From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Native toColombia
RegionSan Basilio de Palenque
Ethnicity6,637 (2018)[1]
Native speakers
2,788 (2005)[2]
Spanish Creole
  • Palenquero
Latin (Spanish alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
The Colombian constitution recognizes minority languages as "official in their territories."[3]
Language codes
ISO 639-3pln
Map highlighting Mahates municipality, where Palenque is located

Palenquero (sometimes spelled Palenkero) or Palenque (Palenquero: Lengua) is a Spanish-based creole language spoken in Colombia. It is believed to be a mixture of Kikongo (a language spoken in central Africa in the current countries of Congo, DRC, Gabon, and Angola, former member states of Kongo) and Spanish. However, there is no sufficient evidence to indicate that Palenquero is strictly the result of a two-language contact.[4] Palenquero is the only surviving Spanish-based creole language in Latin America,[5] if Papiamento (which is often considered to be Portuguese-based) is excluded. Over 6,600 people spoke this language in 2018.[1] It is primarily spoken in the village of San Basilio de Palenque which is southeast of Cartagena, and in some neighbourhoods of Barranquilla.[6]



The formation of Palenquero is recorded from the 17th century with the dilution of the Spanish language and the increase of maroon activity.[7] There are existing records dating from the era of Cartagena’s slave trade that allude to the pidgin from which Palenquero evolved. As illustrated in the ethnographic text of De Instauranda Aethiopum Salute (1627), the priest Alonso de Sandoval refers to the ‘corruption of our Spanish language’ commonly spoken amongst African slaves.[7] Palenquero's origins are unclear; it does not appear explicitly in print until 1772.[7]

Palenque de San Basilio[edit]

Palenque de San Basilio or San Basilio de Palenque is the village from which Palenquero originated from and in which it is most commonly spoken. The village was formed in the early 17th century on the south of Cartagena by fugitive slaves from surrounding districts under the leadership of Benkos Biohó.[6] The dissolution of the Spanish language thus intensified with the arrival of maroons that escaped slavery and settled in armed fortified territories. Palenqueros maintained their physical distance from others as a form of anti colonial resistance, and as result, developed a creole mostly based on their own African languages and Spanish. Residents have also been noted to be bilingual in both Palenquero and Spanish, with a mention in 1913 of Palenque de San Basilio as having a 'guttural dialect that some believe to be the very African language, if not in all its purity at least with some variations'.[8]


For almost two decades, Palenquero has been classified as an endangered language. Although spoken in parallel to each other, Spanish has dominated the linguistic activity of Palenque de San Basilio, with 53% of residents being unable to speak Palenquero.The decline of Palenquero can be traced back to the establishment of sugar and banana plantations with many of its natives leaving the village in order to find work either in the Panama Canal or the Department of Magdalena.[6] and coming into contact with other languages. In the 20th century, with the introduction of a standard Spanish educational system, Palenquero was often criticized and mocked, as Spanish became the supra regional prescriptive speech.[9] Racial discrimination furthered the deterioration of Palenquero as parents did not feel comfortable continuing to teach their children the language.[10]


A legacy of cultural resistance, Palenquero has managed to remain active since the early 17th century despite the many challenges. In recent years, Palenquero has undergone a significant renovation through 'community activism' and 'educational programs' as an attempt to bring pride to native speakers.[11] Three major events have contributed to the revived interest in the Palenquero creole:

Antonio Cervantes[edit]

Antonio Cervantes, also known as Kid Pambelé, is an internationally recognized boxing champion born in Palenque de San Basilio. After winning the 1972 world Jr. Welterweight championship, a sense of pride for both the village and Palenquero as a language emerged. As result, Palenque de San Basilio became the interest of many journalists and politicians,[12] which consequently brought lots of cultural and foreign attention.

UNESCO Heritage of Humanity[edit]

In 2005, Palenque was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations. The recognition led to appreciation for Palenquero culture as films, documentaries and music festivals have brought upon more attention to the community.[12] These type of cultural programs have successfully appealed to Colombian youth, to whom the Palenquero language is mostly lost upon.

Academic Interest[edit]

Beginning in 1992, the educational system in Palenque de San Basilio started reintroducing Palenquero in the curriculum. Children resumed their learning of Palenquero, as it was introduced in preschool and a fully equipped cultural centre was constructed to promote the language and culture.[12] Additionally, academic research, conferences and activism has increased the desirability to learn Palenquero and continue to pass it down generations.


Similar to several other creole languages, Palenquero grammar lacks inflectional morphology, meaning that nouns, adjectives, verbs and determiners are almost always invariant.[13]


Grammatical gender is non-existent, and adjectives derived from Spanish default to the masculine form: lengua africano ‘African language’.[13]


Plurality is marked with the particle ma. (for example: ma posá is "houses"). This particle is believed to derive from Kikongo, a Bantu language, and is the sole Kikongo-derived inflection present in Palenquero.[14] The younger speakers of Palenquero utilize ma for plurality more so than the speakers that came before them.

This particle is usually dropped with cardinal numbers greater than two: ma ndo baka "two cows" but tresi año "13 years".[13]

Palenquero pronouns[13]
Number Person Nominative Source
Singular 1st í uncertain
yo yo
2nd bo vos
3rd ele ele
Plural 1st suto nosotros
2nd utere ustedes
enu (formerly archaic) African origin
3rd ané Bantu origin



There are four copulas in Palenquero: e, ta, jue, and senda. E roughly corresponds to ser in Spanish and is used for permanent states, and ta is similar to the Spanish estar in that it used for temporary states and locatives. Jue is used as a copula for nouns and senda is only found with predicative nouns and adjectives referring to permanent states.[15]


  • Bo é mamá mí nu (You are not my mother)
  • Mujé mí jue negra i yo jue negro (My wife is black and I am black)
  • I tan sendá dotó (I will be a doctor)
  • Ese mujé ta ngolo (That woman is fat)


Some 300 words of African origin have been identified in Palenquero,[17] with many believed to originate in the Kikongo language. A comprehensive list and proposed etymologies are provided in Moñino and Schwegler's "Palenque, Cartagena y Afro-Caribe: historia y lengua" (2002). Many of the words that come from African origin, include plant, animal, insect and landscape names.[6] Another handful of words are believed to originate from Portuguese (for example: mai 'mother'; ten 'has'; ele 'he/she'; bae 'go').

Sample words in Palenque
Palenque Spanish English
burú dinero money
ngombe ganado cattle
ngubá cacahuete peanut
posá casa. Compare posada house
tambore tambor drum
mai madre. Compare mãe. mother
bumbilo basura garbage
chepa ropa clothing
chitiá hablar to speak
ngaina gallina chicken
tabaco tabaco tobacco
hemano hermano brother
onde donde where
pueta puerta door
ngolo gordo fat
flo flor flower
moná niño child
ceddo cerdo pig
cateyano castellano Spanish
foratero forastero outsider
kusa cosa thing, stuff
cuagro barrio neighborhood


The Lord's Prayer in Palenquero
Palenquero Spanish
Tatá suto lo que ta riba cielo,
santificaro sendá nombre si,
miní a reino sí,
asé ño voluntá sí,
aí tiela cumo a cielo.
Nda suto agué pan ri to ma ría,
peddona ma fata suto,
asina cumo suto a se peddoná,
lo que se fatá suto.
Nu rejá sujo caí andí tentación nu,
librá suto ri má. Amén.
Padre nuestro que estás en el cielo,
santificado sea tu nombre.
Venga a nosotros tu Reino.
Hágase tu voluntad,
así en la tierra como en el cielo.
Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día.
perdona nuestras ofensas,
como también nosotros perdonamos
a los que nos ofenden.
no nos dejes caer en la tentación,
y líbranos del mal. Amén.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b DANE (6 November 2019). Población Negra, Afrocolombiana, Raizal y Palenquera: Resultados del Censo Nacional de Población y Vivienda 2018 (PDF) (in Spanish). DANE. Retrieved 2020-05-11 – via
  2. ^ Ministerio de Cultura (2010). Palenqueros, descendientes de la insurgencia anticolonial (PDF) (in Spanish). p. 2 – via
  3. ^ Title 1, Article 10. Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Parkvall, Mikael; Jacobs, Bart (2020). "Palenquero Origins: A Tale of More than Two Languages". Diachronica. 37 (4): 540–576. doi:10.1075/dia.19019.par. S2CID 225778990.
  5. ^ Romero, Simon (2007-10-18). "San Basilio de Palenque Journal - A Language, Not Quite Spanish, With African Echoes -". Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  6. ^ a b c d Bickerton, Derek; Escalante, Aquilas (January 1970). "Palenquero: A spanish-based creole of northern colombia". Lingua. 24: 254–267. doi:10.1016/0024-3841(70)90080-x. ISSN 0024-3841.
  7. ^ a b c Dieck, Marianne (2011). "La época de formación de la lengua de Palenque: Datos históricos y lingüísticos" [The Formation Period of the Palenquero Language]. Forma y Función (in Spanish). 24 (1): 11–24. OCLC 859491443.
  8. ^ Lipski, John (2018). "Palenquero vs. Spanish negation: Separate but equal?". Lingua. 202: 44–57. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2017.12.007. ISSN 0024-3841.
  9. ^ Lipski, John M. (2012). "Free at Last: From Bound Morpheme to Discourse Marker in Lengua ri Palenge (Palenquero Creole Spanish)". Anthropological Linguistics. 54 (2): 101–132. doi:10.1353/anl.2012.0007. ISSN 1944-6527. S2CID 143540760.
  10. ^ Hernández, Rubén; Guerrero, Clara; Palomino, Jesús (2008). "Palenque: historia libertaria, cultura y tradición". Grupo de Investigación Muntú.
  11. ^ Lipski, John M. (2020-06-03). "What you hear is (not always) what you get: Subjects and verbs among receptive Palenquero-Spanish bilinguals". Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism. 10 (3): 315–350. doi:10.1075/lab.17083.lip. ISSN 1879-9264. S2CID 149952479.
  12. ^ a b c Lipski, John M. (2012). "Free at Last: From Bound Morpheme to Discourse Marker in Lengua ri Palenge (Palenquero Creole Spanish)". Anthropological Linguistics. 54 (2): 101–132. doi:10.1353/anl.2012.0007. ISSN 1944-6527. S2CID 143540760.
  13. ^ a b c d Mackenzie, Ian. "Palenquero".
  14. ^ McWhorter, John H. (2011-06-30). Linguistic Simplicity and Complexity: Why Do Languages Undress?. Walter de Gruyter. p. 92. ISBN 9781934078402.
  15. ^ Ledgeway, Adam; Maiden, Martin (2016-09-05). The Oxford Guide to the Romance Languages. Oxford University Press. p. 455. ISBN 9780191063251.
  16. ^ Moñino, Yves; Schwegler, Armin (2002-01-01). Palenque, Cartagena y Afro-Caribe: historia y lengua (in Spanish). Walter de Gruyter. p. 69. ISBN 9783110960228.
  17. ^ Moñino, Yves; Schwegler, Armin (2013-02-07). Palenque, Cartagena y Afro-Caribe: historia y lengua (in Spanish). Walter de Gruyter. p. 171. ISBN 9783110960228.

External links[edit]