Barbados: Understanding & Speaking the Native Language

Barbados is not only home to its ever-popular white sandy beaches, annual Crop Over Festival and mouthwatering cuisine, but this small beautiful Caribbean island also packs a duplet of tongues which enchants the curiosity of many visitors to the island. English is the official language of Barbados, and Bajan is the local dialect.

Bajan dialect was originally created by West African slaves who combined English with West African as a means to evade the understanding of their slave masters. This unique blend gave birth to a broken language with distinct speech patterns, grammar, and vocabulary. Today, English is used when in formal settings, and Bajan dialect is used in informal occasions and social settings among friends.

While the Bajan dialect has no written standard, it is quite easy to learn once you have a basic understanding of how the words and sentences are formed. For instance, some terms are borrowed from West African words, for example, “wunna” meaning “you all”, originates from the Igbo word “unu” which means “you”. Another interesting characteristic of the dialect is that most vowel sounds are frequently replaced with “uh”, for example, “Everybody/evuhbody”, “I/uh”, “water/watuh”. Consonant sounds can also change and may be dropped from the middle or ending of words, such as “there/dey”, “understand/onstan”, and “ignorant/igrant”.

Moreover, verbs are hardly ever conjugated and are frequently used in the present tense even when speaking of past events. For example, “She live in de house ‘round de corner”” or “Robert sleep there last night”. In the case of future events, only the simple and continuous future tenses are used and the modal verb “will” is typically replaced by the modal verb “gine”, such as “She gine do it tomorrow” or “She gine be cleaning on Wednesday”.

On the note of “she”, the use of possessive pronouns in Bajan dialect is very relaxed whereas “she/hers” and “he/his” can be used interchangeably and “them” pronounced “dem” can actually connote possession. For example, “Vanessa open he envelope”; “It was them first time at de church”.

Finally, Bajan dialect is replete with many colloquial expressions which are charmingly funny, from “Whapaxx!” and “Bruggadown!” which describe a hard hit or fall to “Cheese on bread!” an exclamation which connotes frustration or morose.

To help you understand and speak the native language we’ve included below a list of popular Bajan words and expressions that you may hear among locals as you explore the island:

A’tall(adv.) in no way; to no extent.

Bim(n) a nickname for Barbados.

  • Orgin: Ibgo. Derived from “bi mu” or “bem”, meaning “my people”.

Cuhdear(expression) may be used as sarcasm to mean “poor soul” or to show empathy.

Duppy(n) a ghost or spirit.

Evuhsince(adv) a long time ago.

Fall away(v) to lose weight rapidly.

Gypsy(adj) overly inquisitive.

Hard-ears(adj) stubborn, typically used to describe children.

Igrant(adj) variant of ignorant.

Just now(adv) (1) a few moments ago. (2) soon.

Lickrish(adj) to be greedy for food.

Mobba-ton(n) an undefined unit used to describe a really excessive amount.

Nuse(v) variant of use; to take, hold, or employ.

On-it-do(v) to undo something

Pompasette(v) to show off, to be confident.

Rucka-tuk – (n) awful noise, sound, or commotion.

Sea-bath(n) the action of swimming in the sea.

Tie goat(n) a married person.

Umpteenth(adj) numerous; a whole lot.

Vise(v) to understand.

Wukkup(v) to dance with movements that involve gyration of the hips.

Yam(v) to eat ravenously.

Zed-R(n) a private-owned route taxi carrying “ZR” in its license plate.

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