The Segmental Info System

Can We Talk in Barbados?

The colorful dialect heard on Barbados is a language all its own

Photo credit: © Roger Mcclean | Dreamstime.com

Languages in Barbados
 

Bajan is a colorful and expressive dialect that is enjoyable to listen to, and many visitors consider it an essential element of a holiday in Barbados.

The official language of Barbados is English, but in informal settings, you will often hear Bajan, which is an English-based Barbadian Creole. A dialect of the language that linguists classify as broken English, Bajan uses English words with African syntax, and speakers have an accent best described as a combination of African and British.

The unusual sentence structure and fast-paced speech that is common among natives can make Bajan language hard to understand to many English speakers, even if they're familiar with the words being used. Barbadians also have many colorful turns of phrase that you may not be familiar with. For example, "Pompasettin'" means that someone is showing off, and "Wukkin' up" is a gyrating, energetic dance. One of Barbados' more well known proverbs is "Wuh sweeten goat mouth does bun e tail," which means what seems sweet and good at first can have negative or painful consequences.

When in Barbados, it is important to remember that Bajans do know English, and you can speak to them just as you would any other native speaker. They will understand you. If you attempt to imitate their accent or speak slowly so that they can understand you, the gesture may be construed as insulting. Locals also tend to be very understanding of the differences between traditional English language and Bajan dialect, and will be happy to repeat themselves if you have trouble understanding them the first time around.

 

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