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Last updated: 06 October, 2009 - Published 14:04 GMT
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Dialect v 'proper' language
Many dialects are spoken side-by-side with English
Many individual Caribbean countries have their own distinct dialect or 'patois' in addition to the official language.

There has been widespread debate on whether those dialects should be recognised as legitimate languages.

The topic came up again last week among the French Caribbean community in Britain at their annual Creole Day celebrations.

Some other countries want to follow the footsteps of Haiti which is the only country where Creole is an official language.


  • Do you think dialects should be officially recognised?
  • Do you think of them as a language?
  • Should people be encouraged to speak their own dialects?

Have your say

I am so glad that we are now recognised as a people - Caribbean people.
In the past we were pegged on to a motherland and so came the confusion over the way we speak. Back then the leaders insisted that we use the Queen's English. Today they are learning that they broke down some people's self esteem because through no fault of theirs, they could not divorce themselves from the dialect spoken in their neck of the woods. As the History comes varying from parish to parish and island to island, so came the language made up of remnants left behind by the 'People who came'. Only last week I had to smile when I saw a Nigerian in one of their movies say "Ah go ghee you." Yes its good to learn, for communications sake, what is accepted as proper English. But let's face it the Queen's English will always be just that...The Queen's English.
Jojo McGuire,
St Georges, Grenada

Just like Americans speak proper English but then have their own dialect: "hey that is like the coolest thing I've ever saw" - (That is the coolest thing I have ever seen)we also have it. It's just that the line between American English and "patois" is thinner than the line in the Caribbean.

Yes I do think that our dialects should recognised as official languages because the way we speak is influenced by our countries' history. So wouldn't disowning our dialects be just like disowning our history.
Sonelle Smiling,
Belize City, Belize

Dialects are essential for the evolution of languages. How do you think English was created? It was a combination of Garmanic and Scandinavian languages, French, and bad Latin. Languages evolve a lot more slowly now due to standardisation and globalisation, so whenever we have an opportunity to help it along, we shouldn't hinder it due to some unnecessary loyalty to our own pronunciations.
David Royall,

It is a fact that the majority of West Indians speak dialect and to understand it is a necessity in day to day life. The British have many different accents and you will here them say many words in which if they were speaking to an island person they may have no idea what the Brit is talking about. The same goes for the Australians. But I may be mistaken but there is no Australian language?
Basically to get to the point I think to allow a dialect to become an official language is to undermine the importance of learning to speak/write English properly....which seems to be a big problem in the Caribbean (even with people of high stature, politicians, workers at international companies .
Bridgetown, Barbados

In order for a language to become official, it has to be recognised by a group of people. There have been studies in the past about how languages develop and evolve. To simply dismiss different varieties of English as "Bad English" is completely false. Many of these patois and creoles have grammatical structures and are accepted by its people. If Caribbean English is considered bad English then what about American Standard English in comparison to Standard British English. Although we can understand each other there are some differences in language. Furthermore, weren't the first Americans British decedents? This should mean that American English is also a bad form of English because it's not exactly like the British form. The same could be said for French spoken in Quebec, but you never here any debates about this. Caribbean people must learn to love and embrace their uniqueness. This is what sets us apart from others.
Martine Pamphile

Dear Frank Smith and all others like you, let me remind you that "American English" is nothing more than the bastard child of "Queens English", words are spelt differently (mostly lazy - they spell them how they sound, the way a child would), and mispronounce them. And since it is called English, then it's England's, so if that's not how they say it then that's broken. So maybe we should do away with "American English"? Who are you people who think that you have the right to tell me that your language is the right one? English is made up of stolen and mispronounced words that we say the "root word" is Latin or French or so on. So if "mi wha chat how me feel an ow my ppl talk yu chaa tell mi nutten ar fi stap". We must elevate ourselves from this mind set that whatever the old Colonial powers do is the right and only way. Personally I'm not gonna live my life by the rules of ppl who thought slavery was right.
Davin Jackson,
Tortola, BVI

A people's culture is wrapped up in their language. Let a language die, you let a culture die and not officially recognising a language is a good way to kill that language.
This debate is not that much different from whether we want the CCJ or the Privy Council as the court of highest appeal. In both instances (language and court system) they were initially forced upon us as people from Africa in the most brutal ways. Over time we accepted them but now as we become a people more sure of ourselves and recognising the immense value and greatness that is Caribbean culture and people and so we are starting to push back, with good reason. Our dialects are uniquely our own. They are our language! That should be recognised and preserved at all cost.
When will we fully break from this colonial infancy that poisons our minds and recognise that we are a distinct people, with our own creative richness that the world can benefit from learning about? Miss Lou is rolling in her grave right now at the fact that in 2009 Caribbean people are still having this debate...
Anthony Morgan
Montreal, Canada

Perhaps there shouldn't be a versus debate. As long as you could maintain both, be able to discern their uses, then this is not a problem. Personally, I use both depending on the setting. The varying forms of our anglophone Caribbean dialect, is more than just a broken form of English. It's foundation goes back to Africa. If I were to write to you in my dialect, I am quite sure that the majority of readers may not be able to understand. One may further think that it is Germanic or some form of non-latin based language.
Trelson Mapp
St Vincent and the Grenadines

Those who are equally at ease in standard English and what is referred to as "broken English " or dialect are at a distinct advantage. Problems arise when dialect and English are mixed and confused.
This is a quote from the original poster that I am in agreement with.
Is there any country that speaks proper dialect anywhere in the world.
MY thoughts are these generation of Caribbeans rarely get confused with their patois and standard english, that's referring to the majority of those which are literate, even the uneducated few who can read and spell have learned the standard English. Its just that some dialects sound more refined than others so theirs is more readily accepted in its refined formed than others.
John Peter
London, England

I think "Proper"language is standard especially when communicating on an international level. But your dialect is the local language spoken on a more informal level. So both have their own relevance and should not be confused.
Wayne Palmer

I think instead of letting this be a language, Caribbean should learn to speak proper English. So I say no that is not a language. It's a disgusting way to speak because the words are not pronounced correctly for example we say arange and it should be orange. etc.
Sookie Persaud,
Vancouver, Canada

Why do people keep saying that English dialect cannot be written. The Antiguan 'Broken English' dialect has been written among Antiguans for years. We have books/literature in dialect. Our newspapers contain some form of dialect daily. We write it to each other and everyone can understand. I understand that a bible has been published in the Jamaican form of Broken English, with many other publications along decades.
L Rivera
St John's, Antigua

Broken English, dialect even patois are no way to describe the Creole languages spoken throughout the Caribbean.
Speakers of French-based Creoles have undertaken studies and research and have codified grammar, usage and vocabulary. For many reasons, mostly economic and political, English-speaking islands have been somewhat slower in taking up this challenge but the movement is underway.
Caribbean islanders are bilingual peoples. Those who are equally at ease in standard English and what is referred to as “broken English “ or dialect are at a distinct advantage. Problems arise when dialect and English are mixed and confused.
Recognition of the value and the legitimacy of Caribbean speech would go a long way in improving communication skills. For decades dialect has been consider the speech of the lazy and the ignorant; “proper English” the language of the educated, the high and the mighty. What has this done to self esteem; the way we see ourselves, the people around us and our forebears, for whom ‘dialect’ was the only language of communication?
Standard English as the language of education is all important and must be maintained, for obvious reasons.
The study and use of Caribbean speech should be encouraged and valued. Problems arise when speakers use both ‘dialect’ and tandard English badly. An awareness of the richness and individuality of Caribbean speech can only be beneficial.
Denigrating the way people speak only leads to resentment and hostility and a total breakdown in communication, the ultimate aim of language.
Being able to use the appropriate form of speech for the situation should be the goal.
Maurice Bird-King
St. John's, Antigua

In the Caribbean, people from different islands are recognized by their accents. Dialect or broken English is usually what is communicated between friends. Our writing, official documents and other forms official communication is done in English. English is the official language of many countries and our dialects have not gotten in the way of communicating with other heads of government throughout the world or people anywhere. Our accent defines us, 'cause I could tell a Trini as soon as he open he mouth, or a Jamaican, and I know the difference between a Lucian or a Dominican. Just let it be. We are fine the way it is.
That's my thought.
Margaret Rullow
St George's, Grenada

Patois can be written and read, hence the Caribbean scripts, plays and pantomimes. It’s broken English and it should be recognised as it is our culture and must of us speak it daily to our children and friends. Every nation or region has they own unique mark, and patois is ours.

Growing up, my mother always insisted on 'proper English'. Therefore, it has never been a personal practice of mine. In St Vincent, the dialect used is moreso a form of broken English with mild traces of French words thrown in. I do not think there would be enough variance to the 'proper' English to really warrant a move towards formalizing it in this form.
The islands of Dominica, St. Lucia, Martinique and a few others, are different from what pertains in St Vincent. They possess distinct dialects which I believe constitute definitive languages and as such, measures should be put in place to adopt them as official languages in these territories - have them formally taught and preserved.
The use of these 'languages' must be encouraged as they not only facilitate communication, but they also tell a very important story about the history and culture of these island; the elements of which must be embraced, cherished and preserved.
Darrien Ollivierre
Kingstown, St. Vincent

As a born Caribbean man I truly believe that we should keep our own dialect as a language cause it is so unique to identify us. Also, it help us keep our culture which is dying so fast because of rapid migration, and we are ever being taught that to speak like that is wrong. Ever since I was a child, I always wondered why, and who are these people to tell us how to speak when you cannot get an Englishman or woman to change his or her accent nor an Australian to chance theirs. We in the Caribbean should be able to keep our unique way we speak. So, Trini, Bajan, Guyanese, Vinci, Lucian, Jamican, Antiguan, or wherever you are from, we should be able to keep our dialect. Developed countries are allowed to do so, so why can't we?
Andy Medas-King
Brooklyn, USA

Yes, dialect should be recognised.
Sam Douglas

The idea that the dialects in the English-speaking islands cannot be written, is absolutely incorrect. It is written and spoken everyday. Because you do not see English-speaking islanders not writing it when they communicate with you, do not think for one moment that we don't. Ya nah see it? It is our communication when we speak to each other at work.
Sam Clarke
New York, USA

I can only address the issue of dialect in the English-speaking Caribbean. In each of these islands there's a different form of dialect that I'll refer to as "broken English." Sometimes it’s convenient and helps to make your point more forceful when spoken, but it’s so difficult to read and write. I think the correct English should be taught in schools, but use the dialect when communicating with your peers and friends. I think certain words and phrases are unique to each country and as such each country can make a compilation of such. Dialect helps define one’s country.
Saddlers, St. Kitts

How long can this French-based Creole/Patois survive in some of these countries??? The whole world going English, so get a grip people. Make some choices that will have some meaningful impact and just don’t be out in the cold.

Clayton, 'most is'?!! Dialect is usually just a lazy person's excuse for speaking properly and should be outlawed, except for poking fun!!
Frank Smith

Most of the dialects used in the English-speaking islands is just a form of broken English, which cannot be considered a language in itself because it cannot be written. But the patois we speak in Haiti, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and St Lucia is more distinct, has an alphabet and can be written. It is already official in Haiti, taught at school in the French departments and used in parliament in St Lucia. This is the one which should be recognized as legitimate.
However, if the others can be written, then steps should be made to officialise them.
Clayton Florent
Baie Mahault, Guadeloupe

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