Belizean Creole

Belize Kriol (also Kriol or Belizean Creole) is an English-based creole language closely related to Miskito Coastal Creole, Jamaican Patois, San Andrés-Providencia Creole, Bocas del Toro Creole, Colón Creole, Rio Abajo Creole, and Limón Coastal Creole.

Native toBelize
Native speakers
150,000 (2013)[1]
Second language: over 200,000
English Creole
  • Atlantic
    • Western
      • Kriol
Language codes
ISO 639-3bzj
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.
(audio) A native female speaker of Belizean Creole, speaking about her ambition as a youth.
Sign in Belize Kriol, Caye Caulker

Population estimates are difficult; virtually all of the more than 70,000 Creoles in Belize speak Kriol. In the 2010 Belize Census, 25.9% claimed Creole ethnicity and 44.6% claimed to speak Kriol.[2] Possibly as many as 85,000 Creoles have migrated to the United States and may or may not still speak the language. This puts the number at over 150,000. Kriol is the lingua franca of Belize and is the first language of some Garifunas, Mestizos, Maya, and other ethnic groups. It is a second language for most others in the country.[3]

When the National Kriol Council began standardizing the orthography for Kriol, it decided to promote the spelling Kriol only for the language but to continue to use the spelling Creole to refer to the people in English.[4][5]


Belize Kriol is derived mainly from English. Its substrate languages are the Native American language Miskito, Spanish, the various West African and Bantu languages which were brought into the country by slaves. These include Akan, Efik, Ewe, Fula, Ga, Hausa, Igbo, Kikongo and Wolof.[6]

There are numerous theories as to how creole languages form. The most common and linguistically supported hypothesis indicates that creoles start out as a pidgin language when there exists a need for some type of verbal communication between members of communities who do not share the same language. In the case of Belize Kriol, the pidgin would have developed as a result of West Africans being captured and taken to the Americas as slaves where they would be forced to communicate with slave owners of European descent. For the first generation of people speaking the pidgin language, the pidgin is not fully developed and the grammar of the language is not as systematic as fully-fledged languages.[7] When the people speaking the pidgin language begin having children who grow up having no entirely developed language, they will take the partial grammar of the pidgin language their parents speak and use it as a sort of blueprint for which they are able to assign a systematic grammatical structure to the language[8] It is at this point that the language becomes a fully-fledged language and the result is a creole. Belize Kriol specifically developed as a result of many West African slaves being subjected to English speaking owners and as a result these people were forced to create a pidgin language using English as a substrate language which was then formed into a creole by their children.

The Baymen first began to settle in the area of Belize City in the 1650s. Ken Decker[4] proposed that the creole spoken in Belize previous to 1786 was probably more like Jamaican than the Belize Kriol of today. By the Convention of London in 1786 the British were supposed to cease all logwood cutting operations along the Caribbean coast of Central America, except for the Belize settlement. Many of the settlers from the Miskito Coast moved to Belize, bringing their Miskito Coast Creole with them. The immigrants outnumbered the Baymen five to one.[9] The local Kriol speech shifted to become something more like the Miskito Coast Creole.[3]

Today, Belize Kriol is the first or second language of the majority of the country's inhabitants. Many of them speak standard English as well, and a rapid process of decreolization is going on. As a result, a creole continuum exists and speakers are able to code-switch among various mesolect registers between the most basilect to the acrolect ("Mid-Atlantic") varieties. The acrolect, much like the basilect, is rarely heard.[10]

A 1987 travel guide in the Chicago Tribune newspaper reported that Belize Kriol is “a language that teases but just escapes the comprehension of a native speaker of English.”

English taught in Belizean schoolsEdit

English taught in the schools of Belize is based on British English. However, this is often influenced by the teachers' Kriol speech. The 1999 Ministry of Education: School Effectiveness Report (p. 84) notes “Creole is spoken as the first language in most homes.” Belizean people speak English, Kriol, and often Spanish, while learning the English system of writing and reading in schools. It is a slightly different system of communication from the standard forms.[10]


Kriol shares phonological similarities with many Caribbean English Creoles as well as to English, its superstrate language.[10] Pidgin languages have a general tendency to simplify the phonology of a language in order to ensure successful communication. Many creoles keep this tendency after creolization. Kriol is no exception in this point.

Kriol uses a high number of nasalized vowels, palatalizes non-labial stops and prenasalizes voiced stops. Consonant clusters are reduced at the end of words and many syllables are reduced to only a consonant and vowel.

  1. Like most creole languages, Kriol has a tendency to an open syllabic structure, meaning there are many words ending in vowels. This feature is strengthened by its tendency to delete consonants at the end of words, especially when the preceding vowel is unstressed.
  2. Nasalization is phonemic in Kriol, caused by the deletion of final nasal consonants. The nasal feature is kept, even if the consonant has been dropped.
  3. Many Kriol speakers tend to palatalize the velar consonants /ɡ/ and /k/ preceding /ɑː/. Sometimes they also palatalize alveolar consonants, such as /t/, /d/, and /n/.[in which context?]
  4. Like all other creoles, Kriol also has a tendency to reduce consonant clusters no matter where they occur. Final consonant clusters are almost always reduced by dropping the second consonant. Initial and medial occurrences are reduced much less consistently.
  5. When /r/ occurs finally, it is always deleted. When it occurs in the middle of a word, it is often deleted leaving a residual vowel length.
  6. Although its superstrate language, English, makes extensive use of dental fricatives (/θ/ /ð/), Belizean Kriol does not use them. It rather employs the alveolar stops /t/ and /d/. However, due to the ongoing process of decreolization, some speakers include such dental fricatives in their speech.
  7. Unstressed initial vowels are often deleted in Kriol. Sometimes this can lead to a glottal stop instead.
  8. Vowels tend to be alternated for the ones used in English, f.i. /bwɑi/ or /bwoi/ (boy) becomes /boi/, /ɑnɡri/ (angry) becomes /ænɡri/ and so on.[10]
  9. Stress is evenly distributed across syllables, meaning that the prosody of Kriol is different than its lexifier. It is reserved mainly for content words and appears to only have High and Low tones.[11]

Vowel ChartEdit

Front Central Back
High long
   i    u
Mid long
Low long
ɑː    ɑ
Diphthongs ɑi ou


Consonant ChartEdit

Labial Alveolar Post-alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p    b t    d    k    g
Fricative f    v s    z ʃ    ʒ h
Trill r
Approximant w l j

Some of these sounds only appear as allophones of phonemes. [13]

Consonants and vowelsEdit

Kriol uses three voiced plosives (/b/ /d/ /ɡ/) and three voiceless plosives (/p/ /t/ /k/). The voiceless stops can also be aspirated. However, aspiration is not a constant feature; therefore, the aspirated and non-aspirated forms are allophonic. The language employs three nasal consonants, (/m/ /n/ /ŋ/). It makes extensive use of fricatives, both unvoiced (/f/ /s/ /ʂ/) and voiced (/v/ /z/ /ʐ/. Its two liquids, /l/ and /r/, are articulated alveo-palatally. The tongue is more lax here than in American English; its position is more similar to that of British English. Kriol's glides /w/, /j/, and /h/ are used extensively. Glottal stops occur rarely and inconsistently. Kriol makes use of eleven vowels: nine monophthongs, three diphthongs, and schwa [ə]. The most frequently occurring diphthong, /ai/, is used in all regional varieties. Both /au/ and /oi/ can occur, but they are new additions and are viewed as a sign of decreolization. The same is perceived of four of the less productive monophthongs.[10]


Unlike most creoles, Kriol has a standardized orthography.

Consonants: b, ch, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, sh, t, v, w, y, z, zh

Vowel Example definition
/ii/ teef "thief"
/i/ ɡi, ɡiv "give"
/ee/ or /je/ bayk "bake"
/e/ tek "take"
/aa/ gaan "gone"
/a/ bak "back of body"
/uu/ shooz "shoes"
/u/ shub "shove"
/oo/ boan "bone"
/o/ don "done"
/ai/ bwai "boy"
/ou/ bout "about"

The symbol choices for lengthened vowels come from ways those vowels are spelled in English, not the International Phonetic Alphabet.[4] There is a dictionary for Kriol with over 5000 entries, including sample sentences for each word.[5]



The present tense verb is not marked overtly in Kriol. It also does not indicate number or person. As an unmarked verb, it can refer both to present and to perfective. The English past tense marker |d| at the end of the verbs indicates acrolectal speech. However, there is the possibility to mark past by putting the tense marker |mi| before the verb. Overt marking is rare, however, if the sentence includes a semantic temporal marker, such as "yestudeh" (yesterday) or "laas season" (last season).

The future tense is indicated by employing the preverbal marker wa or a. Unlike the marking of past tense, this marking is not optional.[10]


The progressive aspectEdit

The preverbal marker di expresses the progressive aspect in both past and present tense. However, if the past is not marked overtly (lexically or by using mi), an unambiguous understanding is only possible in connection to context. di is always mandatory. In past progressive, it is possible to achieve an unambiguous meaning by combining mi + di + verb.

Progressive action in the future can be expressed by using bi in conjunction with . The correct combination here would be + bi + verb.

The habitual aspectEdit

Kriol does not have a habitual aspect in its own right. Other creoles have a general tendency to merge the habitual with completive, the habitual with progressive, or the habitual with future. Kriol however, does not clearly merge it with anything. Thus, we can only assume that the habitual is expressed through context and not through morphological marking.

The completive aspectEdit

The completive aspect is expressed either without marking — that is, by context only — or by the use of a completive preverbal marker, such as don or finiʂ.[10]

Mood and voiceEdit


The conditional mood is expressed through the conditional verbs wuda, mi-wa, and mia. The short version, da, is employed only in the present tense; past tense requires the longer forms.

Passive voiceEdit

There is no overt lexical marking of active and passive in Kriol. It is only the emphasis of a sentence which can clarify the meaning, together with context. Emphasis can be strengthened by adding emphatic markers, or through repetition and redundancy.

Verb usageEdit

Special verbsEdit

There are four forms of "be" in Kriol: de, two uses of di, and the absence of a marker. The equative form di is used as a copula (when the complement of the verb is either a noun or a noun phrase). de is the locative form which is used when the verb's complement is a prepositional phrase. No overt marking is used when the complement is an adjective. di, finally, is used in the progressive aspect.

The verb "to go" is irregular in Kriol, especially when set in the future progressive. It does not use the progressive marker di but is exchanged by the morpheme and ɡwein. In past tense, this is similar: instead of employing mi, it uses the lexical item ɡaan.

A verb which is used extensively in each conversation is mek. It can be used like a modal in casual requests, in threats and intentional statements, and, of course, like the standard verb "to make".[10]

Noun usageEdit

Plural formationEdit

Plurals are usually formed in Kriol by inserting the obligatory postnomial marker de. Variations of this marker are den and dem. As decreolization is processing, the standard English plural ending -s occurs far more frequently. Sometimes, the de is added to this form, f.i. in "shoes de" – shoes.

The absence of a plural marker occurs rarely.

Loan wordsEdit

Many Spanish, Maya, and Garifuna words refer to popular produce and food items:[10]



Syntactic orderingEdit

The construction of sentences in Kriol is very similar to that in English. It uses a Subject-Verb-Object order (SVO). All declarative and most interrogative sentences follow this pattern, the interrogatives with a changed emphasis. The construction of the phrases follows Standard English in many ways.


Locatives are more frequently used in Kriol and much more productive than in Standard English. The general locative is expressed by the morpheme da ("at" or "to"). It is possible to use to or pɑn ("on") instead. This is an indication of either emphasis or decreolization. Another morpheme which is more specific than is inɑ ("into"). It is used in contexts where is not strong enough.

Together with the verb "look", however, is not used and denoted as incorrect. To express "to look at", it is wrong to say "luk da". The correct version would be "luk pan".[10]

Noun plus pronounEdit

In a noun phrase, Kriol can employ a structure of both noun and pronoun to create emphasis. The ordering then is noun + pronoun + verb (f.i. "mista filip hi noa di ansa" – Mr Philip knows the answer).


Adjectives are employed predicatively and attributively. They can be intensified either by the postposed adverb modifier bad, by iteration, or by the use of the adverb modifier onli. Iteration is here the usual way. Comparatives and superlatives are constructed according to morphosyntactic rules. A comparative is made by adding -a to the stem ("taal" – "taala" – tall). The morpheme den is employed to form comparative statements, f.i. "hî tɑlɑ dan shee" – He is taller than she. Superlatives are created by adding -es to the stem. In all cases, the use of the definite article di is obligatory. The copula is present if the superlative is used predicatively. An example could be: "She dah di taales" – She is the tallest.


Adverbs are used much as they are in Standard English. In almost all cases, they differ from adjectives not in form but in function. There are, however a few exceptions, such as "properli" (properly), "errli" (early) or "po:li" (poorly). Adverbs can be intensified by reduplication.


Most Kriol conjunctions are very similar to English and employed in the same way. The main difference is that Kriol allows double negation, so that some conjunctions are used differently. Some examples for Kriol conjunctions are: "an" (and), "but" (but), "if" (if), "o:" (or) etc.

Questions usually take the same form in Kriol as they do in Standard English: question word + subject + verb. The "do-support" does not occur here either. The rising intonation at the end of the sentence may increase even more if no question word is necessary. Thus, most declarative sentences can become interrogative with the right intonation. "Which" has various translations in Kriol. If the speaker means "which", he uses witʂ, but he can also use witʂ wan for "which one".[10]


The tense/aspect system of Kriol is fundamentally unlike that of English. There are no morphological marked past tense forms corresponding to English -ed -t. There are three preverbal particles: "mi" and "did" for the past, "di" as an "aspect marker", and a host of articles to indicate the future ("(w)a(n)", "gwein", "gouɲ"). These are not verbs, they are simply invariant particles which cannot stand alone like the English "to be". Their function differs also from the English.

The progressive category is marked by /di~de/. Past habitual is marked by /doz/ or /juustu/. Present habitual aspect is unmarked but can be indicated by "always", "usually", etc. (i.e. is absent as a grammatical category).[4] Mufwene (1984) and Gibson and Levy (1984) propose a past-only habitual category marked by /juustu doz/ as in /weh wi juustu doz liv ih noh az koal az ya/ ("where we used to live is not as cold as here")[14]

For the present tense, an uninflected verb combining with an iterative adverb marks habitual meaning as in /tam aalweiz noa entaim keiti tel pɑn hii/ ("Tom always knows when Katy tells/has told about him").[15]

  • "mi" is a "tense indicator"
  • "di" is an "aspect marker"
  • "(w)a(n)", "gwein", "gouɲ") are used to indicate the future[10]
  • /ai mi run/
    • I run (habitually); I ran
  • /ai di run/
    • I am running
  • /ai mi di run/
    • I was running
  • /ai mi run/ or /Ai ɡaan run/
    • I have run; I had run
  • /ai ɡouŋ run/, /ai wa(n) run/ or /ai ɡwein run/
    • I am going to run; I will run

Like many other Caribbean Creoles /fi/ and /fu/ have a number of functions, including:[16]

  • Directional, dative, or benefactive preposition
    • /den di fait fu wii/ ("They are fighting for us")[17]
  • Genitive preposition (that is, marker of possession)
    • /da buk da fu mii / or /Dat da mi buk/ ("That's my book")
  • Modal auxiliary expressing obligation or futurity
    • /hi fu kom op ya/ ("He should be coming here")
  • Pre-infinitive complementizer
    • /unu hafu ker sontiŋ fu deŋ ɡarifuna fi biit deŋ miuzik/ ("You (plural) have to contribute something to the Garifuna People for playing their music")[18]

The pronominal systemEdit

The pronominal system of Standard English has a four-way distinction of person, number, gender and case. Some varieties of Kriol do not have the gender or case distinction, though most do; but it does distinguish between the second person singular and plural (you).[10]

  • I = /ai/ (occasionally mii in negations)
  • me = /mii/ (exception is Ai, as in, "Mek ai tel yu")
  • my, my, mine (possessive) = /mi~mai~mainz/
  • you, you = /ju/
  • your, yours = ju~jurs
  • he, him = /hi/ (pronounced /i/ in the basilect varieties)
  • she, her = /ʃi/ (pronounced /i/. No gender distinction in basilect varieties)
  • him, her = /a/ (no gender distinction in basilect varieties)
  • him = /hi/
  • her = /ʃi/
  • we, us = wi~wii
  • us (3 or more)= /all a wii/
  • our, ours = /fuwii; wai ; wainz/
  • you (plural) = /unu; all a ju/
  • they, them = /den; dem/)
  • those = /dende/


The question words found in Kriol are:[10]

  • What? = /Waat?; Wah?/
  • Why? = /Wai?/
  • Where? = /Weh?; Wehpaat?/ (What part?)
  • Who? = /Huu?/
  • Whose? = /Fihuu?/ (For whom?)
  • The supporting That = /Weh/


  • the Kriol equative verb is also "da"
    • e.g. /Ai da di tiicha/ ("I am the teacher")
  • Kriol has a separate locative verb "deh"
    • e.g. /wi de da london/ or /wi de iina london/ ("we are in London")
  • with true adjectives in Kriol, no copula is needed

Contrast of Copula Forms

Copula = helping verb forms of “be”

Kriol: Ai da di teecha

English: I am the teacher.

Kriol: Yu da di teecha.

English: You are the teacher

Kriol: Ih da di teecha.

English: He/She is the teacher.

Kriol: Ah da-mi di teecha

English: I was the teacher

Kriol: Yu da-mi di teecha

English: You were the teacher.

Kriol: She/Ih da-mi di teecha.

English: She/He was the teacher.

Kriol: Da huu dat?

English: who is that?


  • /no/ is used as a present tense negator:
    • /if wa cow neva no ih cu swalla ɡrass, ih neva mi wa try it/ ("If the cow didn't know that he could swallow grass, he wouldn't have tried it")[19]
  • /kiaa/ is used in the same way as English 'can't'
    • /hii da wa sikli lii ting weh kiaa iiven maʃ wa ant/ ("He is a sickly thing that can't even mash an ant")[19]
  • /neva/ is a negative past participle.[20]
    • /dʒan neva teef di moni/ ("John did not steal the money")

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Michaelis, Susanne (2013). The Survey of Pidgin and Creole Languages, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 92–100. ISBN 978-0199691401.
  2. ^ "Belize Population and Housing Census 2010: Country Report" (PDF). Statistical Institute of Belize. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 January 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  3. ^ a b Johnson, Melissa A. The Making of Race and Place in Nineteenth-Century British Honduras. Environmental History, Vol. 8, No. 4 (October 2003), pp. 598–617.
  4. ^ a b c d Decker, Ken (2005), The Song of Kriol: A Grammar of the Kriol Language of Belize. Belize City: Belize Kriol Project, pp. 2.
  5. ^ a b Crosbie, Paul, ed. (2007), Kriol-Inglish Dikshineri: English-Kriol Dictionary. Belize City: Belize Kriol Project, pp. 196.
  6. ^ "Kriol - Complete Web Solutions Provider". Archived from the original on 2008-09-28. Retrieved 2008-10-05.
  7. ^ Holm, John (2000). An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 4–6. ISBN 978-0-521-58460-9.
  8. ^ Holm, John (2000). An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 6–9. ISBN 978-0-521-58460-9.
  9. ^ Floyd, Troy S. (1967). The Anglo-Spanish Struggle for Mosquitia. University of New Mexico Press.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Escure, Geneviève (1999). "The pragmaticization of past in creoles". American Speech. 74 (2): 165–202. JSTOR 455577.
  11. ^ Velupillai, Viveka (2015). Pidgins, Creoles and Mixed Languages. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 225–226. ISBN 9789027252722.
  12. ^ Decker, Ken. "The Song of Kriol: A Grammar of the Kriol Language of Belize" (PDF). Retrieved Jul 17, 2019.
  13. ^ Escure, Geneviève (2013). Michaelis, Susanne Maria; Maurer, Philippe; Haspelmath, Martin; Huber, Magnus (eds.). "Belizean Creole". The Survey of Pidgin and Creole Languages. Volume 1: English-based and Dutch-based Languages.
  14. ^ Gibson, Kean (1988), "The Habitual Category in Guyanese and Jamaican Creoles", American Speech, 63 (3): 195–202, doi:10.2307/454817
  15. ^ Mufwene (1984:218) cited in Gibson (1988:200)
  16. ^ Winford, Donald (1985), "The Syntax of Fi Complements in Caribbean English Creole", Language, 61 (3): 588–624, doi:10.2307/414387
  17. ^ Bailey, Beryl, L (1966). Jamaican Creole Syntax. Cambridge University Press
  18. ^ Patrick, Peter L. (1995), "Recent Jamaican Words in Sociolinguistic Context", American Speech, 70 (3): 227–264, doi:10.2307/455899
  19. ^ a b Lawton, David (1984), "Grammar of the English-Based Jamaican Proverb", American Speech, 2: 123–130, doi:10.2307/455246
  20. ^ Irvine, Alison (2004), "A Good Command of the English Language: Phonological Variation in the Jamaican Acrolect", Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, 19 (1): 41–76, doi:10.1075/jpcl.19.1.03irv

External linksEdit