For such a small country, there sure are a lot of languages in Belize! English is the country’s official language, and though only 4% of Belizeans speak English as their first language, most speak it fluently and use it daily. But if you listen carefully, you’re also likely to to hear Spanish, Chinese, Garifuna, Indian dialects, and one of three Maya languages. The diversity of languages reflects the cultural diversity of Belize and its people.
Another language you’re very likely to hear is Kriol, which is spoken by almost 3/4 of the population. Kriol is an English-based language that draws from the words and cultural influences of several other languages, including African, Spanish, and indigenous tongues.
What you may find surprising or curious is that Kriol is more likely than English to be the common language people from different cultural groups use to speak with one another in day-to-day interactions.
If you’re listening carefully, you’ll probably recognize some Kriol words, which share some similarities with English. “Bwai,” for example, is “boy.” “Bout” is “about.” The Kriol sentence structure is slightly different than in English, with unique placement of pronouns, as in the sentence: “Dey go meet with she” (rather than “They met with her”).
As with many languages, there are concerns about how Kriol can be preserved and passed down to future generations. One of the organizations committed to preserving Kriol is the National Kriol Council, which has created a Kriol dictionary and hosts many events to promote Kriol language and culture.
Text by Julie Schwietert Collazo.