Sranan Tongo

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Sranan Tongo
Sranan Tongo
Native toSuriname
Native speakers
(130,000 cited 1993)[1]
L2 speakers: 50% of the population of Suriname (1993?)[2]
English Creole
  • Atlantic
    • Suriname
      • Sranan Tongo
Language codes
ISO 639-2srn
ISO 639-3srn

Sranan Tongo (also Sranantongo "Surinamese tongue", Sranan, Taki Taki, Surinaams, Surinamese, Surinamese Creole)[4] is an English-based creole language that is spoken as a lingua franca by approximately 500,000 people in Suriname.[1]

Because the language is shared by communities speaking Dutch, Indigenous languages, Javanese, Sarnami Hindustani, Saramaccan, and varieties of Chinese, most Surinamese speak it as a lingua franca both in Suriname, a former Dutch colony, and by immigrants of Surinamese origin in the Netherlands, the United States, and the United Kingdom.


Message written in Sranan Tongo in the guestbook in the Land of Hayracks, an open-air museum in Slovenia (April 2016)

The Sranan Tongo words for "to know" and "small children" are sabi and pikin (respectively from Portuguese saber and pequeno), because the Portuguese were the first explorers of the West African coast, where they developed a pidgin language from which a few words became common in interactions with Africans by later explorers, including the English. However, research has established from its lexicon that Sranan Tongo is mostly an English-based creole language, with a substantial overlay of words from Dutch because of the Dutch takeover of Suriname in 1667.

Sranan Tongo's lexicon is thus a fusion of mostly English[5] and Dutch (~85%), plus some Portuguese and West African languages. It began as a pidgin spoken primarily by African slaves in Suriname who often did not have a common African language. Sranan Tongo also became the language of communication between the slaves and the slaveowners, as the slaves were not permitted to learn or speak Dutch. As other ethnic groups were brought to Suriname as contract workers, Sranan Tongo became a lingua franca.

Modern use[edit]

Spoken Sranan Tongo
(note: not a native speaker)

Although the formal Dutch-based educational system repressed Sranan Tongo, it gradually became more accepted by the establishment, especially during the 1980s when it was popularized by the dictator Dési Bouterse, who often delivered national speeches in Sranan Tongo.

Sranan Tongo remains widely used in Suriname and in large Dutch urban areas populated by immigrants from Suriname, especially in casual conversation, which often freely mixes it with Dutch. Written code-switching between Sranan Tongo and Dutch is also common in computer-mediated communication.[6] People often greet each other in Sranan Tongo by saying, for example, fa waka (how are you), instead of the more formal Dutch hoe gaat het (how are you).


As a written language, Sranan Tongo has existed since the late 18th century. The first publication in Sranan Tongo was in 1783 by Hendrik Schouten who wrote a part Dutch, part Sranan Tongo poem, called Een huishoudelijke twist (A Domestic Tiff).[7] The first important book was published in 1864 by Johannes King, and relates to his travels to Drietabbetje for the Moravian Church.[8]

Early writers often used their own spelling system.[9] An official orthography was adopted by the government of Suriname on July 15, 1986 in Resolution 4501. A few writers have used Sranan in their work, most notably the poet Henri Frans de Ziel ("Trefossa"), who also wrote God zij met ons Suriname, Suriname's national anthem, whose second verse is sung in Sranan Tongo.[10]

Other notable writers in Sranan Tongo are Eugène Drenthe, André Pakosie, Celestine Raalte, Michaël Slory, and Bea Vianen.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sranan Tongo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Sranan Tongo at Ethnologue (14th ed., 2000).
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sranan Tongo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Sherriah, A (2019). A tale of two dialect regions: Sranan's 17th-century English input (pdf). Berlin: Language Science Press. doi:10.5281/zenodo.2625403. ISBN 978-3-96110-155-9.
  6. ^ Radke, Henning (2017-09-01). "Die lexikalische Interaktion zwischen Niederländisch und Sranantongo in surinamischer Onlinekommunikation". Taal en Tongval. 69 (1): 113–136. doi:10.5117/TET2017.1.RADK.
  7. ^ "The History of Sranan". Linguistic Department of Brigham Young University. Retrieved 25 May 2020..
  8. ^ "Johannes King (1830-1898)". Werkgroup Caraïbische Letteren (in Dutch). Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  9. ^ "Suriname: Spiegel der vaderlandse kooplieden". Digital Library for Dutch Literature (in Dutch). 1980. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  10. ^ "Trefossa en het volkslied van Suriname". Star Nieuws (in Dutch). Retrieved 19 May 2020.


  • Iwan Desiré Menke: Een grammatica van het Surinaams (Sranantongo), Munstergeleen : Menke, 1986, 1992 (Dutch book on grammar of Sranan Tongo)
  • Jan Voorhoeve and Ursy M. Lichtveld: Creole Drum. An Anthology of Creole Literature in Suriname. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975.
  • C.F.A. Bruijning and J. Voorhoeve (editors): Encyclopedie van Suriname. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Elsevier, 1977, pp. 573–574.
  • Eithne B. Carlin and Jacques Arends (editors): Atlas of the Languages of Suriname. Leiden: KITLV Press, 2002.
  • Michaël Ietswaart and Vinije Haabo: Sranantongo. Surinaams voor reizigers en thuisblijvers. Amsterdam: Mets & Schilt (several editions since 1999)
  • J.C.M. Blanker and J. Dubbeldam: "Prisma Woordenboek Sranantongo". Utrecht: Uitgeverij Het Spectrum B.V., 2005, ISBN 90-274-1478-5, - A Sranantongo to Dutch and Dutch to Sranantongo dictionary.
  • Henri J.M. Stephen: Sranan odo : adyersitori - spreekwoorden en gezegden uit Suriname. Amsterdam, Stephen, 2003, ISBN 90-800960-7-5 (collection of proverbs and expressions)
  • Michiel van Kempen and Gerard Sonnemans: Een geschiedenis van de Surinaamse literatuur. Breda : De Geus, 2003, ISBN 90-445-0277-8 (Dutch history of Surinam literature)

External links[edit]