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Bahamian Creole

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Bahamian Creole

Bahamas Creole English
Native to Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands
Native speakers
unknown (230,000 cited 1987)[1]
English Creole
  • Atlantic
    • Eastern
      • Northern
        • Bahamas Creole English
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
bah – Bahamian
tch – Turks & Caicos
Linguasphere 52-ABB-an–ao

Bahamian is an English-based creole language spoken by approximately 400,000 people in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. It is essentially the same language as Gullah.

Bahamian is spoken by both white and black Bahamians, although in slightly different forms. Bahamian also tends to be more prevalent in certain areas of the Bahamas. Islands that were settled earlier or that have a historically large Afro-Bahamian population have a greater concentration of individuals exhibiting creolized speech; the creole is most prevalent in urban areas.[2] Individual speakers have command of lesser and greater creolized forms.

Bahamian also shares similar features with other Caribbean English-based creoles, such as those of Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and the Virgin Islands. There is also a very significant link between Bahamian and the Gullah language of South Carolina, as many Bahamians are descendants of slaves brought to the islands from the Gullah region after the American revolution.

In comparison to many of the English-based creoles of the Caribbean region, limited research has been conducted on what is known as Bahamian Creole. This lack of research on Bahamian Creole is perhaps because for many years, Bahamians have assumed that this language is simply a variety of English. However, academic research shows that this is not the case. In fact, there is much socio-historical and linguistic evidence to support the proposal that it is a creole language.[3]


Though there is variation between black and white speakers, there is a tendency for speakers to drop /h/ or, in an attempt to correct stigmatized speech, to add it to vowel-initial words, so that harm and arm are pronounced the same. This merger occurs most often in the speech of Abaco and north Eleuthera.[4]

Some speakers have merged /v/ and /w/ into a single phoneme, pronouncing words with [v] or [w] depending on context (the latter appearing in word-initial position and the former appearing elsewhere).[5] Outside of white acrolectal speech, speakers have no dental fricatives and English cognate words are usually pronounced with [d] or [t] as in dis ('this') and tink ('think').[4] Other characteristics of Bahamian Creole in comparison to English include:[4]

  • Merger of the vowels of fair and fear into [ɛə]
  • Free variation of the happy vowel between [ɪ] and [i].
  • The vowel of first merges with that of fuss (into [ʌ]) among some and with the vowel of foist (into [ʌɪ]) in others.
  • Non-rhotic speech; /r/ is not pronounced unless it precedes a vowel.
  • Final clusters are often simplified, especially when they share voicing (e.g. gold > gol, but not milk > *mil).
  • Pin–pen merger.


Pronouns in Bahamian are generally the same as in Standard English. However, the second person plural can take one of three forms:

  • yinna,
  • y'all or
  • all a ya

Possessive pronouns in Bahamian often differ from Standard English with:

  • your becoming or ya
  • his or hers becoming he or she


  • their becoming dey.

For example, das ya book? means 'is that your book?'

In addition, the possessive pronouns differ from Standard English:
English Bahamian
mine mines
yours yawnz (s.) or yawz (s.)
yinnas (pl.)
his he own
hers har own
ours ah own
theirs dey own/des

When describing actions done alone or by a single group, is used, as in only me one sing ('I'm the only one who sang') and only Mary one gern Nassau ('Mary was the only one who went to Nassau')


Verb usage in the Bahamian differs significantly from that of Standard English. There is also variation amongst speakers. For example, the word go:

1) I'm going to Freeport:

  • I goin ta Freeport
  • I gern ta Freeport
  • I gun go Freeport

2) I am going to cook

  • I ga cook
  • I goin cook
  • I gern cook
  • I gern go cook

Similarly, verb "to do" has numerous variations depending on tense and context:

  • I does eat conch erry day ('I eat conch every day')
  • Wa you does do? ('what kind of work do you do?')
  • "he gone dat way" (used while pointing in a direction,means that is where the person went).

In the present tense, the verb "to be" is usually conjugated "is" regardless of the grammatical person:

  • I am – I is or "I's" (pronounced "eyes")
  • You are – You is or "You's", pronounced "use"
  • We are – We is or "We's", pronounced "weez"
  • They are – Dey is or "Dey's"

The negative form of "to be" usually takes the form "een" I een gern ('I am not goin')

While context is often used to indicate tense (e.g. I drink plenny rum las night = 'I drank a lot of rum last night'), the past tense can also be formed by combining "did", "done", "gone", or "been" with the verb:

  • She tell him already (She already told him)
  • I dun (done) tell you
  • He tell her she was fat ('he told her she was fat')
  • Why you do dat? ('why did you do that?')
  • I bin (been) Eleuthera last week ('I went to Eleuthera last week')


Holm & Shilling (1982) features over 5,500 words and phrases not found in Standard English, with the authors attempting to link them to other English-based creoles, like Gullah.[2] Words may derive from English, as well as some African languages.


  • asue: a cooperative savings system traced to a Yoruba custom of éèsú or èsúsú;[6] similar schemes are common in other Caribbean countries, e.g. the susu in Barbados.
  • benny: sesame seed, grown locally and used in the popular treat benny cake[7] found in various forms throughout the African Diaspora.
  • Conchy Joe or Conky Joe: a white Bahamian.[8]
  • Fisherman don't smell he own basket: you never see your own faults.
  • God spare life: similar to 'God willing'.
  • Hog know where ta rub he skin: a bossy person who knows exactly who they can and cannot bully.
  • jook, juck or juke: to stab or poke, possibly from the West African word of the same meaning.[9] This word is found in many Caribbean creole languages
  • Obeah: Witchcraft.[8]

" Bey" "beh" "bui" : used to grasp someones attention the equivalent of " hey / dude"

See also


  1. ^ Bahamian at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Turks & Caicos at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ a b Reaser (2010:161)
  3. ^ McPhee, Helen. "Is Bahamian Dialect a Creole?"
  4. ^ a b c Holm & Shilling (1982:viii)
  5. ^ Wells (1982:589)
  6. ^ Holm & Shilling (1982:5–6)
  7. ^ Holm & Shilling (1982:16)
  8. ^ a b Holm & Shilling (1982:49)
  9. ^ Holm & Shilling (1982:115)


External links

  • Bahamian English Resources
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