What is a Creole?

Creole is used in so many different senses that it is hard to define. In fact the term has been so distorted by usage that it is not safe to employ it except with extreme care. In the United States Creole is generally applied to the white descendants of French and Spanish settlers of Louisiana and other Gulf states who retain their original languages and customs. In French and English the form of the word is Creole, in Spanish criollo and in Portuguese crioulo. Some lexicographers derive Creole from an African Negro word of unknown origin and meaning. Others derive it from the Spanish criado, (“servant”), which may signify a servant in the literal sense of a drudge or in the figurative sense of a servant to one’s lady, to one’s king, or to Christ..Still others,, perhaps the majority, derive it directly from Spanish criar, (“to create/’ “to breed” or “to rear”). If this derivation is correct it may account for the fact that in many regions the term connotes a certain degree of excellence of ‘origin and culture. Originally Creole denoted a person of European descent bom in the Spanish or French Indies. The term merely distinguished the colonial born from the European bom. There was at first no connotation of color or race. Later any person born in the West Indian colonies was called a Creole. There were French and Spanish Creoles and Negro Creoles. A Negro creole was one born in the colonies as distinguished from one born in Africa. Now, the ‘term is used in the West Indies to designate any descendant of a European race, including even English, Danes and Dutch. In Santo Domingo a dialect consisting of a mixture of French, Spanish, and Negro was called Creole. Creole has many local applications. Some suppose the term to have been coined as a euphemism for a person of mixed blood and accordingly apply it to persons of mixed white and Negro or aborgine blood who speak French or Spanish, especially a mulatto. Such persons, however, are more properly called “creole Negroes.” Sometimes the term is applied to persons of Spanish or French descent born and reared in the tropics in general. In some parts of Latin America it means a person of pure Spanish descent, while in Brazil it-means a Negro and in Peru a mestizo. The term used to be applied in Alaska to a person of mixed Russian and Indian blood. On the islands of Mauritius and Reunion it means the black population. From these statements it can readily be seen that creole has too many widely differing meanings to be of much value as a specific term.