islands of Cape Verde (see Lang et al. 2006). This formerly unpopulated archipelago, situated west of Africa facing Senegal in the Atlantic Ocean, was a base for the Portuguese slave-trade to Europe and across the Atlantic. It was a Portuguese colony between 1460 and 1975. The population is descended from West-Africans from different ethnic groups deported as slaves and Portuguese settlers, an early practice of intermarriage gave rise to a mixed society and the genesis of its Creole.

Robert French (2003, refers to CVC as a mixture of African and European elements, a fact which holds both for the society as well as for its culture:

In the mixing of African cultural elements and the influences of Catholicism and Western civilization, it is not always possible to tell whether the African or the European influence is greater. Rather, the intermixture is so complete that it makes more sense to speak of the evolution of a distinct and separate culture with its own expressive instrument: crioulo. (Robert French,, 2003)

There are significant dialectal differences between the Creole varieties of the nine islands with the main distinction being made between the southern varieties of the Sotavento and the main island Santiago on the one hand, and the northern varieties of S.Vincente and the other islands of the Barlavento group on the other. In addition to diatopic features of each island, there is socio-lectal variation that can be conceptualized by urban-rural variation. Common to all islands is the diglossic situation between Portuguese and CVC. Although the Cape Verdean Creole is the national language which is widely spoken and it is also a written language with a proposal for a unified alphabet (ALUPEK) and its own literary tradition, it has not been implemented as an official language yet. Portuguese as the language of the former colonialists remains the official language. Through the diglossic coexistence of the two languages and the continuous language contact, there emerged a divided post-Creole-continuum with Creole and Portuguese varieties, illustrated in the following diagram based on Ramos (1985:227 cited in Perl 1994:16 ):



The process of officialization of CVC is still not completed, thus the Creole is not used on official occasions and in documents. Bilingual schooling, in some places established in the US due to former American legislation for bilingual citizens, has started on Cape Verde. The official status of Kriolu, which had been disrespected as ‘badly spoken dialect of Portuguese‘ for centuries, but which had been a symbol of national unity and culture long before the islands’ independence in 1975 continues as an issue of political debate.

Life on the archipelago has been marked by economic difficulties caused by isolation, droughts and famines resulting in a high net migration rate of 11.83 migrants per 1000 population per year. In fact, of a total 1.2 million Cape Verdeans, nearly 700,000 live abroad (Evora-Sagna et al. 2002:6)(2) Traditional destinations of migration have been the USA, Europe, African countries like Senegal, Angola and by forced migration during the Salazar era to S. Tomé & Principe. In Europe, Portugal ranks first with a Cape Verdean community of over 100,000 persons, followed by France, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain. Of course all the numbers represented in the following table are approximate figures, as many first generation migrants acquired nationality of the host country, and their descendants are sometimes counted as Cape Verdeans, sometimes as national citizens of the respective countries, thus making statistics difficult to rely on.


3. Capeverdean Creole in Portugal

Cape Verdeans are the largest immigrant group as well as the biggest group among PALOP(3) immigrants in Portugal. Most of the other immigrants in Portugal come from countries like Brazil, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Great Britain, Germany ,Spain and Eastern Europe, and on a smaller scale São Tomé and Príncipe, Mozambique and remigration from France. The approximate figure of over 100,000 speakers of CVC in Portugal can be added up from different statistical groups as in Table 1.

Table 1: Speakers of Cape Verdean Creole in Portugal

1 Cape Verdeans (CVs) with legalized residence 55 000
2 CVs who acquired Portuguese nationality 40 000
3 CVs without residence permit ?
4 Descendants of Cape Verdeans born in Portugal ? (partly belong to groups 1 and 2)
5 Non-native speakers of CVC ?


Other groups that have competence in CVC are speakers of the creoles of Guinea and S. Tomé who adapt to CVC due to its majority role within the Luso-African minority population. In addition, there are other speakers of CVC as L2 who are of Portuguese descent, as I will show later. Thus the vitality of Cape Verdean Creole and the number of its speakers make the quote from a 1986 Portuguese Newspaper “Kriolu é a segunda língua do país” (<Creole is the second language of the country>) still valid today, twenty years later.

This fact, though, passes mostly unnoticed outside the Lisbon metropolitan area, where roughly 80% percent of all Cape Verdean migrants in Portugal have settled, especially in suburban areas like Amadora (Linha de Sintra), Chelas, along the Linha de Cascais and on the south side of the Tagus river, Margem Sul. The settlement concentration, mainly in suburban areas, often in so called bairros (<quarters>), degraded areas with slum, self-built or social housing, gives rise to glossotopic ‘islands‘ with high percentages of Cape Verdeans where the Cape Verdean Creole is the everyday language. The term Glossotope is taken from Thomas Krefeld’s (2004) conception on migration linguistics, it designates the small scale communicative area of linguistic communities, which can be seen as the basic unit of dialectal research but also productively applied to urban migrant settings. Glossotope used here in the latter sense designates a space where a habitual local use of a migrant language, in this case CVC, prevails, coexisting with Portuguese. For both languages different varieties are found to be in use. A quote from a young informant from the quarter Alto da Cova da Moura (A.C.M.), located on the suburban train route Linha de Sintra, in a sociological study about young people’s sociability in A.C.M. by O. Raposo (2003:83), shows how CVC is the first choice for the bilingual speakers within these areas:

(...) aqui dentro do bairro um gajo fala só crioulo, um gajo pode falar português, sim senhor à vontade, mas um gajo sente-se mais à vontade a falar crioulo porque um gajo nem pensa em falar em crioulo ou português, de repente com um gajo posso falar em crioulo mas com outro gajo posso falar português, mas o crioulo vem sempre à tona. (Interview in Alto da Cova da Moura by O. Raposo 05/2003)

(Here in the bairro we only speak Creole. Of course I can speak Portuguese, but I just feel more at ease when speaking Creole; I don’t think about whether to speak Creole or Portuguese – for example, I speak Creole with one person, and then suddenly Portuguese with another – but Creole always surfaces.) (my translation)

In the bairros, African culture becomes visible in linguistic habits, African style shops, hairdressers, music, life in the streets and so on. The journal África Hoje, for example, comments on the bairro A.C.M. “O kizomba e o kuduro ouve-se em cada canto” (<Kizomba and Kuduro - Capeverdean and Angolan dance music- are heard at every corner>) in an article entitled “A magia de reviver África” (N°192, August 2004). A sense of belonging to these places marked by African cultures within Portugal develops, as an informant from a thesis by Nuno Domingues (2005:54), on members of the Lisbon Hip Hop-scene of African origin, states:

a linha de Sintra é o meu país natal. (...) Quando fui morar para a linha de Sintra, senti que era o mais próximo do que eu tenho de casa... vivo ali dentro como se aquilo fosse o meu país e não posso viver noutro país, tenho de viver ali. A Linha de Sintra não é Portugal, faz fronteira com Portugal, é muito diferente, é a zona da Europa com mais africanos, a convivência ali é muito diferente. (MC E, Interview Domingues)

(Linha da Sintra is my home-country. When I came to live here, I felt that this was closest I could get to what was home for me. I live here as if this was my country, I have to live here. A Linha da Sintra is not Portugal, it’s on the border of Portugal, it’s very different. It’s the area in Europe with the most Africans, social life is very different here.) (my translation)

The identification of young Luso-Africans has various points of reference. The young generation in these areas is confronted with two cultures, the respective African and the Portuguese culture, and they are faced with the task of developing an own, hybrid identity as a luso-africano, that is, an identity as Portuguese of African descent. The problems of ‘2nd/3rd generation immigrants’ are widely discussed in scientific literature and public discourse, often fading out difficulties arising from negative attitudes by the host society and the socio-economic status of the immigrant population. The children and teenagers of Cape Verdean descent, mostly born in Portugal, are growing up in areas with a high percentage of (African) migrant population, often in precarious socio-economic conditions. They suffer from social marginalization because of colour and social origin, being stigmatized as do bairro, from the ghetto, as speakers themselves commented in the interviews. Due to a high birth rate there is mostly a high percentage of young population in these areas, for example in the A.C.M. neighbourhood more than 50% are younger than 25 years(4) This explains the social background of the group investigated.

Returning to the level of language, the group investigated can be characterized as as generally being bilingual in Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole, sometimes with competence in other languages. The level of competence in both languages and their use differ considerably between individual speakers from the same social background.


4. Case studies

The aim of my research, drawing on results of my master thesis Entre Kriolu e Português – linguistic situation of Capeverdean migrants in Greater Lisbon, a case study in Alto da Cova da Moura (LMU Munich, 10/ 2005) and my ongoing dissertation Rap na Tuga - Language contact Kriolu - Portugese in Rap lyrics from Greater Lisbon (LMU Munich/ Coimbra 2006-2009), is to investigate patterns and motivations of language use and emerging language contact phenomena. Both studies try to capture the language situation and use of young CVC-Portuguese bilinguals. They are based on data from my fieldwork, as there are interviews and participating observation and a questionnaire, which covered language use in family, school, peer group, neighbourhood, language preferences and judgments on competence. The investigations reveal varying patterns and common traces in linguistic behaviour.

25 primary school kids (age 5-12) from Alto da Cova da Moura (A.C.M.),27 teenagers (age 14-18) from A.C.M. and surroundings, 18 rappers (age 17-31) from different bairros, and for comparison 13 Cape Verdean students at a Lisbon university who only came to Portugal for their studies were surveyed in relation to their linguistic habits. Observations from the field and qualitative interviews back up the findings, revealing a significant turn in language use and preference among the teens, which translates into different social and cultural phenomena. In the following part, language use in various domains of daily activities of the speakers, such as family, neighbourhood, school and the peer group, will be sketched and the respective results from my studies, as far as already available, will be presented.

4.1. Language in the family

The language situation within the Cape Verdean immigrant families in Portugal is determined by the tensions between (linguistically) passing on the culture of origin from Cape Verde and adapting to or integrating in the receiving society of Portugal. In this case, CVC as language of origin and Portuguese as language of the host country already coexist on the Cape Verdean islands in a diglossic situation, making basic (though often very limited) competence in Portuguese the rule for the first generation coming from Cape Verde. An assumption about the immigrant family within host society is the following: a native home language is spoken between the members of the family, near relatives and friends within an own ethnic group, and on the other hand the dominant language of the host country is used in the ‘outside world. The language of origin is important to keep up relations with members of the family who live in the country of origin, especially the older generation. This was verified in my case studies, where speakers reported of visits to Cape Verde, and phone calls and letters to relatives on the islands, for which a good command of the Creole was required. The competence in standard Portuguese, on the other hand, does play an important role for success in the school system and on the labour market. Nevertheless, the typical areas of employment like civil construction, cleaning and catering, which do not require advanced educational qualification, weaken the claim that Portuguese is an indispensable prerequisite for access to the job market. In fact, many school drop-outs justify their situation with the statement that they would work in construction anyway, so why wait another couple of years until finishing school? This justification, together with the observation of the (negative) experiences on the Portuguese job market of older peers, can diminish many teenagers’ thrive to advance in their level of Portuguese, in opposition to their parents’ expectations. This makes it clear that the families are facing a complex situation, once more as they live in a predominantly Creole-speaking environment, conceptualized above as a glossotope. Some parents thus opt to speak only Portuguese with their children instead of Creole. The parents’ competence in Portuguese does appear significant for the success of this strategy, as their language embodies a normative point of reference for the young learners. Apart from cases where children “want to speak better than their parents, because their parent’s Portuguese is so bad”, as one eleven year old girl mentioned, the variety of Portuguese spoken by the parents is often accepted as a model, even if it does not correspond to the norm required at school. In many families the choice is not whether to speak Portuguese or Creole: family life becomes bilingual, and this trend seems also typical for the communication between the speaker generation born already in Portugal and their own children.

This range of conflicting patterns can be seen in the individual constellations in the speaker sample.

4.1.1. Results

Cases found in the speaker sample are:

  1. Creole at home, Portuguese outside family
  2. All areas of life bilingual
  3. Portuguese in the family, Creole in school and peer group

The first case was found with 12 children, 5 teenagers and 10 of the students (who only came to Portugal for their studies and whose family mainly live in Cape Verde). The second case applied to 9 children, 13 teenagers and 2 students. 4 teenagers reported case three.

Table 2: Language use according to contexts

  Case 1 Case 2 Case 3


These figures show that actually for the young speakers born in Portugal (that is, all groups except for the students), a case (1) scenario appears quite often, especially for the primary school children. But it is the bilingual environment that tends to be the most frequent case. It was the third case, though, that aroused special attention, as it inverses the expected pattern, especially by making school a place for speaking and learning Creole. This third case is discussed in the following section.

4.2. Language at school

Some background figures on the presence of speakers of CVC at schools in the Lisbon area may help illustrate clearly the relevance of the phenomena studied here. An average of 5% of the pupils in the Lisbon area speaks Creole at home. Many Cape Verdean pupils do have problems with competence in the Portuguese language. Extra lessons in Portuguese as a second language are obligatory for pupils with foreign mother tongue, but optional for Cape Verdean pupils, as they are classified as native speakers of Portuguese due to the diglossic situation on Cape Verde. There are over 200 primary schools with high percentages of Cape Verdean pupils in the Lisbon area. At the secondary school level there is only one school with over 10% of CV. pupils. The language of instruction in the classroom is Portuguese, and generally the use of Creole at school is not welcomed by teachers, as Dulce Pereira explains in the following statement.

Os alunos, em geral, assumem que devem esconder do professor a sua língua e usá-la apenas com os colegas. (Pereira, 2003)

(In general, the pupils think that they have to hide their language (Creole) from the teacher and only use it with their peers.) (my translation)

This fact is complemented by the results from my research (Master Thesis, Märzhäuser 2006), where 40% of the children and 46% of the teenagers from the quarter Alto da Cova da Moura said that they were using Creole during lessons. This means that they speak Creole with their colleagues (peers) and behind the teacher’s back. 85.7% of the children and 84.6% of the teenagers in A.C.M. use Creole during school breaks.

The use of CVC as peer group language at Portuguese schools was judged as an obstacle for achieving good results in Portuguese by the teachers. This situation sounds familiar from other contexts of concentration of minority language speakers in schools, e.g. second generation Turkish pupils in Germany who speak Turkish within the peer group. The educative function of Portuguese schools as integrative institutions promoting the national language, Portuguese, is apparently inverted when schools turn out as a place for learning Creole. Whether it really is subtractive for competence in Portuguese, though, has not been studied. This situation happens when it is the in-group language of a sufficient number of pupils and becomes popular as such. This dynamic is reported by an informant of Domingues, G.V., born in CV, who came to Portugal at the age of 6 and grew up with relatives with whom he only spoke Portuguese. About his Secondary School “A Germânia” he says:

Na Germânia encontravam-se, juntamente com brancos, os negros da zona, dos pequenos bairritos e pequenas comunidades de africanos, cabo-verdianos, angolanos, guineenses, moçambicanos. A Germânia foi uma escola espectacular, porque foi nessa altura que comecei a falar crioulo com os meus colegas cabo-verdianos. Todos queriam aprender a falar crioulo, eu falei também, adorei e veio velhas memórias que estavam mais ou menos esquecidas. (Domingues, 2005:63)

(In Germania, white pupils mixed with the blacks from the area from the small communities of Africans, Cape Verdeans, Angolans, Guineans, Mozambicans. Germania was a great school, because it was at that time that I started to talk Creole with my Cape Verdean colleagues. Everybody wanted to learn to talk Creole, so I spoke it as well, I loved it, and old, nearly forgotten memories came back.) (my translation)

4.3. Language Preference

This pattern, and the popularity of Kriolu as peer group language, turned out to be a decisive factor in the language orientation for speakers.Creole is not the language of choice among young speakers of all age groups and certainly not for all speakers. The results of the survey carried out revealed patterns that are interesting in various ways:

The children adapt their answers to the interviewer: in the beginning of the interviews (which were made at school in an oral form of the questionnaire), I was perceived as a teacher and the most frequent answer about which language they preferred was “Portuguese”, as this is what a teacher would like to hear. As soon as they discovered my interest in Creole, especially when I switched to CVC in the conversation, there was the tendency to opt for Creole as preferred language when the question was asked a second time at the end of the interviews. Thus, one child switched from Portuguese to Creole, one from “both” to Creole. With three children the switch in opinion worked the other way round, from CVC to Portuguese, and one boy switched from CVC to “both”. Over 50% of the 27 teenagers answered consistently that they preferred speaking Creole, while for the young rappers the choice was either an equal preference for both languages or the preference of CVC, apparently a more balanced relation to the two languages.

Stated language preference and actual language choice do not correspond, nor can they be directly related. From participating observation it can be stated that the use of both languages alternates in in-group-conversations. A monitoring of language choice depends on internal and external factors, and on the speakers’ aim to display Creole identity and group affiliation. The choice of different registers in Portuguese has been observed to correspond to the social role performed and person talked to, equally different varieties of the Creole are used corresponding to the other person. Mixed registers are frequently used with bilingual partners. The role of trans-difference in the display of identity by language choice and ethno-linguistic markers has not been topic of my current research, but of course it also plays a role.

4.4. Language in the peer group

For many children and youth investigated, CVC is the dominant peer group language. Its use strengthens the identification with the in-group, own cultural roots and marks a border to ‚outside‘ society. Group borders, though, do not necessarily run along ethnic lines but may vary according to situation. The tendency for CVC as in-group-language manifest in urban popular culture, e.g. Cape Verdean music is very popular, there’s a lot of Rap-music in CVC, which I will comment later on.

The use of Kriolu (CVC) within the peer group was confirmed by 81% of the children and 84% of the teenagers in A.C.M. With their mother, just to compare, only 71.5% of the same group were talking CVC, out of which 14% used both languages. Most of the rappers interviewed, age group of 17 to 30, used both languages with their friends, for this group total presence of CVC is 75% both with mother and friends, so it seems to be a more balanced pattern.

Another phenomenon arising from the strong presence of CVC is its use by non-Cape Verdean peers. Pereira (2003) reports about this trend when she writes: “There are pupils of other origins, like gypsies or Angolans, who communicate in Creole with the Cape Verdeans, although their Creole naturally corresponds to a learning variety.”

The same fact is stated by various informants from my research:

Conheço Portugueses que ratxam Kriolu (..) - aqueles do bairro. (MC T., 2/07)

( I know Portuguese who speak Creole fluently – those of the bairros.)

O Kriolu normalmente é: as pessoas crescem numa mini-sociedade, digamos, bairros, zonas ou não sei que. Aqui já temos uma mistura total, temos estrangeiros a falar Kriolu, mas tambem a nova geração de Portugueses, negros e brancos, que nasceram em bairros tambem falam Kriolu. Então o Kriolu já é mais espalhado, tambem na música Africana, é muito na moda. O Kriolu é um boucado fashion, até, hoje em dia.” (MC J., 2/07)

(With Kriolu it’s usually like this: people grow up in a mini-society, let’s say bairros, zones or whatever. Here we already have a total mixture, we have foreigners speaking Kriolu, but also the young generation of Portuguese, black and white, who were already born in the bairros, they speak Kriolu, too. Therefore Kriolu has spread a lot, also in African music, which is very fashionable. You could even say Kriolu is a bit in fashion today.) (my translation)

If it is the effect of this linguistic panorama to even make CVC fashionable among the younger generation in a more general sense, an area that adds significantly to this trend is the popularity of Hip Hop and rap music, Rap Kriolu was heard even on the national radio broadcast in 2007, when the songs of the Lisbon based rappers Niggapoison, both of Cape Verdean descent, were broadcasted.

4.5. Rap Kriolu

Hip Hop has become a more and more popular urban youth culture in Portugal. Since the beginning of the movement in the 1980’s there has always been a strong presence of rappers of African, and more specifically Cape Verdean descent, for example Boss AC, Niggapoison, Chullage, who use Portuguese and CVC in their lyrics. Rap in Kriolu became especially popular in the bairros, but has since then also known a growing presence in festivals and media. The choice of CVC as language for rap lyrics instead of Portuguese reflects the same patterns as analysed above in the sketch of the general linguistic situation, crystallizing in an especially conscious way. Speakers’ comments about their own language use is often seen as unreliable for linguistic research since they seem to be subjectively coloured statements, and often contradict the language choices made in reality, which remain unconscious. Language choice for artistic production like rap, though, is a completely conscious choice, mirroring relations between MC, personal linguistic and cultural background and the audience. The motivation to rap in Kriolu is articulated by the MCs themselves in the following statements:

(Eu canto) mais em Kriolu. E onde eu sinto-me bem a comunicar tambem. Eu quando falo domino mais a palavra do Caboverdiano do que do Português.(..) Como tou aqui, como no meu bairro só falamos Kriolu, a maior parte dos tempos só falamos Kriolu. Pois, porque Portugues não falo assim muito. (MC P., 2/2007, own interview) 

(I sing more in Kriolu. That’s where I feel good to communicate, too. I express myself better in Kriolu than Portuguese, because here in my bairro we speak Kriolu most of the time. Portuguese I don’t speak so much.) (my translation)

So it becomes clear that habitual language use translates into the language preferred for artistic expression due to stronger linguistic competence. In addition, rapping in CVC serves as a link to the cultural roots, and CVC is said to have a good sonority for rapping:

Nu ta kanta en Kriolu pamódi nu ta valoriza nós raiz e tamben pamódi Kriolu é un di kés lingua mais forte pa rap. (MC L.B.C. Souldjah, 7/2006, Interview by Edurne de Juan)   

(We sing in Kriolu because we value our roots and because Kriolu is a very strong language for rap.) (my translation)

Canto rap em kriolu, bem que eu  tamben canto em portugues, mas raramente, mais em kriolu porque é, é uma forma de valorizar típo a minha língua, ….. nasci em Portugal, cresci em Portugal … meus pais sao caboverdianos.. eu sou caboverdiano, sou africano. (MC Bambino. 7/2006, Interview by Edurne de Juan)

(I sing in Kriolu, sometimes in Portuguese as well, but rarely. It’s a way to somehow value my language…I was born and grew up in Portugal but my parents are Cape Verdean, I’m Cape Verdean, I’m African.) (my translation)

Even if language proficiency in both Portuguese and CVC would make both languages an equal choice, CVC can be chosen as language for rap for reasons of personal preference:

Alguns pensam que não canto em português por causa do vocabulário ou por que não sei … nããããããããoooo!!! Opção própria!! Se eu não canto em português é porque não quero.(MC K. 7/2006, Interview by Edurne de Juan)

(Some people think that I don’t sing in Portuguese because of vocabulary or because I don’t know what. No!! Own choice! If I don’t sing in Portuguese, that’s because I don’t want to.) (my translation)

Even if the language of choice generally is Portuguese, a part of the lyrics might still be in CVC:

Canto em Português mas de vez em quando se dar pôr uma frase em kriolu, ponho. depende de como quero fazer a letra, depende tambem do feeling que tenho quando estou a escrever a letra...As vezes tens o rítmo dentro de tí e depois tu pensas numa coisa, depois dizes, só mesmo em Kriolu e tu pensas ‚ah, aqui seria fixe pôr isso mesmo em Kriolu. (MC S.., 2/2007, own interview)

(I sing in Portuguese, but sometimes when there is room for it, I put a sentence in Creole. It depends on how I want the lyrics to be, it also depends on the feeling I have while writing... Sometimes you have the rhythm in yourself and then you think about something and then you say something in Creole straight away and you think, ah, would be nice to simply use this phrase in Creole.) (my translation)

This last MC was born in S. Tomé, lived in Angola until he was 19, in Portugal since 15 years and had always been in touch with Cape Verdeans throughout his life, thus CVC also is a linguistic choice for him.The audience of Rap Kriolu can equally not be limited to teenagers of Cape Verdean descent, but it embraces Portuguese fans as well.

So the reasons to rap in Kriolu can be summed up as motivated by its habitual use as familiar, everyday language of the MCs (= Hip Hop terminology for “rapper”), their personal preference for CVC, the argument of sonority, and audience-related argument (that is, the public in the bairros), its choice represents the cultural roots and a link with Africa. Its use is attributed symbolic meaning as an act of black empowerment in the face of racism, and last but not least it opens trans-national links to the Cape Verdean islands and diaspora communities that function as points of cultural reference, communities of reception and networks for distribution. Thus, MC Chullage raps in the song “Kabu Verd kontra racismo”:

mi ê warria ness terra e mi ten nhas tropa pa judam de Margem Sul, pa Lisboa, Bóston, Paris, Rotterdam se ê pa vive de joei, mi ta morrê de pê mas ês ka ta kalam pa tud kriol mundo fora, nô konstrui nôs kingdom (MC Chullage, CD Rapensar)

(I’m a warrior in this country and I have my troops to help me/ from Margem Sul to Lisbon, Boston, Paris, Rotterdam/ If the question is to live down on my knees I’ll rather die upright, but they will not silence me, for all Creoles in the world we have built our kingdom.) (my translation)


5. Language vitality and social reality

The outcomes and consequences of the situation described in this paper are dynamic and manifold. A brief concluding summary and outlook will be given in the following lines. First, CVC remains vital in the second and third generation of Cape Verdean descent in Portugal and is preserved as an important means of cultural expression. Its preservation adds to the cultural and linguistic diversity in Portugal, which still has strong links with the former colonized countries, a cultural and political heritage it cannot deny.

In addition, CVC is learned by other groups in society (immigrants from other PALOPS and their descendents, Portuguese peers in bairros and schools) and through popular music. Therefore a reciprocal cultural exchange is taking place. For Cape Verdean descendants, a certain trend towards re-ethnification can be observed, implying a draw-back from society and acculturation according to in-group norms. The fact that CVC has become stigmatized as language of the bairros, racial discrimination is acted out on the level of language and the historically low prestige of Creole languages still alive in post(colonial) complexes makes the status of CVC in Portugal a very ambiguous one. In schools, the use of Creole is often seen by teachers, as a subversive act and judged to be subtractive for competence in Portuguese. This has begun to change, given that today teacher trainings on CVC & pilot projects on bilingual schooling exist. As opposed to the notion that there is lack of competence in Portuguese and CVC by the suburban speakers which is classified as semilinguism (criticism see Pereira 2003), the speakers engaged in cultural production in this study are perfectly fluent bilinguals.

A number of characteristic language contact phenomena typical for migrant situations can be observed, such as a strong loan word practice and high frequency of code-switching. What is special for a Creole in contact with its lexifier language is the fact that the continuous language contact makes it difficult to demarcate the border between the two closely related languages, and frequent interferences can be observed, as for example the variation and interferences in article systems (see Albino 1994, Märzhäuser 2006). Already Weinreich (1953:98) pointed out the influence of external factors on interferences:

The absence of socio-cultural divisions to reinforce the difference in mother tongues is not only a factor facilitating language shifts but probably also deters the development of resistance to linguistic interference, and is thus conducive to interlingual influence.

One consequence of this process is that mixed or hybrid forms continue to exist in community, out of which eventually new varieties might stabilize. In the case of Lisbon suburban Creole, the existence of new mixed urban codes sometimes called Crioulo do Guetto, is stated in linguistic literature:

In the Creole spoken by these children, often expressions from original, deep Creole, and lexical gaps filled by Portuguese expressions or a luso-afro-anglo-american slang. (Dulce Pereira 2003)

This code is referred to by the speakers themselves, too:

slang kriado entre a lingua tuga e os dialektos dos palop’s” (MC Chullage in “Pretugal”, CD “Rapensar”, escrita rap-idiolectal)

(slang created between Portuguese language and the dialects of the Palops.) (my translation)

o criolo que os jovens falam aqui em portugal ja sofreu mtas alterações: os nossos cotas ñ entendem o criolo que os jovens falam por aqui. aqui é um criolo urbanizado, é o criolo do ghetto, que de bairro para bairro difere em determinadas expressoes (A. T., 9/ 2006, Rap-Project ‚Putos qui a ta cria‘, own interview) 

(The Creole our youth speaks here in Portugal has already been altered a lot. Our old generation doesn’t understand it, it’s an urbanized Creole, a ghetto Creole, which differs in its expressions from bairro to bairro) (my translation)

Of course there is no linguistic description of these substandard, fairly unstable varieties yet. Interesting conclusions can be drawn, though, from the following quote from the Portuguese anthropologist Humberto Martins, (1997: 212) who writes about the code in two luso-african teenage groups:

A mistura dos vocábulos angolanos com os empréstimos sociolinguísticos do ingles e estrangeirismos (de igual inspiração) é verificável em situações espontâneas, de diálogo corrente, quer nos jovens da Quinta Grande-no grupo estudado, a maioria é angolana- quer nos jovens do Alto de Santa Catarina. A diferença é que os vocábulos são utilizados entre os jovens da Quinta Grande a partir de uma base grammatical da lingual portuguesa, enquanto os jovens caboverdeanos de Santa Catarina reproduzem estes vocábulos de inspiração inglesa e do calão angolano, mas a partir de uma base grammatical crioula.

(The mixture of Angolan vocabulary with sociolinguistic loans from English and estrangeirismos (of the same inspiration) can be attested for in situations of spontaneous speech, both for the youth from Quinta Grande, in their majority of Angolan descent as well as in Alto de Santa Catarina. The difference is that these words are used on a Portuguese grammatical base by the speakers from Quinta Grande, while the young Cape Verdeans from Santa Catarina reproduce these words of English inspiration on a grammatical base of Creole.) (my translation)

The frequent use of AAEV-derived rap-Anglicisms can be observed both in the lyrics in Portuguese as well as Caboverdiano, and many items are current in colloquial speech of the group investigated. From my research I can also confirm that the Creole used by the speakers investigated contained ad-hoc loan-words from Portuguese. Their speech leans heavily on the suburban Portuguese slang or calão, which in itself contains an extensive vocabulary loaned from Luandes, the colloquial Portuguese of Angola’s capital. Again, there are influences from the Creoles spoken on Sao Tomé and Guinea-Bissau. On top of this, there is a high number of loanwords from Afro-American English Vernacular, especially Anglicisms drawn from rap lyrics. There exists also a number of locally coined neologisms. Of course these mixed codes are mainly in-group phenomena of the suburban youth. Deriving from their use of Creole varieties, CVC could be seen as a form of resistance vernacular within Portuguese society, as Martins writes:

Os jovens acabam por usar o crioulo como forma de resistência cultural e linguística. (Martins, 1997:200).

(The teenagers use Creole as a form of cultural and linguistic resistance.) (my translation)

Whether the choice of speaking CVC is due to missing competencies in Portuguese, or due to mainly CVC socialisation in suburban Lisbon, whether it is an act of cultural and political resistance or is a conscious choice of perfectly bilingual speakers is a question which could be discussed at length for every single speaker. Language choices and preferences will not only vary according to communicative partners, domains and places but can also change significantly during an individual’s lifetime.








1 Märzhäuser, Christina (2005) Entre Kriolu e Português – linguistic situation of Cape Verdean migrants in Greater Lisbon, a case study in Alto da Cova da Moura, Master thesis LMU Munich;  ongoing dissertation: Rap na Tuga – Language contact Kriolu-Portugese in Rap lyrics from Greater Lisbon (LMU Munich/ Coimbra 2006-2009), for project description see:
2 Estimate of the Capeverdean National Statistics Institute INE, see Margarida Evora-Sagna, Vanessa Gray and Michael Minges (2002) “The Internet in a Lusophone LCD: Cape Verde Case Study”, p.6
3 PALOP =Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa (African countries with Portuguese as official language)
4 see Ntama-Journal of African Music and Popular culture, (17.7.2004)

1.3. Re-writing linguistic history – (post)colonial reality on the fringes of linguistic theories

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For quotation purposes:
Christina Märzhäuser: Cape Verdean Creole in Lisbon – young generation’s perspective - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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