The Segmental Info System
Language barriers represent one of the most distinct divides that separate the cultures and people of different places. Luckily, visitors from North America and the United Kingdom should not find themselves lost in translation while on vacation in Dominica.
Dominica was under some form of British governance from 1805 until 1978 when it gained full independence of its internal and external affairs. As a result of this long association, the official language of Dominica is English, making the island especially inviting for travelers coming from English-speaking regions. Business transactions and friendly exchanges of pleasantries that are made difficult by language barriers will not be a problem for English speakers. A common language also gives vacationers the opportunity to talk to local residents and discover more of the unique culture and history of the island.
In the years prior to 1805, both the English and the French wrestled for control of this mountainous island. Although the French eventually relinquished the island to the English, traces of French, African, and other local cultures are found in the other widely spoken language in Dominica: Creole. Their language is a unique patois mixed with Caribe, French, and African vocabulary and grammatical rules. The word "creole" itself comes from cross-cultural roots. Criollo in Spanish and Kriolo in Senegal, this word is "Kwéyòl" in the Dominican's own patois, or "patwa," as it's called locally. This particular creole is one of the French West Indies.
The following is a list of several Creole phrases that travelers may hear or use during their trip to Dominica:
Sa ki non'w? (What is your name?)
Non mwen sé ___. (My name is ____.)
Bon jou. (Good day.)
Bonn apwé midi. (Good afternoon.)
Bon swé. (Good night.)
Lapli ka tonbé. (It is raining.)
Kokoy is another creole language. This, however, was imported by immigrants from Antigua and Montserrat in the 19th century. Vacationers will find this language spoken by the people of Dominica's northeast. This language is particularly common in Marigot, Woodford Hill, Clifton, Roger, and the communities of Zicak and Glanvillia in Portsmouth.
Because this patois came from other islands, it is not the same Kwéyòl, and vacationers should be aware of the linguistic differences. Though both are linguistic mixtures, they may not use all of the same phrases. Kokoy is an English-based creole and Kwéyòl is French-based.
Surprising though it may seem, speakers of both Kwéyòl and Kokoy have fought against discrimination. English is the island's official language, and these two cultural forms were seen as less refined. Instead they were thought to be the language of the uneducated and illiterate. However, recent years have seen a leap in the respect offered to these languages. Kokoy in particular offers a great deal to the Carnival celebrations, as its patterns are the basis for many chants.
With English as the official language, English-speaking travelers can rest assured that they can always ask for help or information from the residents of Dominica.
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