Belizean Kriol language

Belizean Kriol language

Infobox Language
name=Belizean Kriol
states=Belize, United States
speakers=First language: 125,051
Second language: 227,140
fam1=Creole language
fam2=English Creole

Belizean Creole, known as Kriol by its speakers, is a creole language closely related to Miskito Coastal Creole, Limón Coastal Creole, Colón Creole, San Andrés and Providencia Creole, Jamaican Patois and Guyanese Creole . Kriol has about 350,000 speakers, in Belize (where it is the lingua franca and is spoken by 70% of the population) and in the Belizean diaspora, mostly in the United States.

Kriol was historically spoken by the Belizean Kriol, a population of mainly African and British ancestry. However, many Belizean Garifunas, Mestizos, Maya, and other ethnic groups speak Kriol as at least a second language, and is the only true common language among all groups. To speak Kriol is synonymous with being Belizean.

Linguistic biography

Belizean Creole is a creole language deriving mainly from English. Its substrate languages are the Native American language Miskito, and the various West African languages which were brought into the country by slaves. These include Akan, Igbo, and Twi) [] . The pidgin that emerged due to the contact of English landowners and their West African slaves to ensure basic communication was extended over the years. The actual creolization occurred around 1680-1700, when the British were firmly settled in the Caribbean. It was not, however, the Belizean Creole known today, but the so-called Mískito Coast Creole which developed into the Belizean Creole, or Kriol, over the years. Jamaicans were also brought to the colony, further adding to the vocabulary, and eventually it became the mother tongue of the slaves' children born in Belize. Other languages include, Caliche slang, Spanish, and Garifuna.

Today, Belizean Creole is the native 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.


Kriol shares similarities with many Caribbean English Creoles as far as phonology and spelling are concerned. Also, many of its words and structures are both lexically and phonologically similar to English, its superstrate language.

Phonologically, Belizean Creole is a perfect example of creole languages in the Caribbean and, partly, everywhere else. It uses a high amount of nasalized vowels, palatalizes non-labial stops and prenasalizes voiced stops. Moreover, pidgins have a general tendency to simplify the phonology of a language in order to ensure successful communication. Many creoles keep this tendency after creolization. Belizean Creole is no exception in this point. Unlike most creoles, Kriol has a standardized orthography.

1. Like most creole languages, Kriol has a tendency to an open syllabic structure, meaning there are a lot of 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 Belizean Creole, 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 IPA|/g/ and IPA|/k/. Sometimes they also palatalize alveolar consonants, such as IPA|/t/, IPA|/d/, and IPA|/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 IPA|/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 (IPA|/θ/ /ð/), Belizean Kriol does not use them. It rather employs the alveolars IPA|/t/ and IPA|/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. IPA|/bwai/ or IPA|/bwoi/ ("boy") becomes IPA|/boi/, IPA|/angri/ ("angry") becomes IPA|/ængri/ and so on.

Consonants and vowels

Kriol uses three voiced plosives (IPA|/b/ /d/ /g/) and three voiceless plosives(IPA|/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, (IPA|/m/ /n/ /ŋ/). It makes extensive use of fricatives and, both unvoiced (IPA|/f/ /s/ /ʂ/) and voiced (IPA|/v/ /z/ /ʐ/. Its two liquids, IPA|/l/ and IPA|/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 IPA|/w/, IPA|/j/, and IPA|/h/ are used extensively. Glottal stops occur rarely and inconsistently. Belizean Creole makes use of eleven vowels; nine monophthongs, three diphthongs and schwa IPA| [ə] . The most frequently occurring diphthong, IPA|/ai/ is used in all regional varieties. Both IPA|/au/ and IPA|/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.



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 past. Equally, it is not necessary to mark past tense overtly. The English past tense marker |IPA|d| indicates acrolectal speech. However, there is the possibility to mark preterite tense by putting the tense marker |IPA|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 preverbial marker |IPA|wa| or |IPA|a|. Unlike the marking of past tense, this marking is not optional.


The progressive aspect

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

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

The habitual aspect

Belizean Creole does not have a habitual aspect in its own right. Many other creoles have a general tendency to merge the habitual with completive, progressive or 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 preverbial markers, such as |IPA|mi|, |IPA|don| or |IPA|finiʂ|.

Mood and voice


The conditional mood is expressed through the conditional verbs |IPA|wuda|, |IPA|mi-wa|, and |IPA|mia|. The short version, |IPA|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 Belizean Creole. 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 Belizean Creole: |IPA|de|, |IPA|di|, and the absence of a marker. The equative form |IPA|di| is used as a copula (when the complement of the verb is either a noun or a noun phrase). |IPA|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. |IPA|di|, finally, is used in the progressive aspect.

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

A verb which is used extensively in each conversation is |IPA|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".

Noun usage

Plural formation

Plurals are usually formed in Kriol by inserting the obligatory postnomial marker |IPA|de|. Variations of this marker are |IPA|den| and |IPA|dem|. As decreolization is processing, the standard English plural ending |IPA|-s| occurs far more frequently. Sometimes, the |IPA|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:



Syntactic ordering

The construction of sentences in Belizean Creole 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 in many ways Standard English.


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

Together with the verb "look", however, |IPA|da| is not used and denoted as incorrect. To express "to look at", it is wrong to say "look dah". The correct version would be "look pon" or "look-at".

Noun plus pronoun

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


Adjectives are employed predicatively and attributively. They can be intensified either by the postposed adverb modifier |IPA|bad|, by iteration, or by the use of the adverb modifier |IPA|onli|. Iteration is here the usual way. Comparatives and superlatives are constructed according to morphosyntactic rules. A comparative is made by adding |IPA|-a| to the stem ("taal" - "taala" - tall). The morpheme |IPA|den| is employed to form comparative statements, f.i. "hî tɑlɑ dan shee" - He is taller than she. Superlatives are created b adding |IPA|-es| to the stem. In all cases, the use of the definite article |IPA|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 like they are in Standard English. In almost all cases, they do not differ from adjectives 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 Belizean Creole allows double negation, so that some conjunctions are used differently. Some examples for Belizean conjunctions are: "an" (and), "but" (but), "if" (if), "o:" (or) etc.

Questions usually take the same form in Belizean Creole 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 Belizean Creole. If the speaker means "which", he uses |IPA|witʂ|, but he can also use |IPA|witʂ wan| for "which one".


The tense/aspect system of Belizean Kriol is fundamentally unlike that of English. There are no morphological marked past tense forms corresponding to English -ed -t. There are 3 preverbial particles: 'mi' & '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.

According to Decker (1996), the progressive category is marked by IPA|/di~de/. He claims that IPA|/doz/ marks the progressive and that the habitual aspect is unmarked but by its accompaniment with verbs like 'always', 'usually’, etc (i.e. is absent as a grammatical category). Mufwene (1984) and Gibson and Levy (1984) propose a past-only habitual category marked by IPA|/juustu doz/ as in IPA|/weh wi juustu doz liv ih noh az koal az ya/ ('where we used to live is not as cold as here') [Harvcoltxt|Gibson|1988|p=199]

For the present tense, an uninflected verb combining with an iterative adverb marks habitual meaning as in IPA|/tam aalweiz noa entaim keiti tel pahn hii/ ('Tom always knows when Katy tells/has told about him'). [Harvcoltxt|Mufwene|1984|p=218 cited in Harvcoltxt|Gibson|1988|p=200]

*'mi' is a 'tense indicator'
*'di' is an 'aspect marker'
*'(w)a(n)', 'gwein', 'gouɲ') are used to indicate the future

*IPA|/Ai mi ɹon/
**I run (habitually); I ran
*IPA|/Ai di ɹon/
**I am running
*IPA|/Ai mi di ɹon/
**I was running
*IPA|/Ai mi ɹon/ "or" IPA|/Ai gaan ɹon/
**I have run; I had run
*IPA|/Ai gouɲ ɹon/, IPA|/Ai wa(n) ɹon/ "or" IPA|/Ai gwein ɹon/
**I am going to run; I will run

Like many other Caribbean Creoles IPA|/fi & fu/ has a number of functions, including: [Harvcoltxt|Winford|1985|p=589]
*Directional, dative, or benefactlve preposition
**IPA|/den di fait fu wii/ ('They are fighting for us') [Harvcoltxt|Bailey|1966|p=32]
*Genitive preposition (that is, marker of possession)
**IPA|/da buk da fu mii / ('that's my book')
*Modal auxiliary expressing obligation or futurity
**IPA|/hi fi kom op ja/ ('he ought to come up here')
*Pre-infinitive complementizer
**IPA|/unu hafu ker sontiŋ fu deŋ garifuna fi biit deŋ miuzik/ ('you (plural) have to contribute something to the Garifuna People for playing their music') [Harvcoltxt|Patrick|1995|p=244]

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).

*I = IPA|Ai (occasionally "Mii" in negations)
* me = IPA|mii (expection is "Ai", as in, "Mek ai tel yu")
* my, my, mines (possevive) = IPA|mi; mai; mainz
* you, you = IPA|ju
* your, yours = IPA|ju;jur;jurnz
*he, him = IPA|hi (pronounced as IPA|"i" in the basilect varieties)
*she, her = IPA|ʃi ((pronounced as IPA|"i". No gender distinction in basilect varieties)
*him, her = IPA|a (no gender distinction in basilect varieties)
*him = IPA|hii
*her = IPA|ʃii
*we, us = IPA|wi; wii
*us (3 or more)= IPA|alawii
*our, ours = IPA|fuwii ;wai ; wainz
*you (plural) = IPA|unu; alayu
*they, them = IPA|dehn; dem)
*those = IPA|dende


The question words found in Kriol are:

*What? = IPA|/Waat?; Wah?/
*Why? = IPA|/Wai?/
*Where? = IPA|/Weh?; Wehpaat?/
*Who? = IPA|/Huu?/
*Whose? = IPA|/Fihuu?/
*The supporting "That" = IPA|/Weh/


*the Kriol equative verb is also 'da'
**e.g. IPA|/Ai da di tiitʃa/ ('I am the teacher')

*Kriol has a separate locative verb 'deh'
**e.g.IPA|/wi deh da london/ "or" IPA|/wi de iina london/ ('we are in London')

*with true adjectives in Belizean Kriol, no copula is needed
**e.g. IPA|/Ai haadbak nau/ ('I am old now')


*IPA|/no/ is used as a present tense negator:
**IPA|/if wa kau neva noa hau i ku swalloh grass, i neva mia trai it/ ('If the cow didn't know that his throat was capable of swallowing grass, he wouldn't have tried it') [Harvcoltxt|Lawton|1984|p=126]
*IPA|/kiaa/ is used in the same way as English "can't"
**IPA|/hii da wa sikli lii tiŋ weh kiaa iiven maʃ wa ant/ ('He is a sickly thing that can't even mash an ant') [Harvcoltxt|Lawton|1984|p=125]
*IPA|/neva/ is a negative past participle. [Harvcoltxt|Irvine|2004|p=43-44]
**IPA|/dʒan neva tiif di moni/ ('John did not steal the money')

Example phrases

*Three men swam.
**IPA|/trii man mi di suim/
*I nearly hit him
**IPA|/Ai nayli baks ah/ [Harvcoltxt|Patrick|1995|p=248]
*He can't beat me, he simply got lucky and won.
**IPA|/ih kiaa biit mi, da loan fluks keʂ ah/ [Harvcoltxt|Hancock|1985|p=237]
*Those children are disobedient
**IPA|/dehn pikni de haad eiz/
*What are you doing?
**IPA|/we ju di du/
*IPA|/dig/ - Affirmative particle [Harvcoltxt|Patrick|1995|p=253]
*IPA|/papiˈʃo/ - Foolish exhibition, a person who makes a foolish exhibition of themself, or an exclamation of surprise. [Harvcoltxt|Hancock|1985|p=190]
* 'them' (also indicates plural when placed after a noun)
* 'that' (conjunction for relative clauses)
* 'this' (used before nouns)
* 'woman'
* 'boy'
* 'girl'
*My name is...: (mesolect) IPA|/Mai neim da...// or (basilect) IPA|/Ai neim...//
*What time is it? IPA|/Hau moch yu claak?// or IPA|/ (Da) Weh taim nau?//
*I don’t know: IPA|/Ai noh noa or Mii noh noa//
*What is it?: IPA|/(Da) weh dis?//
*Where am I?: IPA|/(Da) weh ai deh?//
*I don't understand : IPA|/Ai noh andastaan or Mii noh andastaan//
*Where's the bathroom?: IPA|/Weh di batruum deh?//
*What is your name?: (mesolect) IPA|/Waat da yu neim?//;(basilect) IPA|/Hau yu neim?//; IPA|/Weh yu neim?//

ee also

*Miskito Coastal Creole
*Jamaican Patois
*San Andrés-Providencia Creole
*Bocas del Toro Creole
*Colón Creole
*Rio Abajo Creole
*Limón Coastal Creole
*Guyanese Creole
*Languages of Belize


External links

* [ National Kriol Council of Belize]
* [ Belizean Journeys] , online magazine on Belize
* [ Belize Kriol English] on

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