I have just returned from the beautiful Caribbean island of Barbados having spent two splendid weeks with my sister and her family. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my brother-in-law is Barbadian (Bajan) and we decided to join him and my sister on their annual holiday there.
We had a magical time visiting the sandiest beaches, swimming in the most crystal blue seas I’ve ever seen and best of all, swimming with sea turtles! That’s another item ticked off my bucket list.
Barbados is an English-speaking island. Its history is deeply entrenched with that of Britain. Since the arrival of English settlers in 1627, Barbados was under English and then British governance until its independence in 1966 when it became a member of the Commonwealth. Barbados was extremely important and profitable to the English particularly from the 1640s when it became a major sugar cane producer. That industry, of course, introduced African slaves that were needed to work on the sugar cane plantations.
The slaves were forced to learn English and together with their own African languages they created the Bajan language as a way of communicating without being understood by their slave masters. The word “Bajan” is short for “Barbadian” (bar-bayyd-ian), the official term to describe the people and things from Barbados. Native Barbadians refer to themselves as Bajans.
Bajan English is widely spoken by Barbadians amongst themselves even though Standard English is taught and used throughout the island. It was whilst I was in the supermarkets, on the beach and restaurants that I would overhear Bajans chatting, and I have to say that I couldn’t understand a word! However, I was intrigued to learn more and so I asked my family and friends and they introduced me to this website and book by E. Jerome Davis where I found some common Bajan expressions and observations that I’d like to share with you here.
“To Be” Not Used
In Bajan English, the verb to be is not used, so you will often hear these sort of expressions:
He tall (He is tall); I coming (I am coming); The sun hot (the sun is hot); I hungry (I am hungry)
The Subject Pronouns (I, you, he/she, we, they) are over-used
call she (call her); we house (our house); he book (his book)
No Past Tense
I tell he so (I told him so); I see she yesterday (I saw her yesterday)
Pronunciation -No “th’ sound
Dis – this; Dat – that; Dese – these; Dis – this; Ting – thing; Tanks – thanks
Muh – my; nuff /nʌf/– a lot; gine /gin/– going; wuh /wʌ/ – what; in – do not; brek /brek/ – break /breik/; leh – let
10 Most Common Expressions You’ll Hear
1. I in got none – I do not have any
2. Wuh part you is? – Where are you?
3. Wuh you want? – What do you want?
4. I in know – I do not know.
5. Stan day – Stand there
6. Weh you gine? – Where are you going?
7. Dah in mine – That is not mine
8. He got nuff money – He has a lot of money
9. Who wun dah is? – Whose is that?
10. Skin out the bag – Empty the bag.
The English Language may be widely spoken around the world, but what I also love about it is how people over the centuries have adapted and mixed the language with their own flavours, thereby creating their own form of communication that is as rich and colourful.
If you’d like to know more about Barbados and the Bajan dialect, take a look at these sources. They were immensely helpful in creating this post:
Barbados Pocket Guide – A dictionary of Bajan Words
Do you have experience of other dialects that derive from the English Language?
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Ciao for now
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