Sranan Tongo - An english-based creole in the republic of Suriname

Seminar Paper, 2006

22 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. Geographical Setting

3. Historical Facts

4. Sociocultural & Sociolinguistic Background
4.1 Population, Religion and Language Today
4.2 The Development of Sranan Tongo

5. Linguistic Description
5.1 Lexicon
5.2 Phonology
5.2.1 Consonants
5.2.2 Vowels
5.3 Grammar
5.3.1 Plurals
5.3.2 Pronoun System
5.3.3 Possession
5.3.4 The Copula
5.3.5 Tense and Aspect

6. Exemplification

7. Conclusion

8. References


Pidgins and Creoles occur all over the world and they have been given more and more scholarly attention. Loreto Todd states that “references to their existence go back to the Middle Ages”[1]. In a simplified way, Pidgins and Creoles are mixed languages which have been used when speakers of unlike languages were not able to communicate sufficiently, for instance traders coming from different countries.

According to Todd, Pidgin is an auxiliary language, that is, “a marginal language which arises to fulfil certain restricted communication needs among people who have no common language”. However, a Creole “arises when a pidgin becomes the mother tongue of a speech community”. Whereas creoles stand out due to their uniformity in their rules, pidgins are likely to vary considerably from speaker to speaker.

One example of an English-based Creole is Sranan Tongo which is used in the Republic of Suriname.

Suriname is a country in northern South America, between Guyana and French Guiana. It has about 449,000 inhabitants (2005) and its capital is Paramaribo. Since it was a Dutch colony until 1975, its official language is Dutch.

Sranan Tongo is a Creole language spoken by the majority of the Surinamese population. It is the mother tongue of about 100,000 people in Suriname who are descendants of slaves brought from Africa during the colonial period. Sranan Tongo was used from around 1700 and is also the lingua franca[2] between ethnic groups.

The available paper shall deal with the geographical setting, the history and the sociocultural and sociolinguistic background of Sranan Tongo. Furthermore, it shall give a linguistic description including a text sample of the Creole.

As a basis for the paper serve works by prominent linguists such as L. Todd, I. Plag, M. Sebba and J. Holm.

2. Geographical Setting

The republic of Suriname is with 163,270 km² the smallest independent country in South America. It was formerly known as Nederlands Guyana, Netherlands Guiana or Dutch Guiana. Suriname is situated between French Guiana to the east and Guyana to the west. The northern border is the Atlantic coast and the southern border is shared with Brazil.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(source: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.)

The country can be divided into two main geographic regions. The northern lowland coastal area has been cultivated. The southern part consists of tropical rainforest and covers about 80% of Suriname’s land surface. Most of the 450,000 population lives in the capital Paramaribo or on the coast.

Furthermore, there is a significant Surinamese population in the Netherlands. In 2004, 321,000 Surinamese people were living in the Netherlands, which is about 2% of the total Dutch population (Wikipedia).

3. Historical Facts

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the country was inhabited by the Arawak, Carib and Warraz. The Dutch were the first Europeans to invade the country in 1581. In the second half of the 17th century, English traders began to colonise the region.

The first successful permanent settlement took place in 1651. Lord Willoughby[3] sent out a group of about 100 pioneers to found the first European sugar plantations on the coastline of Suriname. The settlement was named Fort Willoughby and is now the capital Paramaribo.

Ingo Plag[4] comments on the beginning of the colonization as follows:

Though nowhere explicitly stated, it is most likely that they brought slaves with them. In any case, importation of slaves began immediately after the arrival in the new colony. By 1655 the British colony had grown considerably. About 1500 Whites, 3000 African slaves, and 400 Indian slaves are reported to have lived on the then existing 175 sugar estates.

Though Dutch traders had established several colonies in the Guyanese region before around 1600, the Dutch did not gain full control of the country until the Treaty of Breda[5], which marked the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. In 1667, Great Britain ceded the land to the Netherlands, in exchange for New Amsterdam (New York nowadays).

During the following years, the British settlers left the colony and took more than 2000 African slaves with them, while the Dutch established a diverse European community. This population consisted of Dutch, Portuguese Jews, French, Germans, Scandinavians and others. The number of slaves had meantime risen to approximately 22,000. Slavery was not abolished until 1863.

In 1922, Suriname became part of the Netherlands and the New Dutch constitution guaranteed Suriname the status of a member of the kingdom with equal rights.

On November 25, 1975, independence was granted under leadership of Prime Minister Henck Arron, a Creole. About 40,000 Surinamese people decided to take the Dutch nationality and emigrated to the Netherlands for fear of reprisal by the new Surinamese government.

Since 2000, Runaldo Venetiaan is the head of the state.

4. Sociocultural and Sociolinguistic Background

The following chapter shall examine the structure of the population nowadays and give some information about the religions and languages in Suriname.

A description of the development of Sranan Tongo will follow, in connection with Suriname’s historical and demographic development.

4.1 Population, Religion & Language Today

Suriname’s population is composed of several ethnic groups. East Indians form the largest group at 37% of the population. They are descendants of 19th century immigrants from India. White and black Creoles make up about 31%, while the Javanese form 15% of the population. Maroons make up 10% and Amerindians form 3% of the Surinamese population. The remaining part of the population is formed by Chinese, Europeans and Brazilian immigrant workers. Furthermore, a small Jewish community can be found, consisting of only some families (Wikipedia).

Because of the great number of ethnic groups in the country, there is no one main religion. The major religions are Hindu, Islam and Christianity, the latter as well dominant among Maroons and Creoles.


[1] Todd, Loreto (1974). Pidgins and Creoles. London: Routledge. p.1.

[2] Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary: “Lingua franca is a shared language of communication used by people whose main languages are different”.

[3] Francis Willoughby, 5th Baron Willoughby of Parham (1605-1666) twice served as governor of English colonies in the Carribean. (Wikipedia)

[4] Plag, Ingo (1993). Sentential Complementation in Sranan: On the formation of an English-based creole language. Tübingen: Niemeyer. p. 20.

[5] The Treaty of Breda was signed at the Dutch city of Breda, July 31, 1667, by England, the United Provinces (the Netherlands), France, and Denmark. It brought a precipitately and debatable end to the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667). (Wikipedia)

Excerpt out of 22 pages


Sranan Tongo - An english-based creole in the republic of Suriname
University of Leipzig  (Institute for British Studies)
Pidgin & Creole
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
529 KB
Sranan, Tongo, Suriname, Pidgin, Creole, Sprache, Linguistik, Kolonien
Quote paper
Ulrike Römer (Author), 2006, Sranan Tongo - An english-based creole in the republic of Suriname, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Sranan Tongo  -  An english-based creole in  the republic of Suriname

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free