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Bajan (/ˈbən/) is an English-based creole language with African influences spoken on the Caribbean island of Barbados. Bajan is primarily a spoken language, meaning that in general, standard English is used in print, in the media, in the judicial system, in government, and in day-to-day business, while Bajan is reserved for less formal situations, in music, or in social commentary. Ethnologue estimates that Barbados has around 1,000 people who use English as their main language and 286,000 people who use Bajan as their main language.

Native to Barbados
Native speakers
260,000 (1999)[1]
English Creole
  • Atlantic
    • Eastern
      • Southern
        • Bajan
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bjs
Glottolog baja1265[2]
Linguasphere 52-ABB-ar
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.



Bajan is the Caribbean creole with grammar that most resembles Standard English.[3] There is academic debate on whether its creole features are due to an earlier pidgin state or to some other reason, such as contact with neighboring English-based creole languages.[4] In one historical model, Bajan arose when captive West Africans were forcibly transported to the island, enslaved and forced to speak English, though learned imperfectly. Bajan later became a means of communicating without always being understood by the slave holders.

Due to emigration to the Province of Carolina, Bajan has influenced American English[5][6] and the Gullah language spoken in the Carolinas.[7][8] Regionally, Bajan has ties to Belizean and Guyanese Creoles.[citation needed]

Unlike Jamaica, Guyana or Trinidad, Barbados was the destination of few enslaved African-born captives after 1800.[9] Thus, African Barbadians became "Bajanized" relatively early on in the island's history. This tended to make them less resistant to local culture, with its Anglicised language, religion and customs.[9][10]

Bajan is a primarily spoken language with no standardised written form. Due to the lack of standardisation, spelling may vary widely from person to person. There is much dialectal variation throughout the island. Barbadians practicing Rastafari on the island also tend to speak more with a Jamaican accent than full Bajan. Bajan words and sentences presented below are largely spelled as they are pronounced. New terminology, expressions, jargon, and idioms are regularly added to the dialect by social commentary sung during the annual Crop Over festival.[11]


As in most English-based Caribbean creoles, the interdentals /θ/ and /ð/ have merged with other consonants (in this case, /t/ and /d/, respectively).[12] Unlike most other Caribbean creoles, Bajan is rhotic.[citation needed] Bajan has a strong tendency to realize word-final /t/ as a glottal stop [ʔ]. Thus the Bajan pronunciation of start, [stɑːɹʔ], contrasts sharply with the pronunciation of other Caribbean speakers, [staːt] or [stɑːt] or [staːɹt].[citation needed]

The word for you (plural) is wuna, similar to Jamaican unnu / unna or Bahamian yinna. They, them, their = /dem/. You, yours = /yu/. Unlike Standard English, Bajan tends towards using a zero copula.

Questions are usually pronounced as a statement with a raised intonation; usually on the last word; to indicate that it is a question e.g. Wunna win de cricket? means "Did you (pl.) win the cricket match?"; dahs yours? means "Is that yours?"

Habitual actions are usually indicated by the word does and done, for example I does guh church punna Sunduh means "I go to church on Sundays", or I went church Sunduh "I went to church on Sunday". It is quite common for this to be shortened to I's guh church pon ah Sunduh.[citation needed] Bajan has a separate locative verb deh e.g. we deh in de house ('we were in the house')

The tense/aspect system of Bajan is fundamentally unlike that of English. There are no morphological marked past tense forms corresponding to English -ed -t.Verbs in Bajan are not conjugated for tense, which is inferred from time words e.g. I eat all de food yestuhday = "I ate all of the food yesterday", where the word yesterday indicates that the action happened in the past.[citation needed]

The word gine is usually used to mark the future tense e.g. I gine eat = "I am going to eat".[citation needed]

Ain't (frequently shortened to ain') is used as a negative marker e.g. "I didn't do that" becomes I ain' do dat/dah. It is not uncommon for the I and the ain' to be pronounced in Bajan as "Ah'n" i.e. "Ah'n do dah" or "Ah'n able".


Bajan is peppered with a number of colourful proverbs and sayings that have been passed down through the generations. These are just a few examples below:

Proverbs Meaning
De higha de monkey climb, de more he show he tail The more you show off the more you show your faults.
Gol' (gold) teet (teeth) doan suit hog mout (mouth) Fancy things don't suit those that aren't accustomed to them.
Cat luck ain' dog luck What one person may get away with may cause problems for another.
Wuh ain' see you, ain' pass you Just because you got away with something so far does not mean that it won't catch up with you later.
Ef greedy wait hot wud (would) cool Patience will be rewarded.

African words in BajanEdit

Although most words in Bajan Creole are English in origin, many words are borrowed from West Africa languages and Irish dialects. The largest portion contributed to Bajan is from the Igbo language.

You all from the Igbo word unu, which means You (plural).
From Igbo Obia, 'doctoring, mysticism, or oracle'.
From Igbo bé mụ́, 'my place, people, kindred', common nickname for Barbados
de, deh
From Igbo dị̀, 'present in'
calque from ányá mmírí (eye + water), tears[13]
From Twi Adope.
Part of the local national dish, but comes from "Fou Fou" in Africa.
(Pronounced "ng-yam" or "yamm") Means to eat ravenously or greedily, as in "Don't yamm the food like that boy!" – In Manjaku (language spoken in Guinea-Bissau) and in Pulaarit it means to chew (pronounced "nyam"); it also means chew in Luo (language spoken in East Africa).[citation needed]
From the Fula word jukka 'poke, spur'
From the Igbo language word soso 'only'
From ísí íké, (head + hard, strength), 'obstinate
From ọkwurụ, a vegetable

Further readingEdit

  • Blake, Renee A. 1997. "All o’ we is one? Race, class and language in a Barbados community". Ph.D., Stanford University.
  • Burrowes, Audrey (in collaboration with Richard Allsopp), 1983. "Barbadian Creole: A note on its social history and structure". In Lawrence Carrington, Dennis Craig, & Ramon Todd Dandaré, eds, Studies in Caribbean Language. St. Augustine, Trinidad: Society for Caribbean Linguistics, 38-45.
  • Cassidy, Frederic (1986), "Barbadian Creole–possibility and probability", American Speech, 61 (3): 195–205, doi:10.2307/454663 
  • Fields, Linda. 1995. "Early Bajan: Creole or non-Creole?" In Jacques Arends, ed., The Early Stages of Creolization. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: Benjamins, 89-112.
  • Hancock, Ian (1980), "Gullah and Barbadian–origins and relationships", American Speech, 55 (1): 17–35, doi:10.2307/455387 
  • Holm, John A. 1988. Pidgins and Creoles, vol. II: Reference Survey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Le Page, Robert (1957), "General outlines of Creole English dialects in the British Caribbean", Orbis, 7: 54–64 
  • Rickford, John R. 1992. "The Creole residue in Barbados". In Nick Doane, Joan Hall, & Dick Ringler, eds. Old English and New: Essays in language and linguistics in honor of Frederic G. Cassidy. NY: Garland, 183-201.
  • Rickford, John R. & Renee Blake. 1990. "Copula contraction and absence in Barbadian Creole English, Samaná English and Vernacular Black English". In Kira Hall et al., eds. Proceedings of the 16th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Berkeley CA: Berkeley Linguistics Society, 257-68.
  • Rickford, John R and Jerome S. Handler. 1994. "Textual evidence on the nature of early Barbadian speech, 1676–1835". Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 9: 221-55.
  • Roberts, Peter A. 1988. West Indians and their language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (written by a Bajan)
  • Winford, Donald. 2000. "‘Intermediate’ Creoles and degrees of change in Creole formation: The case of Bajan". In I. Neumann-Holzschuh and E. W. Schneider, eds, Degrees of Restructuring in Creole Languages. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: Benjamins, 215-245.
  • A~Z of Barbados Heritage, by Sean Carrington, Macmillan Caribbean – Macmillan Publishers Limited Press, 2007, paperback. ISBN 0-333-92068-6
  • Notes for: A Glossary of Words and Phrases of Barbadian Dialect, by Frank A. Collymore, Second Edition – Advocate Co. Limited Press, 1957, paperback
  • "From Bajan To Standard English", by Jerome Davis [14]
  • "Barbadian Dialect Poetry", by Kathleen Catford[15]
  • Allsopp, Richard; Allsopp, Jeannette (2003). Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage. University of the West Indies Press. ISBN 9766401454. 

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Bajan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Bajan". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Hancock (1980:22), citing Le Page (1957:58–59)
  4. ^ Hancock (1986:195)
  5. ^ Barbados Tourism Encyclopaedia
  6. ^ New York Times – "The Buried History of America's Largest Slave Rebellion and the Man Who Led It"
  7. ^ Carrington, Sean (2007). A~Z of Barbados Heritage. Macmillan Caribbean Publishers Limited. pp. 113, 114. ISBN 0-333-92068-6. 
  8. ^ "Historical Facts on George Washingtons visit to Barbados in 1751". Archived from the original on 15 January 2010. Retrieved 6 April 2010. 
  9. ^ a b Radula-Scott, Caroline, ed. (2000). "Features: All o' We Is Bajan". Barbados. Insight Guide (3rd ed.). Singapore: APA Publications. p. 58. ISBN 981-234-067-X. 
  10. ^ Carrington, Sean; Fraser, Henry (2003). "African Heritage". A~Z of Barbados Heritage. Macmillan Caribbean,. pp. 2–3. ISBN 0-333-92068-6. Direct African influence declined in Barbados earlier than in other major Caribbean societies. In 1817 only 7 percent of Barbadian slaves had been born in Africa, whereas in Jamaica the proportion was 36 percent and 44 percent in Trinidad. An important result was that the process of acculturation, whereby Afro-Barbadians were persuaded or coerced into accepting European cultural norms was more intensive in Barbados. To give two examples, the proportion of words of African origin in the Barbadian vocabulary is much lower than it is in Jamaica, and there are in Barbados none of the religions of African or partly African origin found elsewhere in the Caribbean, such as Voodoo in Haiti, Shango in Trinidad, or Kélé in St. Lucia. (It may be claimed that the Spiritual Baptists are an exception, but this church came to Barbados from Trinidad in comparatively recent times.) 
  11. ^ Musings: In this jurisdiction, solely Archived 7 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Cassidy (1986:202)
  13. ^ Allsopp & Allsopp (2003:201)
  14. ^ Website of author Jerome Davis, former Barbadian Consul to Canada
  15. ^ Common sense & evidence: The art of Bajan dialect, Nation Newspaper

External linksEdit