Bajan (/ˈbeɪdʒən/) is an English-based creole language spoken on the Caribbean island of Barbados. In general, the people of Barbados speak standard English on TV and radio, in courthouses, in government, and in day-to-day business, while Bajan creole is reserved for less formal situations, in music, or in social commentary.
Like many other English-based Caribbean creole languages, Bajan consists of a West African substrate and an Englishsuperstrate. Bajan is similar but distinguishable from the creoles of neighbouring Caribbean islands, as many of the other Caribbean creoles are theorized to have Hiberno-English or Scottish English as their superstrate variety, for example Jamaican Patois.
Bajan is the Caribbean creole with grammar that most resembles Standard English. 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. 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 and the Gullah language spoken in the Carolinas. Regionally, Bajan has ties to Belizean and Guyanese Creoles.
Unlike Jamaica, Guyana or Trinidad, Barbados was the destination of few enslaved African-born captives after 1800. 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.
As of 2014, Bajan is a more popular regional term for nationals of Barbados, in addition to the official name, Barbadian. In general, the people of Barbados speak standard British English on TV and radio, in courthouses, in government, and in day-to-day business, while Bajan is reserved for less formal situations, in music, or in social commentary. Standard English is a secondary native tongue of most Barbadians, and is usually used when talking formally. Barbadians may opt to speak Bajan amongst themselves or when in a very relaxed setting. 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 Overfestival.
As in most English-based Caribbean creoles, the interdentals /θ/ and /ð/ have merged with other consonants (in this case, /t/ and /d/, respectively). Unlike most other Caribbean creoles, Bajan is rhotic. 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].
The word for you (plural) is wuna, similar to Jamaican unnu / unna or Bahamian yinna. 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 pun ah Sunduh.
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.
The word gine is usually used to mark the future tense e.g. I gine eat = «I am going to eat».
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:
African words in Bajan
Published - February 2016
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