Perfect Paradise: People: Language

Virtually all Bahamians speak a variant of English known as Bahamian Standard English, which is largely similar to the other variants of Caribbean English in former British colonies.

However, about 400,000 Bahamians – including many living abroad – speak a creole known to Bahamians as Bahamian Dialect, or simply "the dialect," which is a combination of English, West African languages, French influences, and other roots. Although many Bahamians vehemently deny that Bahamian Dialect, or "BD," is a language of its own – for reasons discussed below – linguists classify it as a member of the Northern branch of the Eastern Atlantic English Creole languages, with its closest "relative" being Gullah, not English.

Spoken primarily in the "Out Islands," or the ones that are the least populated and most isolated, BD requires significantly different verb usage, highly irregular verbs, and very different pronunciations of English letter combinations. Speakers of Bahamian Dialect almost invariably cannot reproduce the "v" and "th" sounds typical in English, replacing them with "w" (for "v") and "d" or "t" (for "th").

A common example of a Bahamian sentence is "Wey yinna gern?", which translates into English as "Where are you going?" In addition to dropping the "r" in the first word and adding one to the last (while also losing a syllable), "are you" is replaced by yinna, a Yoruba word for "you."

In the Bahamas, the subject of BD is hotly debated. Considered a "low-class" way of speaking rather than a distinct, lively language, BD has been banned from schools and there have been cases reported of speakers who have been denied employment for using it outside of work. Bahamian politicians will speak it on visits to the Out Islands, but will not use it otherwise. Members of the general public vehemently deny its status as a language and typically do not support its preservation.

Linguists, however, disagree with the middle- and upper-class Bahamians who do not accept BD and are currently working to study and preserve the language. In 1982, the first BD dictionary was published, and Bahamian writers have been incorporating the language more and more in their works. In addition, the College of the Bahamas is debating whether to begin offering courses on literature in Bahamian Dialect.