When I first arrived in Barbados, I was surprised that the accents I heard were much softer than I expected. Having been here a little longer now, I realise that this is not the case at all in the majority of cases! Certainly, the well educated and those in customer service roles, such as the people at the airport who I had heard first, speak extremely clearly with a lovely, smooth, relaxing Caribbean lilt.
The children at school on the other hand…! When they speak to me it’s hard enough to understand but when they talk to each other, there’s no hope! In a way it’s harder than when I was coaching in Uganda, because there at least everyone acknowledged the fact that we spoke different languages, so would have to make extra effort. Here the assumption is that as we speak the same language, I presumably understand everything! I’ve had to employ the same technique you use when learning a new language…pick out a couple of key words you understand and try to piece together (guess) the rest of the sentence!
I thought I was going mad on one occasion when I heard a Bajan talking and thought his accent sounded like those you hear in the west of England – somewhere like Bristol. But then it happened again. And again! I kept my thoughts to myself, but then my landlady Sandie told me that Speightstown in Barbados used to be called Little Bristol due to trading links. It seems there is a long history between the island and the west country!
As is the case in England, different parts of the country apparently have different slang and accents – I’m not sure if I’d be able to notice though.
Words are spelt the English way, such as colour, flavour and centre, but you can hear both English and American influences on the vocabulary used here. American English words such as gas station and cell phone are used alongside British English words such as chips (instead of French fries) and of course football (instead of soccer).
There are many differences between spoken Bajan English and British English. Questions are often asked in a strange way – instead of saying “Where is the ball?”, Bajans say “Where the ball is?”. On other occasions, the verb ‘to be’ is neglected altogether…the normal response to “How are you?” is “I good”. Also pronouns are all mixed up…”Pass the ball to he”, “I saw she yesterday”.
Some other differences with English are time phrases. We tend to use good afternoon solely as a greeting and good night as a farewell. In Barbados, they can be used for both. In other words, good afternoon can be a farewell and good night can be a greeting. I have heard people say, “Hello, good night”, which to my English ears sounds odd! Another strange thing is that from about 3.00, people will say good evening, much earlier than we would in England.
Then of course is there is the Bajan slang, my favourite phrase being ‘cheese on bread’ or just ‘cheese oooooooonnnnn’. I guess the best translation would be ‘Oh damn!’ I have no idea how that one originated!