Papiamentu derived about two-thirds of its words from Iberian languages (Spanish, Portuguese, and Galician), a quarter from Dutch, and the rest from other languages including English, French, and various African languages. This creole language is being spoken north of Venezuela on Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire--islands of the leeward Netherlands Antilles. Papiamentu stabilized as a creole on Curaçao around 1700. By the end of the century it spread from there to Bonaire and then to Aruba. Estimates from 1995 approximate the number of speakers around 200,000.

The name Papiamentu comes from the word papia which means speak.
Papia is the Papiamentu verb for 'to speak' and -mentu is the suffix that forms a noun, meaning approximately 'the act of doing something'. Papiamentu translated would then be something like 'Speaking' or 'the way of speaking'.
Papiamento is another way to spell Papiamentu. Sometimes the noun forming morpheme -mentu is spelled -mento like it is done in Spanish and Portuguese.

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The phonemes (sounds) of Papiamentu include nearly all the American Spanish consonants and vowels, as well as a number of Dutch vowels. Not found in either of these languages is Papiamentu's use of high (´) and low (`) tones to distinguish between certain pairs of words (eg. sálà "living room", sàlá "to salt"; biàhá "to travel", biáhà "voyage").

The common view on the origin of Papiamentu is that it is an Afro-Portuguese creole (the Proto-Afro-Portuguese creole theory). However, due to the considerable Spanish influence on Papiamentu, a group of authors considers Papiamentu a Spanish-based creole (the Spanish hypothesis).

The Proto-Afro-Portuguese creole theory is the most widely accepted hypothesis about the genesis of Papiamentu. After the Dutch conquest of Curaçao in 1634, Curaçao served as a slave depot that provided Spanish colonies with slaves. The importation of slaves started after the conquest of the Portuguese strongholds in Angola in 1641 by the Dutch, bringing slaves from mainly Guinea and Angola to Curaçao. The basic claim of this theory is that slaves learned the Afro-Portuguese during the long periods of time that they were kept in Afro-Portuguese speaking slave depots before they were shipped overseas. Initially, this theory assumed that all Atlantic Creole languages, including Papiamentu, derive from one language, namely the Afro-Portuguese pidgin-creole that originated as a result of the first encounter between Portuguese settlers and native inhabitants on the west coast of Africa. Currently, several variations of the Afro-Portuguese creole theory exist. One of the main discussions is about whether or not the initial Afro-Portuguese had already developed into a creole, or if it was still a pidgin when it was transmitted to the Caribbean. In Curaçao, Papiamentu underwent Dutch influence, mainly contributing to the vocabulary. Through Dutch, also English and French elements entered Papiamentu. Later on, the influence of the Spanish speaking environment caused a hispanization of Papiamentu.

The Spanish hypothesis comes in two parts. The first Spanish hypothesis suggests that Papiamentu is basically a branch of Spanish that was generated through corruptions. The connection to Africa is not made, however, a Dutch influence is acknowledged in the form of new words introduced to the vocabulary. This is the first known description of Papiamentu and was presented in the 19th century in Italy. The second Spanish hypothesis suggests an African connection, but its defenders argue that Papiamentu does not originate from a kind of Portuguese brought through slaves from West Africa. In their opinion, Papiamentu is a direct descendant of the Spanish that was used in the area during the Spanish rule, and the small Portuguese, English, and Dutch influence came later.

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