Belize is a Central American country that shares borders with Mexico to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Guatemala to the west and south. It encompasses 8,800 square miles of land and has a 240-mile long coastline. Its population size is 395,000. Belize was once a British territory but attained its independence in 1981. Its history has significantly influenced its current diverse demographics and the languages spoken in this country reflect that diversity. This article inspects the languages of Belize.
Languages Spoken In Belize
Belize was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples, specifically from the Maya civilization. The first European explorers to land here were from Spain. Although they claimed the territory, they did not establish permanent settlements. English and Scottish settlers eventually arrived in the 17th and 18th centuries. They founded settlements and began a trade industry that involved the African slave trade. As previously mentioned, the country remained a British colony until 1981. This brief history helps with understanding the languages spoken in Belize today.
English continues to be the official language and is spoken by 62.9% of the population. The public school systems, government administrative offices, and news media are all carried out in English. Because English is also the dominant language in international business, the country made no move to establish a new official language with independence.
Spanish is the second most common language with 56.6% of the population speaking it. However, only around 30% of the population speak Spanish as their native language. Many of these individuals are immigrants who came to the country during the 1980s to escape the violence occurring throughout Central America at the time. Spanish is also taught in primary school to children who do not speak it as a native language.
Creole, or Kriol, is the third most commonly spoken language. Approximately 44.6% of the population speak this language. Creole is based on English and influenced by Miskito (a Native American language) and West African and Bantu languages. It is considered the lingua franca of the country and is spoken by people of Creole ethnicity as well as other minority ethnic groups like Garifuna, Maya, and Mestizo.
A small percentage of the population continues to speak indigenous Mayan languages. Q’eqchi’ Maya, for example, is spoken by 6% of Belizeans. It is largely concentrated in the southern region of the country, where it is the first language of many of the communities. Researchers believe that before European colonization, Q’eqchi’ was less common than Mopan. Today, Mopan is spoken by only 3.6% of the population. They believe Q’eqchi’ was able to survive because it was geographically protected by the mountains from other language influences.
German is spoken by 3.2% of the population, a reflection of the Mennonite population living in Belize.
Garifuna is a minority language spoken by 2.9% of the population. It belongs to the Arawakan language family, although it is outside of the region of Arawakan languages (the northern regions of South America). The language is influenced by Carib, French, and Spanish and was once only spoken on the Antillean Islands. However, the British deported the Garifuna people in 1797 to Honduras from where they dispersed to the surrounding countries. The Garifuna people share a mixed West African, Central African, Arawak, and Carib ethnicity. No written record indicates that they were slaves.
Approximately 2.7% of the population speaks other minority languages.
Multilingualism In Belize
Over half of the population of Belize is bilingual. A large majority of which are multilingual. Because the country has tried to preserve and teach various languages, its government is known for its sensitivity to multiculturalism. Residents of Belize pride themselves in their ability to code-switch, alternating among various languages in speech.