Tracing the origins of panamanian Congo speech the pathways of regional variation

John M. Lipski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The Afro-descendents of Panama's Caribbean coast maintain the tradition of the Negros Congos, a series of folkloric manifestations occurring during Carnival season, and including a special cryptolect based loosely on Spanish. According to oral tradition, Congo speech was devised among captive and maroon Africans in colonial Panama as a means of hiding their speech from their colonial masters. Widely felt-both by Congo participants and by outside observers - to consist only of deliberate deformations of Spanish words and semantic inversions, Congo speech in reality also contains numerous elements traceable to Afro-Hispanic communities in other former Spanish-American colonies. Data drawn from twenty-four Congo communities demonstrate systematic regional variation - phonetic and lexical - that verifies the status of Congo speech as a cryptolect undergoing natural language evolution. These data also contribute to the search for the geographical locus of the original Congo dialect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)380-407
Number of pages28
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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