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The colonial and postcolonial history of Chocó is strongly connected to the sociopolitical development of its surrounding regions. In fact, the powerful miners residing in Antioquia, Cali, and Popayán were those who originally pushed the Spanish colonial enterprise toward this remote frontier until conquering the region, one of the richest mineral areas of the Americas (Colmenares 1979). In particular, the principal actors in this colonial mission were the mining families from Popayán, who, after several attempts to penetrate the region, finally managed to defeat the native populations by the end of the seventeenth century (Hansen 1991). From that point until the abolition of slavery in 1851, several white entrepreneurs entered the region with their gangs of black slaves (cuadrillas) to exploit the rich gold mines of the province. In 1851, slavery was formally abolished in Colombia. This resulted in a shortage of labor force in the Chocó mines. Consequently, the majority of the white people residing in the region abandoned the area, leaving behind their former slaves, whose descendants form today more than 90 percent of the local population (Sharp 1976).
Besides providing considerable ground for hypotheses on creole genesis and evolution, CS and the rest of the AHLAs also have much to offer to linguistic theory, since these varieties are rich in structures and prosodic patterns that would be considered either ungrammatical or pragmatically infelicitous in standard Spanish and that may be used as a powerful testing ground for linguistic hypotheses, which have usually been built on standardized language data (Kayne 1996; Sessarego 2013a, 2014a). In fact, some common features that have repeatedly been reported for the vast majority of these Afro-Hispanic dialects, and that in some cases have been identified as potential indicators of a previous creole stage, represent deviations from standard Spanish that are extremely interesting from a microparametric point of view (Sessarego 2012a, 2013a, 2014a). Some of these recurring grammatical phenomena are: (a) presence of bare nouns in subject position; (b) variable number and gender agreement across the DP; (c) invariant verb forms for person and number; (d) use of non-emphatic, non-contrastive overt subjects; (e) lack of subject-verb inversion in questions; (f) earlier prenuclear peaks – corresponding with higher frequencies of the L+H* pitch accent. Table 4.1 reports features (a–e) with examples taken from some of the Afro-Hispanic dialects presenting them (Sessarego 2015b), while Figure 4.1 exemplifies phenomenon (f) in Afro-Bolivian Spanish (Rao & Sessarego 2016).
For more than four decades now, scholars interested in the origin and evolution of Afro-European contact languages in the Americas have tried to figure out why Spanish creoles are only spoken in two very circumscribed regions of Latin America, in contrast to the much more widespread use of their English- and French-based varieties. In fact, it is a well-known fact that contemporary Latin American Spanish creoles can only be found in the former maroon community of San Basilio de Palenque (Colombia) – where Palenquero is spoken – and in the so-called ABC-triangle, the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao (Netherlands Antilles), where Papiamentu is used.
Of all the Afro-Hispanic languages of the Americas (AHLAs), Chocó Spanish (CS) represents one of the most enigmatic varieties. In fact, CS is spoken in a region that has always been considered as an ideal place for creole formation and/or preservation but, from a linguistic point of view, this contact vernacular classifies more as a “Spanish dialect” than a “Spanish creole.”
This chapter consists of an analysis of the main linguistic features characterizing Chocó Spanish (CS), as encountered during my visits to the province of Quibdó during the winter of 2014–2015. Results will be presented, along with the data provided by other researchers, in an effort to offer a general picture of the grammatical status of this Afro-Hispanic vernacular in relation to other AHLAs and to standard Colombian Spanish. This will serve as a linguistic foundation, which will be combined with the historical and legal information presented in the following chapters, to address the hypotheses that have been provided in the literature on the origin of CS and the current paucity of Spanish creoles in the Americas. In the following section, before focusing on the grammatical analysis of CS, I will sketch a phonetic description of the main Spanish dialects spoken in Colombia. This will help us locate CS within its dialectal context.
Slavery existed since antiquity and assumed, depending on the times and places, different forms and legitimations (Winks 1972). As far as black slavery in the colonial transatlantic context is concerned, different scholars have suggested divergent hypotheses on the nature of the Spanish system in relation to the systems implemented by the other European powers that took part in the colonization of the Americas. In particular, while certain researchers, such as Tannenbaum (1947), have claimed that Spanish slavery was less harsh in the treatment of slaves than the other systems (see also Freyre 1940), other authors, such as Boxer (1962), Davis (1966), and Genovese (1967), have objected that even though the Spanish written regulations might have appeared more humane and less strict, the actual praxis of slavery across Spanish colonies would contradict such an idealized vision, so that the life of a slave living in a Spanish colony would have essentially been like the life of a slave working across the territories belonging to other European colonial powers, especially if such a captive was living in plantations or mines far away from the urban centers, where it was materially impossible to resort to the law to protect one’s legal rights.
Of all the Afro-Hispanic languages of the Americas (AHLAs), the one that more than any other has puzzled linguists interested in the origin and evolution of these contact varieties is definitively Chocó Spanish (CS) (McWhorter 2000; Lipski 2005). CS is the dialect spoken by the inhabitants of the Department of Chocó (Map 1.1), Colombia, a region where blacks represent more than 90 percent of today’s total population (DANE 2005) and consist of the descendants of the slaves taken to this region during colonial times to work the rich gold mines of the area.
Exploring creole studies from a linguistic, historical, and socio-cultural perspective, this study advances our knowledge of the subject by using a cohesive approach to provide new theoretical insights into language shift, language acquisition and language change. It compares the legal system regulating black slavery in Chocó, Colombia with the systems implemented by other European colonial powers in the Americas, to address questions such as what do Chocó Spanish linguistic features say about the nature of Afro-Hispanic vernaculars? What were the sociohistorical conditions in which Chocó Spanish formed? Was slavery in Chocó much different from slavery in other European colonies? Whilst primarily focused on Afro-Hispanic language varieties, Sessarego's findings and methodology can be easily applied and tested to other contact languages and settings, and used to address current debates on the origin of other black communities in the Americas and the languages they speak.
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