Belizean Creole

Native to Belize
Native speakers
150,000 (2013)[1]
Second language: over 200,000
English Creole
  • Atlantic

    • Western
      • Kriol
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bzj
Glottolog beli1260[2]
Linguasphere 52-ABB-ad
(audio) A native female speaker of Belizean Creole, speaking about her ambition as a youth.

Belize Kriol English (also Kriol or Belizean Creole) is an English-based creole language closely related to Miskito Coastal Creole, Jamaican Patois, San Andrés-Providencia Creole, Bocas del Toro Creole, Colón Creole, Rio Abajo Creole and Limón Coastal Creole.

Population estimates are difficult; virtually all of the more than 70,000 Creoles in Belize speak Kriol. In the 2010 Belize Census, 25.9% claimed Creole ethnicity and 44.6% claimed to speak Kriol.[3] Possibly as many as 85,000 Creoles have migrated to the United States and may or may not still speak the language. This puts the number at over 150,000. Kriol is the lingua franca of Belize and is the first language of some Garifunas, Mestizos, Maya, and other ethnic groups. It is a second language for most others in the country.[4]

When the National Kriol Council began standardizing the orthography for Kriol, it decided to promote the spelling Kriol only for the language but to continue to use the spelling Creole to refer to the people in English.[5][6]


Belize Kriol is derived mainly from English. Its substrate languages are the Native American language Miskito, and the various West African and Bantu languages which were brought into the country by slaves. These include Akan, Efik, Ewe, Fula, Ga, Hausa, Igbo, Kikongo and Wolof.[7]

There are numerous theories as to how creole languages form. A language emerged from the contact of English landowners and their West African slaves to ensure basic communication. The Baymen first began to settle in the area of Belize City in the 1650s. Decker (2005:3)[5] proposes that the creole spoken in Belize previous to 1786 was probably more like Jamaican than the Belize Kriol of today. By the Convention of London in 1786 the British were supposed to cease all logwood cutting operations along the Caribbean coast of Central America, except for the Belize settlement. Many of the settlers from the Miskito Coast moved to Belize, bringing their Miskito Coast Creole with them. The immigrants outnumbered the Baymen five to one.[8] The local Kriol speech shifted to become something more like the Miskito Coast Creole.[4]

Today, Belize Kriol is the first or second language of the majority of the country's inhabitants. Many of them speak standard English as well, and a rapid process of decreolization is going on. As such, a creole continuum exists and speakers are able to code-switch among various mesolect registers between the most basilect to the acrolect ("Mid-Atlantic") varieties. It should be noted that the acrolect, much like the basilect, is rarely heard.[9]

A 1987 travel guide in the Chicago Tribune newspaper reported that Belize Kriol is “a language that teases but just escapes the comprehension of a native speaker of English.”

English taught in Belizean schools

English taught in the schools of Belize is based on British English. However, this is often influenced by the teachers' Kriol speech. The 1999 Ministry of Education: School Effectiveness Report (p. 84) notes “Creole is spoken as the first language in most homes.” Kriol is “di stiki stiki paat” that holds Belize together. Belizean people speak English, Kriol, and often Spanish, while learning the English system of writing and reading in schools. It is a slightly different system of communication from the standard forms.[9]


Kriol shares phonological similarities with many Caribbean English Creoles as well as to English, its superstrate language.[9] Pidgin languages have a general tendency to simplify the phonology of a language in order to ensure successful communication. Many Creoles keep this tendency after creolization. Kriol is no exception in this point.

Kriol uses a high number of nasalized vowels, palatalizes non-labial stops and prenasalizes voiced stops. Consonant clusters are reduced at the end of words and many sylables are reduced to only a consonant and vowel.

1. Like most creole languages, Kriol has a tendency to an open syllabic structure, meaning there are many words ending in vowels. This feature is strengthened by its tendency to delete consonants at the end of words, especially when the preceding vowel is unstressed.

2. Nasalization is phonemic in Kriol, caused by the deletion of final nasal consonants. The nasal feature is kept, even if the consonant has been dropped.

3. Many Kriol speakers tend to palatalize the velar consonants /ɡ/ and /k/ preceding /ɑː/. Sometimes they also palatalize alveolar consonants, such as /t/, /d/, and /n/.

4. Like all other creoles, Kriol also has a tendency to reduce consonant clusters no matter where they occur. Final consonant clusters are almost always reduced by dropping the second consonant. Initial and medial occurrences are reduced much less consistently.

5. When /r/ occurs finally, it is always deleted. When it occurs in the middle of a word, it is often deleted leaving a residual vowel length.

6. Although its superstrate language, English, makes extensive use of dental fricatives (/θ/ /ð/), Belizean Kriol does not use them. It rather employs the alveolar stops /t/ and /d/. However, due to the ongoing process of decreolization, some speakers include such dental fricatives in their speech.

7. Unstressed initial vowels are often deleted in Kriol. Sometimes this can lead to a glottal stop instead.

8. Vowels tend to be alternated for the ones used in English, f.i. /bwɑi/ or /bwoi/ (boy) becomes /boi/, /ɑnɡri/ (angry) becomes /ænɡri/ and so on.[9]

Consonants and vowels

Kriol uses three voiced plosives (/b/ /d/ /ɡ/) and three voiceless plosives(/p/ /t/ /k/). The voiceless stops can also be aspirated. However, aspiration is not a constant feature, therefore the aspirated and non-aspirated forms are allophonic. The language employs three nasal consonants, (/m/ /n/ /ŋ/). It makes extensive use of fricatives and, both unvoiced (/f/ /s/ /ʂ/) and voiced (/v/ /z/ /ʐ/. Its two liquids, /l/ and /r/, are articulated alveo-palatally. The tongue is more lax here than in American English, its position is more similar to British English. Kriol's glides /w/, /j/, and /h/ are used extensively. Glottal stops occur rarely and inconsistently. Kriol makes use of eleven vowels; nine monophthongs, three diphthongs and schwa [ə]. The most frequently occurring diphthong, /ai/ is used in all regional varieties. Both /au/ and /oi/ can occur, but they are new additions and are viewed as a sign of decreolization. The same is perceived of four of the less productive monophthongs.[9]


Unlike most creoles, Kriol has a standardized orthography.

Consonants: b, ch, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, y, z, zh

Vowel Example Gloss
/ii/ teef "steal"
/i/ ɡi, ɡiv "give"
/ee/ bayk "bake"
/e/ tek "take"
/aa/ gaan "gone"
/a/ bak "back of body"
/uu/ shooz "shoes"
/u/ shub "push against"
/oo/ boan "bone"
/o/ don "done"
/ai/ bwai "boy"
/ou/ bout "about"

The symbol choices for lengthened vowels come from ways those vowels are spelled in English, not the International Phonetic Alphabet.[5] There is a dictionary for Kriol with over 5000 entries, including sample sentences for each word.[6]



The present tense verb is not marked overtly in Kriol. It also does not indicate number or person. As an unmarked verb, it can refer both to present and to perfective. The English past tense marker |d| at the end of the verbs indicates acrolectal speech. However, there is the possibility to mark past by putting the tense marker |mi| before the verb. Overt marking is rare, however, if the sentence includes a semantic temporal marker, such as "yestudeh" (yesterday) or "laas season" (last season).

The future tense is indicated by employing the preverbal marker wa or a. Unlike the marking of past tense, this marking is not optional.[9]


The progressive aspect

The preverbal marker di expresses the progressive aspect in both past and present tense. However, if the past is not marked overtly (lexically or by using mi), an unambiguous understanding is only possible in connection to context. di is always mandatory. In past progressive, it is possible to achieve an unambiguous meaning by combining mi + di + verb.

Progressive action in the future can be expressed by using bi in conjunction with . The correct combination here would be + bi + verb.

The habitual aspect

Kriol does not have a habitual aspect in its own right. Other creoles have a general tendency to merge the habitual with completive, the habitual with progressive, or the habitual with future. Kriol however, does not clearly merge it with anything. Thus, we can only assume that the habitual is expressed through context and not through morphological marking.

The completive aspect

The completive aspect is expressed either without marking, that is, by context only, or by the use of a completive preverbal markers, such as don or finiʂ.[9]

Mood and voice


The conditional mood is expressed through the conditional verbs wuda, mi-wa, and mia. The short version, da, is employed only in the present tense; past tense requires the longer forms.

Passive voice

There is no overt lexical marking of active and passive in Kriol. It is only the emphasis of a sentence which can clarify the meaning, together with context. Emphasis can be strengthened by adding emphatic markers, or through repetition and redundancy.

Verb usage

Special verbs

There are four forms of "be" in Kriol: de, two uses of di, and the absence of a marker. The equative form di is used as a copula (when the complement of the verb is either a noun or a noun phrase). de is the locative form which is used when the verb's complement is a prepositional phrase. No overt marking is used when the complement is an adjective. di, finally, is used in the progressive aspect.

The verb "to go" is irregular in Kriol, especially when set in the future progressive. It does not use the progressive marker di but is exchanged by the morpheme and ɡwein. In past tense, this is similar: instead of employing mi, it uses the lexical item ɡaan.

A verb which is used extensively in each conversation is mek. It can be used like a modal in casual requests, in threats and intentional statements, and, of course, like the standard verb "to make".[9]

Noun usage

Plural formation

Plurals are usually formed in Kriol by inserting the obligatory postnomial marker de. Variations of this marker are den and dem. As decreolization is processing, the standard English plural ending -s occurs far more frequently. Sometimes, the de is added to this form, f.i. in "shoes de" – shoes.

The absence of a plural marker occurs rarely.

Loan words

Many Spanish, Maya, and Garifuna words refer to popular produce and food items:[9]



Syntactic ordering

The construction of sentences in Kriol is very similar to that in English. It uses a Subject-Verb-Object order (SVO). All declarative and most interrogative sentences follow this pattern, the interrogatives with a changed emphasis. The construction of the phrases follows Standard English in many ways.


Locatives are more frequently used in Kriol and much more productive than in Standard English. The general locative is expressed by the morpheme da ("at" or "to"). It is possible to use to or pɑn ("on") instead. This is an indication of either emphasis or decreolization. Another morpheme which is more specific than is inɑ ("into"). It is used in contexts where is not strong enough.

Together with the verb "look", however, is not used and denoted as incorrect. To express "to look at", it is wrong to say "luk da". The correct version would be "luk pan".[9]

Noun plus pronoun

In a noun phrase, Kriol can employ a structure of both noun and pronoun to create emphasis. The ordering then is noun + pronoun + verb (f.i. "mista filip hi noa di ansa" – Mr Philip knows the answer).


Adjectives are employed predicatively and attributively. They can be intensified either by the postposed adverb modifier bad, by iteration, or by the use of the adverb modifier onli. Iteration is here the usual way. Comparatives and superlatives are constructed according to morphosyntactic rules. A comparative is made by adding -a to the stem ("taal" – "taala" – tall). The morpheme den is employed to form comparative statements, f.i. "hî tɑlɑ dan shee" – He is taller than she. Superlatives are created by adding -es to the stem. In all cases, the use of the definite article di is obligatory. The copula is present if the superlative is used predicatively. An example could be: "She dah di taales" – She is the tallest.


Adverbs are used much as they are in Standard English. In almost all cases, they differ from adjectives not in form but in function. There are, however a few exceptions, such as "properli" (properly), "errli" (early) or "po:li" (poorly). Adverbs can be intensified by reduplication.


Most Kriol conjunctions are very similar to English and employed in the same way. The main difference is that Kriol allows double negation, so that some conjunctions are used differently. Some examples for Kriol conjunctions are: "an" (and), "but" (but), "if" (if), "o:" (or) etc.

Questions usually take the same form in Kriol as they do in Standard English: question word + subject + verb. The "do-support" does not occur here either. The rising intonation at the end of the sentence may increase even more if no question word is necessary. Thus, most declarative sentences can become interrogative with the right intonation. "Which" has various translations in Kriol. If the speaker means "which", he uses witʂ, but he can also use witʂ wan for "which one".[9]


The tense/aspect system of Kriol is fundamentally unlike that of English. There are no morphological marked past tense forms corresponding to English -ed -t. There are three preverbial particles: "mi" and "did" for the past, "di" as an "aspect marker", and a host of articles to indicate the future ("(w)a(n)", "gwein", "gouɲ"). These are not verbs, they are simply invariant particles which cannot stand alone like the English "to be". Their function differs also from the English.

The progressive category is marked by /di~de/. Past habitual is marked by /doz/ or /juustu/. Present habitual aspect is unmarked but can be indicated by "always", "usually", etc. (i.e. is absent as a grammatical category).[5] Mufwene (1984) and Gibson and Levy (1984) propose a past-only habitual category marked by /juustu doz/ as in /weh wi juustu doz liv ih noh az koal az ya/ ("where we used to live is not as cold as here") [10]

For the present tense, an uninflected verb combining with an iterative adverb marks habitual meaning as in /tam aalweiz noa entaim keiti tel pɑn hii/ ("Tom always knows when Katy tells/has told about him").[11]

Like many other Caribbean Creoles /fi/ and /fu/ have a number of functions, including:[12]

The pronominal system

The pronominal system of Standard English has a four-way distinction of person, number, gender and case. Some varieties of Kriol do not have the gender or case distinction, though most do; but it does distinguish between the second person singular and plural (you).[9]


The question words found in Kriol are:[9]


Contrast of Copula Forms

Copula = helping verb forms of “be”

Kriol: Ai da di teecha

English: I am the teacher.

Kriol: Yu da di teecha.

English: You are the teacher

Kriol: Ih da di teecha.

English: He/She is the teacher.

Kriol: Ah da-mi di teecha

English: I was the teacher

Kriol: Yu da-mi di teecha

English: You were the teacher.

Kriol: Ih da-mi di teecha.

English: She/He was the teacher.


See also


  1. Michaelis, Susanne (2013). The Survey of Pidgin and Creole Languages, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 92–100. ISBN 0199691401.
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Belize Kriol English". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. "Belize Population and Housing Census 2010: Country Report" (PDF). Statistical Institute of Belize. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  4. 1 2 Johnson, Melissa A. The Making of Race and Place in Nineteenth-Century British Honduras. Environmental History, Vol. 8, No. 4 (October 2003), pp. 598–617.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Decker, Ken (2005), The Song of Kriol: A Grammar of the Kriol Language of Belize. Belize City: Belize Kriol Project, pp. 2.
  6. 1 2 Crosbie, Paul, ed. (2007), Kriol-Inglish Dikshineri: English-Kriol Dictionary. Belize City: Belize Kriol Project, pp. 196.
  7. "Kriol - Complete Web Solutions Provider".
  8. Floyd, Troy S. (1967). The Anglo-Spanish Struggle for Mosquitia. University of New Mexico Press.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Escure, Geneviève. The Pragmaticization of Past in Creoles. American Speech, Vol. 74, No. 2 (Summer, 1999), pp. 165–202.
  10. Gibson (1988:199)
  11. Mufwene (1984:218) cited in Gibson (1988:200)
  12. Winford (1985:589)
  13. Bailey (1966:32)
  14. Patrick (1995:244)
  15. 1 2 Lawton (1984:126)
  16. Irvine (2004:43–44)

External links

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