Category Archives: Announcements and reviews

Old hymn in recent concert!

Just like last year tenor Gylchris Sprauve, who is one of the initiators of the project to bring Virgin Islands Dutch Creole to live for todays community of the US Virgin Islands, sang one of the oldest hymns in Virgin Islands Dutch Creole. Even more interesting: the hymnbook in which this song was written contains the oldest Creole hymns we know.

Last year, Gylchris Sprauve performed in a Thanksgiving concert Noe allmaal Volk dank God from the 1774 hymnbook by the Moravian Brethren. This year it was Loof God Jend’r Christen allmaal Glik from the same hymnal.

Loof God, jend’r Christen allmaal glik, – Praise God, you (PL) Christian all equal

Nabov si hoogste Troon – On his highest Throne

Di ka open si hemelrik – It has opened his heavenly kingdom

En ka gie ons si SOON! – And has given us his Son!

The complete text can be found here on page 36-37.

Runaway Virgins by Enrique Corneiro

Last year Kristina Lamour Sansone got in contact with me about eighteenth century St. Croix printing house of Daniel Thibou. She refered to eighteenth century slave ads, and this immediately got my attention. In 2018 Enrique F. Corneiro published his book Runaway Virgins, Danish West Indian Slave Ads. It consists of 112 pages filled with ads which were published in newspapers on the Danish Westindies between 1770 and 1848.

In 31 sections all kinds of information is presented, from important persons, to black slave owners, from slave revolts to demographic information. From quite interesting to very shocking: the book is filled with illustrations, pictures of advertisements related to the trade of enslaved people, but also to searching and finding of runaway slaves.

It brings the period of slavery very close to the reader and I recommend you to look at the illustrations and imagine what really happened to the people who are mentioned in the ads.

These texts appeared also to be of interest for Creolistics and historical sociolinguistics since in several ads the language competence of the runaway slaves is mentioned. See for instance the picture of the back of the book. The first person, a mulatto fellow, speaks English, French, Spanish and Creole Dutch. The second one, from St. Croix, speaks English and Creole Dutch. We hardly have any information about the language competence, so this metalinguistic information is asking for a closer look!

The ad is from The Royal Danish American Gazette, November 6, 1776. It is the oldest newspaper in the Danish Westindies. See page 25 and the the back of: Corneiro, Enrique F. (2018) Runaway Virgins, Danish West Indian Slave Ads 1770-1848. Richmond (Texas): Triple E Enterprise. 112 p.


Words from Dutch Creole in Virgin Islands Creole English

At the end of the eighteenth century the vernacular language of the Danish Westindies changed, to my opinion, quite drastically. Dutch and Virgin Islands Dutch Creole were replaced by English and Virgin Islands English Creole. The manuscript of Wied ‘Lieder, confirmationsunterricht u.a.m. teils in kreolischer, teils in englischer Sprache (1842-1847) shows a striking example. The first 60 pages are in Virgin Islands Dutch Creole. The remaining pages are in English. The author remarks: ‘In den 40er Jahren des 19. Jahrh. verschwand auf den Westindischen Inseln die kreolische Sprache und wurde durch die englische verdrängt.’ [In the 40s of the 19th century the creole language disappeared on the West-Indian Islands and was superseded by the English one.]”

However, Dutch Creole words and perhaps even structures, were preserved in the English Creole. In Lito Valls’s dictionary of Virgin Islands English Creole ‘What a Pistarckle!’ several words are marked as ‘dutch creole’, however often accompanied by ‘obsolete’.

Kristoffer Friis Bøegh and Peter Bakker (both Aarhus University) have been digging in this dictionary, excavating not only the marked words, but also the ones who were not recognized before as been originating from Dutch or Dutch Creole.

In an extensive, but very readable article of 38 pages their search and findings are presented. Although it is published as a digital article for Trefwoord on the website of Instituut voor de Nederlandse taal, it is in English. In the References section the forthcoming dissertation of Kristoffer Friis Bøegh is mentioned: a book to look forward to!

Grant project Virgin Islands Dutch Creole!

Snow on the Danish Antilles? New article about referee design in early Virgin Islands Dutch Creole

Expected in October 2020, however already mentioned on the website of John Benjamins Publishers is Advances in Contact Linguistics, In honour of Pieter Muysken, edited by Norval Smith, Tonjes Veenstra and  Enoch Oladé Aboh.

This Festschrift contains twelve articles in the field of contact linguistics, of which some were already presented on December 6th 2019 in the Meertens Institute in Amsterdam in the presence of Pieter Muysken himself.

You can find the table of contents here.

Part 1 is dedicated to Creole languages and creole studies, however in Part 4, Sociolinguistic aspects of language contact, you will find my article about referee design in early Virgin Islands Dutch Creole. Voila, the abstract:

Snow on the Danish Antilles?

Referee design in Virgin Islands Dutch Creole

One of the things one does not want to hear when working on a large corpus, is that the content is very artificial, and should be ignored in your research because of the unnatural elements it contains. This is what happened with the Clarin-NEHOL-Corpus of Virgin Islands Dutch Creole. The contents, mainly eighteenth-century missionary texts were considered by some people as ‘just’ a missionary variety which seemed very unlikely to have been used in daily life. Clearly, a theoretical basis was needed to analyse this variety in order to establish the authenticity of these texts. Unexpectedly, Bell’s 1984 Audience Design Model, originally based on spoken language situations, turned out to be ideal for the treatment of older written material. One element of this model, referee design, seemed at first to stand somewhat separate from the other aspects of the theory. However, it enabled us to understand the communication situation which missionaries and their pupils participated in. This article focuses then on referee design as a tool to study eighteenth century Virgin Islands Dutch Creole in particular, and historical Creole texts in general.

Keywords: audience design, missionary linguistics, Clarin-NEHOL-Corpus, historical sociolinguistics, Virgin Islands Dutch Creole


Bibliography Virgin Islands Dutch Creole is updated

You will find the most recent Bibliography of Virgin Islands Dutch Creole (February 2019) at the related page above.

If you happen to know texts in or about Virgin Islands Dutch Creole, or texts in which parts refer to this language, please let me know to keep this file up to date.

New article or unknown text? I would really like to receive a digital copy!

Lingoblog: Danske låneord i Caribien

Last week the great Danish, however multilingual, linguistic blog Lingoblog posted an interesting item by Kristoffer Friis Boegh on Danish vocabulary in the Caribbean. He is an expert on Virgin Islands English Creole, did his field work on the US Virgin Islands recently and has a good entrance into Danish archival material. You can find the link HERE.

In my work on the provenance of Virgin Islands Dutch Creole words I was always focused on the influence of Dutch, mainly Zeelandic and West Flemish dialects. Of course I wondered why Danish vocabulary did not play a larger role, but I never really dived into this. To be honest: I found it quite hard to distinguish these words from others in the texts I studied: the eighteenth century translations by German translators.

Two cases in the study of twentieth century Virgin Islands Dutch Creole did point to the Danish linguistic influence. In the first place Frank Nelson’s visit to the Virgin Islands in 1936 was mainly triggered by his interest whether still elements of Danish were visible in the former Danish islands. When he found out a Dutch Creole was spoken, he started his field work. See my chapters on this in my thesis (Van Rossem 2017: 251-275 and 277-318).

The second case was in an interview by Gilbert Sprauve (and his students) in the early 1980s of Mrs. Alice Stevens. When he read to her the English translation of De Josselin de Jong’s  version of the Bremen Town Musicians, she did not use the word nume or nomo ‘no more, nothing’, but the intin, which is derived from Danish ingenting (Van Rossem 2017: 255).

Unfortunately this Lingoblog post is in Danish, however the examples are clear and interesting! Several Danish scholars, and I include Peter Bakker, have already showed that knowledge of Danish as L1 has an advantage when studying Creole material. For istance Sebastian Dyhr shows that in his master thesis about Magens (2001) and Troels Roland (2016) in his article and remarks about using Magens in translation or in Danish. Perhaps the hardly studied missionary translations (Hvenekilde and Lanza, 1999) should get extra attention in this respect. (Looking forward to it, Kristoffer!)


Dyhr, Sebastian Adorján. 2001. J.M. Magens: Grammatik over det creolske sprog i en lingvistisk og historisk kontekst. Aarhus Universitet. >Resume at

Hvenekilde, Anne & Elisabeth Lanza. 1999. “Linguistic variation in two 18th century Lutheran creole primers from the Danish West Indies”, in: Brendemoen, B., E. Lanza & E. Ryen (eds), Language Encounters Across Time and Space, Studies in Language Contact. Oslo: Novus Press. p. 271-292.

Roland, Troels Peter. 2016. ‘”Ju ben een Creol waer-waer”’. In: Kulturstudier 1 (Juli), pp. 159-187. >Digitally available at:



‘Na die Begin Godt a maak Hemel en Aerde’, Van Maris in Weekendavisen

During the months following my promotion (on December 20 2017, some websites paid attention to my research. An article was published by Mathilde Jansen on Nemo Kennislink, a very informative website for Dutch speaking pupils (here), my introduction which I presented just before my Ph.D. defence was published on Caribisch Uitzicht, the website of Werkgroep Caribische Letteren by Michiel van Kempen (here) and I was interviewed by Berthold van Maris of NRC, an important Dutch newspaper.

My colleagues from Aarhus University, Peter Bakker and Kristoffer Friis Boegh surprised me with the Danish translation of Van Maris’s article, which was published in the Danish newspaper Weekendavisen on August 10. (here). Thank you!



Article Van Maris about research Van Rossem in NRC

Dutch journalist Berthold van Maris was interested enough in my research to write an article about in the Dutch newspaper NRC in june 2018. Thank you very much!

A digital version can be found here.

Dissertation Van Rossem available!