What Languages Are Spoken in Barbados?

The flag of Barbados.
The flag of Barbados.

Barbados is a Caribbean island of the Lesser Antilles covering an area of 169 square miles and has a population of almost 300,000 people. English and Bajan are the major languages spoken in the country. English is the official language of the country and is a native language of most islanders. Unlike most countries with various ethnic languages, English is the only language existing in the island, since Bajan is an English-based creole language. Most of the Barbadian population is of Afro-Caribbean origin, with historical ties to the West African slaves brought during the 16th and 17th centuries. Later, the British, who colonized the island, brought their influence, which lasted for close to three centuries. The languages in Barbados have therefore developed from the adoption of the colonial language and a blend of West African dialects with English.

Official Language of Barbados

English is the official language in the island. The British settlers introduced the language after declaring Barbados as their protectorate in the 17th century. The continued presence of the British in the island up to the 20th century led to the Anglicization of the locals and the adoption of English norms, including languages. English is currently the largest native language in the island. English is used in legal matters, business, and education, in media and public service, both as a written and a spoken language. The use of English in formal situations on the island necessitates the adherence to rules and conventions of standard British English. While English holds the official language status, it is not as widely spoken among the islanders as the Bajan dialect.

Informal Languages Spoken in Barbados

In informal settings, Barbadians speak an English-based creole language called Bajan. Bajan is recognized among the islanders as a native language of their own and is an integral part of their culture. The language emerged as a secretive mode of communication amongst African slaves who did not want their masters understanding them. Bajan is mainly an informal spoken language with no standard alphabet or dialect. The language displays differences with other Caribbean creole languages in pronunciation and with Standard English in verb formation. The language may contain broken English words, shortened words and sometimes two or more words running into one another. Bajan has its own distinct and comical phrases and sayings, which may have one or more meanings. The language is, however, closely related to other creoles such as Guyanese and Belizean. Bajan mainly borrows from English, with some contributions from other languages such as West African, Scottish and Irish languages. Due to the migration of Barbadians into Carolina province, Bajan has had a marked influence on American English, as well as the local Gullah language.

Ethnic Groups of Barbados

There are several ethnic groups on the island, with the blacks forming the majority at about 92.4%. Multiracial individuals make up 3.1% of the population, followed by the whites at 2.1%. There also exists a small Indian population, mainly from the neighboring Guyana. Other ethnicities comprise 0.4% of the total population. These ethnic groups come together to form a united Barbadian population and culture.


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