In the many lands of their dispersion, Jews have often developed their own distinctive dialects, the most famous of them being Yiddish and Ladino. Much less well known is the peculiar Jewish variation of Papiamento—a creole spoken in Curaçao that blends Portuguese, Dutch, and some Spanish and that seems to have originated with the island’s African slave population. The Jews of this Dutch-ruled territory constitute one of the oldest Jewish communities in the New World. Dor Shabashewitz writes:
Sephardi Jews came [to Curaçao] from other Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies in the region to trade and work as interpreters on the island. These Jews quickly learned the language of the island’s majority, the enslaved Africans, and after a while Papiamento became their own home language. Today virtually all Curaçaoans, including white Dutch people, speak Papiamento, but that has not always been the case. According to the historians, Curaçao’s Sephardim were the first non-African group to pick up the local creole.
Just like all other Jewish communities in various countries, the Curaçao Jews began changing the local language, adding loanwords from Hebrew and creating a new dialect or ethnolect. As the linguist Neil G. Jacobs writes, the phonetic appearance of Hebrew and Aramaic words used in Curaçao demonstrates their Sephardi origin.
The Hebrew words that are mostly used in religious contexts are not the only difference between the speech of the Curaçao Jews and the “general Papiamento” spoken by everyone else on the island. . . . In many cases, the Jewish forms are closer to the European source languages. The word for dignitary is dignitario in Spanish and Portuguese and sounds exactly the same in Judeo-Papiamento, whereas non-Jewish Curaçaoans say dignatario—with a different vowel in the middle.
One more example is the word that the Curaçao Jews pronounce as granmersi and their non-Jewish neighbors as gremesi. It comes from French where it means “many thanks” but has a completely different meaning in both versions of Papiamento: it is a verb that means “to live on another’s expense.”