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Palenquero or palenque (Palenquero: Lengua) is a Spanish-based creole language spoken in Colombia. Palenquero is the only Spanish-based creole in Latin America[5], if Papiamento (which is often considered to be Portuguese-based) is excluded. The ethnic group which speaks this creole consisted of 7,470 people in 2005.[6] It is primarily spoken in the village of San Basilio de Palenque which is southeast of Cartagena, and in some neighbourhoods of Barranquilla.[7]

Native toColombia
RegionSan Basilio de Palenque
Ethnicity7,470 (2005)[1]
Native speakers
2,788 (2005)[2]
Spanish Creole
  • Palenquero
Latin (Spanish alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
The Colombian Constitution recognizes minority languages as "official in their territories."[3]
Language codes
ISO 639-3pln
Colombia - Bolívar - Mahates.svg


A Palenquero woman selling fruit in the Plaza de San Pedro Claver, Cartagena, Colombia

The village was formed by escaped slaves (Maroons) and sometimes Native Americans around 1604 under the leadership of Benkos Biojo. These slaves ran from Cartagena, building their own communities to the south.[8]

Since many slaves had not been subjected to a lot of contact with people of European descent, the palenqueros spoke Creole languages constructed from the Spanish language and their own African ones.

Spanish speakers are usually unable to understand Palenquero, even though Palenquero borrows many lexical elements from the Spanish language. The people of Palenque tend to speak Spanish to outsiders and Palenquero to specific individuals within their community. The speakers kept this language secret from outsiders on purpose. This language is a powerful identity marker for the speakers. It is a way for the people to differentiate themselves from non-speakers. Those who speak both languages can switch from Palenquero to Spanish, and vice versa, making them two distinct languages and not just a dialectical difference. For a long time, individuals who heard this language being spoken thought of it as "broken Spanish".

Ten percent of the population under 25 years of age spoke Palenquero in 1998. It is more commonly spoken by the elderly. Its sole substrate is likely the Kikongo language, which is spoken in the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. Palenquero words like "ngombe", which means cattle, are found in several Bantu languages.


Similar to several other creole languages, Palenquero grammar lacks inflectional morphology, meaning that nouns, adjectives, verbs and determiners are almost always invariant.[9]


Grammatical gender is non-existent, and adjectives derived from Spanish default to the masculine form: lengua africano ‘African language’.[9]


Plurality is marked with the particle ma. (for example: ma posá 'houses' ). This particle is believed to derive from Kikongo, a Bantu language, and is the sole Kikongo-derived inflection present in Palenquero.[10] The younger speakers of Palenquero utilize ma for plurality more so than the speakers that came before them.

This particle is usually dropped with cardinal numbers greater than 2: ma ndo baka ‘two cows’ but tresi año ‘13 years’.[9]

Palenquero Pronouns[9]
Number Person Nominative Source
Singular 1st í uncertain
yo yo
2nd bo vos
3rd ele ele
Plural 1st suto nosotros
2nd utere ustedes
enu (formerly archaic) Bantu origin
3rd ané Bantu origin



There are four copulas in Palenquero: e, ta, jue, and senda. E roughly corresponds to 'ser' in Spanish and is used for permanent states, and ta is similar to the Spanish 'estar' in that it used for temporary states and locatives. Jue is used as a copula for nouns and senda is only found with predicative nouns and adjectives referring to permanent states.[11]


  • Bo é mamá mí nu (You are not my mother)
  • Mujé mí jue negra i yo jue negro (My wife is black and I am black)
  • I tan sendá dotó (I will be a doctor)
  • Ese mujé ta ngolo (That woman is fat)


Some 300 words of African origin have been identified in Palenquero,[13] with many believed to originate in the Kikongo language. A comprehensive list and proposed etymologies are provided in Moñino and Schwegler's "Palenque, Cartagena y Afro-Caribe: historia y lengua" (2002). Many of the words that come from African origin, include plant, animal, insect and landscape names.[7] Another handful of words are believed to originate from Portuguese (for example: mai 'mother'; ten 'has'; ele 'he/she'; bae 'go').

Some sample words in Palenque alongside Spanish and English translations include:

Palenque Spanish English
burú dinero money
ngombe ganado cattle
ngubá maní peanut, goober
posá casa house
tambore tambor drum
mai madre mother
bumbilo basura garbage
chepa ropa clothing
chitiá hablar to speak
ngaina pollo chicken
tabáko tabaco tobacco
hemano hermano brother
onde donde where
pueta puerta door
ngolo gordo fat
flo flor flower
moná niño child
ceddo cerdo pig
cateyano castellano Spanish
foratero forastero outsider
kusa cosa thing, stuff
cuagro barrio neighborhood


The Lord's Prayer in Palenque:

Palenquero Spanish
Tatá suto lo ke ta riba sielo,
santifikaro sendá nombre si,
miní a reino sí,

asé ño boluntá sí,
aí tiela kumo a sielo.
Nda suto agué pan ri to ma ría,
peddona ma fata suto,
asina kumo suto a se peddoná,
lo ke se fatá suto.
Nu rejá sujo kaí andí tentación nu,
librá suto ri má. Amén.

Padre nuestro que estás en el cielo,
santificado sea tu nombre.
Venga a nosotros tu Reino.

Hágase tu voluntad,
así en la tierra como en el cielo.
Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día.
perdona nuestras ofensas,
como también nosotros perdonamos
a los que nos ofenden.
no nos dejes caer en la tentación,
y líbranos del mal. Amén.


  1. ^ Ministerio de Cultura (2010). "Palenqueros, descendientes de la insurgencia anticolonial" (PDF). p. 1.
  2. ^ Ministerio de Cultura (2010). "Palenqueros, descendientes de la insurgencia anticolonial" (PDF). p. 2.
  3. ^ Title 1, Article 10.
  4. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Palenquero". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. ^ Romero, Simon (2007-10-18). "San Basilio de Palenque Journal - A Language, Not Quite Spanish, With African Echoes -". Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  6. ^ Ministerio de Cultura (2010). "Palenqueros, descendientes de la insurgencia anticolonial" (PDF). p. 1.
  7. ^ a b Bickerton, Derek; Escalante, Aquilas (January 1970). "Palenquero: A spanish-based creole of northern colombia". Lingua. 24: 254–267. doi:10.1016/0024-3841(70)90080-x. ISSN 0024-3841.
  8. ^ Lipski, John (January 2018). "Palenquero vs. Spanish negation: Separate but equal?". Lingua. 202: 44–57. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2017.12.007. ISSN 0024-3841.
  9. ^ a b c d Mackenzie, Ian. "Palenquero".
  10. ^ McWhorter, John H. (2011-06-30). Linguistic Simplicity and Complexity: Why Do Languages Undress?. Walter de Gruyter. p. 92. ISBN 9781934078402.
  11. ^ Ledgeway, Adam; Maiden, Martin (2016-09-05). The Oxford Guide to the Romance Languages. Oxford University Press. p. 455. ISBN 9780191063251.
  12. ^ Moñino, Yves; Schwegler, Armin (2002-01-01). Palenque, Cartagena y Afro-Caribe: historia y lengua (in Spanish). Walter de Gruyter. p. 69. ISBN 9783110960228.
  13. ^ Moñino, Yves; Schwegler, Armin (2013-02-07). Palenque, Cartagena y Afro-Caribe: historia y lengua (in Spanish). Walter de Gruyter. p. 171. ISBN 9783110960228.

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