Language of Barbados

You say potato; I say patato? The local language of Barbados is often referred to as the Bajan dialect, or quite simply ‘Bajan.’

Although our native language here on the island is British English, the Bajan dialect can very often seem like a whole other language in itself. Not surprisingly then, it can be challenging to understand, especially for visitors to the island. However, those ‘in the know’ speak it freely and fluently daily, and it is understood and accepted as ‘native tongue’ island-wide.

In official and formal settings, British English is both spoken and written. However, in most casual settings, Barbadians talk a language that is a version of broken English, or pidgin (a simplified version of) English, mixed with very distinctive ‘Bajanisms.’

It’s also spoken with a particular accent and is said to be inspired by various African languages brought over with the slave trade.

The language of Barbados doesn’t just contain its own unique words, but also various island specific and often comical sayings.

It’s not uncommon that the origin (and sometimes the true meaning) of these are unknown to the speaker. You can rest assured they are peppered into conversations between and understood in some way by, Bajans and honorary Bajans everywhere.

Do your ‘ting, Bajan style!

If you’re not already a well-versed Bajan, you’ll soon realize that the Bajan dialect is entirely limitless. Individual words usually have multiple meanings, and words are commonly shortened versions of their original form.

For example, “ting” refers to ‘thing.” “Dis” means “this,” as well as to disrespect or to fail to acknowledge someone or something.

Because word endings tend to be cut short, multiple words often flow into one long word.

For example, ‘happen’ rather than ‘happened’ and ‘wha’ rather than ‘what.” Leads to the phrase ‘Wha happen?’ as opposed to what happened?

Another point to note is that the Bajan dialect, the sound created by ‘the’ is pronounced with a ‘d’ sound. For example, ‘that’ is marked ‘dat,’ ‘this’ pronounced ‘dis,’ ‘the’ spoken as ‘de,’ and so on.

Bajans also seldom use the word “very.” Instead, the word that ‘very’ would be referring to is just repeated. For example, instead of saying ‘that girl is beautiful,’ in Bajan, one would say, “dat girl pretty, pretty, pretty.”

For a more in-depth look at the Bajan dialect, please read our Dialect of Barbados page.

Talk the talk – learn to speak like a Bajan

As we mentioned earlier, there are specific local sayings that are unique to our island culture, and each has its particular meanings. The list is endless.

Take a look at our ‘Ya Know Ya is a Bajan When……Jokes‘ page where we have listed some of these unique and more often than not humorous sayings and phrases that are exclusive to the island of Barbados.

You’ll be “wukkin up,” and “hollering,” “cheese on bread,” in no time.

About Totally Barbados (Edit profile)

Brett Callaghan is the founder and managing director of Totally Barbados. I specialize in writing content for the tourism industry for my island home of Barbados. I help companies build strategies to grow online businesses with SMART marketing, advertising, and social media goals.