Bajan (occasionally called Barbadian Creole) or Barbadian Dialect, is an English-based creole language spoken by persons on the West Indian island of Barbados. Bajan uses a mixture of West African idioms and expressions along with British English to produce a unique Barbadian/West Indian vocabulary and speech pattern. Bajan is easily distinguishable from the dialects of neighbouring Caribbean islands, as many of the other Caribbean islands are based on Irish- or Scottish-based English pronunciation such as Jamaican Patois.
Bajan uses a mixture of British English and West African syntax, with much of the pronunciation of words sharing similarities with the lilt of the West Country dialects of England. Due to emigration to North and South Carolina, Bajan has also influenced and given-way to the Gullah language spoken in the United States. Regionally Bajan has ties to Belizean and Guyanese Creoles. Bajan was first created when West African slaves were brought to the island and forced to speak English, with an existing West African understanding of language semantics. Bajan later became a means of communicating without always being understood by the slave masters. Unlike 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 Bajan is merely a Bajan pronunciation of the word Barbadian ("Bar-bayyd-ian"); however, through the process of palatalization characterizing the older accents which once prevailed in Barbados, the word sounded more like Barbajan ("Bar-bayy-junn") (much like "Injun" for "Indian"), and eventually it was just shortened to Bajan. For a short time before and after independence from Britain, Bajan was a somewhat negative term used to mean an uneducated Barbadian, but the term is no longer seen as such.
Today, Bajan is a more popular regional term for nationals of Barbados, in addition to the official name, which is 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 the more relaxed dialect of Bajan is reserved for less formal situations, in music, or in social commentary. Standard English is the native tongue of all Barbadians is usually used when talking formally or to tourists. Barbadians may also opt to speak Bajan amongst themselves or when in a very relaxed setting. Bajan is a spoken dialect, without much of a standardised written form and it varies throughout the island. When written, spelling will vary widely from person to person. Bajan words and sentences presented below are largely spelt as they are pronounced.
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. "Did you (plural) win the cricket match?" becomes Wunna win de cricket? or "Is that yours?" becomes dah is yours?
Habitual actions are usually indicated by the word does so that the following statement in standard British English "I go to church on Sundays" becomes I does guh church pun Sundays in Bajan dialect. It is quite common for this to be shortened to I's guh church pun Sundays.
Past tense in Bajan is usually indicated by the verb plus a marker word eg. 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 (as in "going") is usually used to mark the future tense e.g. I gine eat de food = "I will eat the food".
Ain't (frequently shortened to ain') is used as a negative marker e.g. "I didn't do that" becomesI ain' do dat/dah. It is not uncommon for the I and the ain' to be pronounced in the often rapidly spoken Bajan dialect "Ah'n" i.e "Ah'n do dah" or "Ah'n able".
Examples of Bajan
|British Standard English||Bajan word||Variations||Usage in a sentence|
|Give||gih||gi|| Gih dat to muh. |
(Give that to me.)
|Give me||Gih me||gimme|| Gimme dah dey so now!. |
(Give me that which is there now!)
|Give him||gih he||gi 'e|| Gih 'e de pencil. |
(Give him the pencil.)
|Give her||gih she||gi she|| Gih she back she notebook. |
(Give her back her notebook.)
|Going||Gine||guh, gun, 'gin|| I 'gin watch meh programme now. |
(I am going to watch my favorite television show right now.)
|Me||muh||*|| gih muh back muh pencil. |
(give me back my pencil.)
Don't even let yuh wind brush 'pun muh.
(When you are moving pass me don't even let a light breeze from off of you come and brush against me.)
|Make||mek||*|| I 'gin mek some peas and rice. |
(I am going to make some peas and rice.)
| "Do you follow/understand?", |
|nuh||*|| Look nuh! |
(Do you follow what I'm trying to convey to you?)
Nuh shares some similarities with the Canadian "eh" or Austalian "ay". In Bajan, it can also mean "You better stop it right now!"'
|Break||brek||mash it up, mash up, brek up|| Cheese-on bread! Who brek/mash up meh Playstation 3!. |
(Oh man! who is it that broke/destroyed my Playstation 3!.)
|Take||tek||teif way, tek way, tek up,|| Don't tek up my cyar. |
(Don't take my car anywhere.)
|Take your hands off my bag||Take your hand off of my bag before I brek it!||unrest ya hand, leave dat, put down dat, leff dat dey so.|| try an' tek yuh han' off muh bag befo I brek it/um!. |
(You better take your hands off my bag before I break it for you.)
|To eat (greedily)||nyam||licrish, yamm, yamm-it, yamm-it up, yamm-down|| Ryan come and nyam-off all de food 'bout hay (here). |
(Ryan came by and ate/polished off *all* of the food here.)
I guh' ya-mmmm' um.
(I am soo hungry I feel like I'm going to eat that whole thing now.)
|Jook||juk||poke, jab, jook muh, stab|| I went by hospital and di' get a juk. |
(When I went to hospital they gave me an injection.)
|It, it is, them, they||um||*|| Um, does be pon the first Sunday of de monf (month). |
(It happens/is on the first Sunday of the month.)
Um is down by de Fish fry.
(They are down at the Fish Fry event.)
Look um' dey.
(Look, it is right over there.)
|Ghost/spirit|| Duppy ||jumbie, moko jumbie, backoo, soucouyant, ol hag, de devil, a deads|| Don't go in dah canefield at night or de duppy gon' get ya tail. |
(Don't go into those canefiels at night or the evil spirits out there will get you.)
|On, Upon||pun||pon, 'pun, 'pun top|| De remote control for de Television is 'pun top de TV or on de night-stand. |
(The Remote control for the television is on top of the TV or on the night-stand.)
|Cannot, Can't||cyann||could-cyann, cyann do, cyann done, cyann do so, cyann get 'um done|| All dis time I here fussin' wid de jar and I could-cyann get 'um open. |
(I was here struggling to open the jar all of this time and I really can't get it open..)
|Can, Could||cud||cudda, cud do so, get 'um do|| I fix de computer already, it was real easy to get 'um do. |
(I already fixed the computer and actually it was real easy for me to get it done.)
|Underneath, Under||on-neet||unduhneef, look under, down de bottom,|| If you want to eat now, get yourself a placemat from on-neet the other one in the corner. |
(If you want me to fix you some food to eat now, get your placemat from underneath the other ones in the corner there.)
|Something||sumting||sumting, sumfin, suh'in, sa'in|| If you ain' believe what she was saying was correct or accurate, why you ain' say sumting, nuh? |
(If you didn't believe what she was telling you was the truth, why didn't you confront the whole situation then?)
|Who is it/that?||Who de body is?||who one da is?, who dah?, who's dah?, who's you?|| Who's dah? She looking real sweet! |
(Who is that?! She is looking really attractive.)
Wait, but I don't recognise dat other kid, who one dah is?
(Hold on, I don't recognise that other kid there, who's child is that?)
|Work, Working||wuk, wukkin||*|| I juss come off wuk so I goin by de gym. |
(I just finished at work, so I'm getting ready to go to the gym.)
|Nothing||nuffin||nain|| Dum ain' got nuffin hey fuh you. |
(There is not anything here for you.)
|Oh wow!, WOW!||woi||who-lord, wuh-lord, wuh-lawd, oh lordy|| Woi, de rain falling! |
(Oh wow! It is really raining hard!)
|De higha de monkey climb tree, de more 'e show 'e tail.|| The more you show off the more you show your faults. |
The more successful someone becomes the more they will show their true colours.
|Gol' (gold) teet (teeth) doan suit hog mout (mouth).||Fancy things don't suit those that aren't accustomed to them.|
|Cyat luck ain' dog luck.||What one person may get away with may cause problems for another|
|Ef greedy wait hot wud (would) cool.||Patience will be rewarded|
Like many of the other English-based dialects around the Caribbean region, Bajans can be expressive by using their bodies when communicating. The lips, hands, feet, tilt of the head, or other gestures can explain a situation almost as straightforwardly as the dialect. For example in local custom, if someone sucks air through their teeth in a short but loud burst (called a "stupes", a "schupse", or "chupsin' one's teeth" locally), and it is directed at someone or something, that is the sign of annoyance or the equivalent of saying that someone is a fool, or what they saying is mere foolish talk. This can also be done by the rolling of the eyes away from someone while in communication or flinging a hand at them in a shooing manner.
Bajans can also tend to be expressive with their hands when in discussion, for example there can be a tendency when in an intense discussion to punctuate a sentences or points by someone slapping the back of ones hand in the other hand to forcefully carry across a point.