Category Archives: Announcements and reviews

Mijn IVN-studenten!

Een paar jaar geleden mocht ik enkele internationale studenten Neerlandistiek begeleiden. Heel toevallig kwam de webpagina van Sára Tóth en Meredith Alongi hierover tegen. Even zien wat ze gedaan hebben? Bezoek hun site dan hier. Hartelijk dank!

Slave Talk and Dutch Creole in ‘Night of the Silent Drums'(1975)

During the weekly Zoom conversations between Gilbert Sprauve, Gylchris Sprauve, Peter Stein and me, about our project to present examples of Virgin Islands Dutch Creole to the people of the US Virgin Islands, It is not our goal to only show texts, but also to add historical and cultural context. There is a lot of textual material from the eighteenth century, however almost all of these texts were made by missionary translators. Only one ‘Farewell song’ by an enslaved person is known, the so called ‘E Samja-song’ which was published in Die Creol Taal (1996). There must have been more which for instance can be found in the records which are stored in Danish Royal Archives which are online available (here). Since the first mention of Virgin Islands Dutch Creole is form 1736, it is well possible that this language was used during the rebellion of the enslaved and maroons of St. Jan in 1733, which was one of the earliest and longest slave revolts in the America’s (Wikipedia).

With regard to this rebellion, Gilbert Sprauve reminded me to the novel Night of the Silent Drums, a narrative of slave rebellion in the Virgin Islands. It was written by John L. Anderson and was published in 1975. In The Netherlands, where I live, the work is very hard to find and so I ordered one from a bookshop on the other end of the world, Sydney, Australia.

Gilbert Sprauve obtained his copy in the 1970s from the author, and I hope he will tell me more about this contact. Because when my copy arrived, it appeared that it had a glossary of eight pages, containing words and expressions in Dutch Creole and Slave Talk. That’s strange, I never heard the latter with regard to the Dutch Creole of the Danish Westindies. In the text we quite often find words from Dutch or Dutch Creole, in italics or in roman, not only as the language of enslaved people or of the local colonists, but also als common words in the plantation community. For instance the word gut (Dutch Creole) for ‘Ranges in meaning form “gully” to “ravine”, like the arroyi of the American southwest and the wadi of North Africa.’ (Anderson 1975: 397), which is from Dutch goot ‘gutter, drain, ditch’.

The novel is a narrative about the run-up to and the story of the rebellion of the enslaved and maroons on St. Jan in 1733. A Wikipedia article about it can be found here. The reader follows several character, which are mentioned in a separate register. It was eye opening to read about these persons, whom I already ‘knew’ from the research of the censuses of the end of the 17th century for my article ‘Maternity visit to St. Thomas’ and the chapter about it in my Ph.D. dissertation: Van Stell, Stallart and Van Beverhout (Bewerhout in the novel). However it was even more interesting to get to know the enslaved ones by name and history. Although it is presented as a novel, the story of the rebellion comes to live when you know the characters are not fictional.

On the dust jacket, the editor presents some information about John L. Anderson and his relation to St. John.: ‘John L. Anderson first became interested in the story of this slave rebellion in 1935 when he and his wife spent theri honeymoon on the then little known island of St. John, Since that time, learning about the rebellion has been a hobby which has occupied much of his spare time. To do his research, he has had to learn to read nine different languages all in the 18th century handscript and he has traveled widely, discovering material in places from the Danish Archives in Washington D.C., in Berkely, California, to the Moravian Church Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to Copenhagen and the Library of the King of Denmark.’

This is interesting: I have never thought about Danish Archives in Washington D.C. to get to know more about the rebellion! Unfortunately, the sources Anderson used to write the novel are not mentioned in the book. The names of the inhabitants of St. Jan and those of the plantations, can be found quite easy, but what puzzles me is the source of the Creole texts Anderson presents.

In several occasions Dutch Creole or Slave Talk is used in conversations, but it is not clear (enough) to me which dialects of Creole are indicated by these names. For instance Hem sa rie ‘he shall ride’ is called Dutch Creole, while Ju slaaf sa rie? ‘Your slave shall ride? is Slave Talk. The sentences are not from eighteenth century sources I know and it is even unclear for me whether he had the possibility to use the wordlists of De Josselin de Jong and Hesseling. Did perhaps Gilbert Sprauve help Anderson? I will ask him during our next meeting.

Two articles for wide audience

Recently I published two articles with regard to a wide audience about Virgin Islands Dutch Creole.

Rossem, Cefas van. 2021b. “Vijf snippers, Virgin Islands Dutch Creole als taal van de tot slaaf gemaakten’. In: Ex Tempore, 40, 3, p. 266-279. >EN: Five snippets, Virgin Islands Dutch Creole as the language of the enslaved.  >Short article for an audience of historians, containing five examples of manuscripts as an introduction to Virgin Islands Dutch Creole.

Rossem, Cefas van. 2022. “Van kaakel tot De Windt”. In: Marc van Oostendorp & Simone Wolff (eds) Het dialectendoeboek, de schatkamer van 90 jaar Meertens Instituut. Sterck & De Vreese. p. 131-136.

This one is a chapter in book for a wide audience about f.i. linguistic, onomastic and folklore sources which were and are made available by Meertens Institute to study for instance Dutch dialects. The chapter is about the use of online databases to study dialect and family names to study the origin of Dutch input in Virgin Islands Dutch Creole.

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: