Monday, 23 August 2010


I enjoyed the recent Society for Caribbean Linguistics biennial conference in Barbados.
Amongst other things, it offered plenty of opportunities to hear the locals talking. The Bajan (Barbadian) accent is rather easily distinguished from other kinds of Caribbean English. As I put it in AofE,
The most striking characteristics of Barbadian pronunciation, when compared with that of other parts of the West Indies, are full rhoticity, the use of a glottal allophone of /t/, and the quality of the PRICE vowel.

At first you might take Bajan nice nʌis for Canadian. But whereas the so-called Canadian Raising affects the PRICE vowel only in the context of a following fortis consonant (including a t that has undergone tapping/voicing, as in writer ˈrʌiɾɚ), Bajan PRICE is ʌi (or əi) in all phonetic contexts: child tʃʌil. Historically, it is presumably an archaism, a failure to lower the starting point rather than an innovation of raising it.
The Cockney-style glottal stop for t, on the other hand, seems to be an independent local innovation. I heard someone from a different part of the West Indies comment on the (to her) confusing way in which an announcement at the airport referred to flight AA 88 as ʔeː ʔeː ʔeːʔ ʔeːʔ.
Other West Indian accents are either non-rhotic or variably/partially rhotic. But the Bajans pronounce historical r in all positions. For English people, they sound a bit like people from the west of England. Combined with other features, this makes Bajan speech reminiscent of the popular stereotype of pirate talk.

I wonder why the name of the island, bɑːˈbeɪdɒs (or the like), is usually pronounced in BrE with a short vowel and voiceless fricative in the final syllable. In comparable words such as tornado, desperado, avocado, torpedo we pluralize in the usual way with z and retain long əʊ.

Unfortunately, IDEA hasn’t got any sound clips of Barbadian. Plenty of websites offer to tell you about Bajan dialect, including this one and this one. But none seem to have audio samples. Does anyone know where you can hear Bajan on-line? (You can, however, listen to local radio here.)


  1. Good to have you back.

    A quick trawl of online dictionaries gives the impression that AmE as well as BrE can have a short vowel and voiceless fricative in the final syllable: bɑːˈbeɪdəs, in addition to bɑːˈbeɪdəʊz, which does reflect the anglicized plural, and bɑːˈbeɪdəʊs, which like bɑːˈbeɪdɒs and bɑːˈbeɪdəs presumably reflects the Portuguese plural and/or the singular verb agreement. The sound files variously give bɑːˈbeɪdəʊs, bɑːˈbeɪdəʊz, and bɑːˈbeɪdəs for AmE, without of course much correspondence with the transcriptions given., based on the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, actually gives the alternative spelling Barbadoes. Does anyone know when it was singularized, or whether the Portuguese were still hissing their esses when the name was adopted into English?

    AmE pronunciations like this can cut both ways: while I was about it I checked whether there was any support for the pronunciation ˈkjuːdoʊz for kudos, which I heard in the American sitcom Frasier from Niles Crane, played by David Hyde Pierce, and which for me did not lend credibility to pretensions of literacy and culture. No plural etymology there! Well that and ˈkuːdoʊz are recognized in some dictionaries, and again as usual the sound files erratically recognize these pronunciations in others. Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary typically has /ˈkuː.dɑːs/ for US with ˈkuːdoʊz in the sound file.

  2. Sorry, my scissors-and-paste jobs on the dictionary IPA transcriptions meant I finished up with bɑːˈbeɪdəʊz etc for AmE instead of bɑːˈbeɪdoʊz etc. Not that I feel strongly about marking the vagaries of that particular difference between BrE and AmE pronunciations.

  3. Hmmm. I've just tried those radio stations (BTW, only one worked for me -- the Voice of Barbados) and my impression was that out of the four speakers I heard (two reading news and two in a LOOOOOONG ad) two had variable rhoticity. So what's the story?

    (I DO realise that it must have been Standard Barbados English rather than full-on Bajan but still.)

  4. Since the plural etymology of Barbados is not apparent to English speakers, could the analogy instead be with island names ending in -os like Mykonos and Samos?

  5. "Barbadoes" was indeed an earlier English spelling, doubtless reflecting an earlier perception of plurality — though just what is plural, or indeed just what is bearded, about the place is a matter of dispute. I don't think there's any necessity to account for the /s/ pronunciation by any supposed inheritance from earlier forms of Portuguese. Once the Portuguese spelling was established, the /s/ would follow in the usual way of English with foreign place names: pronounce as spelled. In any case the /r/ would always be pronounced in AmE, as in Burma and Myanmar. ("If you see it, say it; if not, not.")

    Kudos is indeed plural for some speakers, with singular kudo. Historically this is a back-formation, but none the worse for that: so are cherry and pea. As for the yod, that is the only pronunciation recorded by the OED2, though the OED3 will doubtless add the yodless pronunciation as well, as AHD4 and MWC11 have done.

  6. John C,

    I readily grant that I'm easily annoyed, but what annoys me about Kudos as a plural with singular kudo is that it is not in fact very historically a back-formation (OED gives 1941 J. SMILEY Hash House Lingo, and is not afraid to say that it comes of kudos being "erron. treated as pl."), and that I do feel it is the worse for that: cherry and pea are of venerable antiquity, and cerise and pease have acquired separate identities, which do not threaten the independent identities of cherry and pea, as pl. kudos does that of the original singular kudos (until the conversion of E spelling!) even if Greek is fair game these days.

    BTW one of the 1941-72 smattering of OED quotes for kudo looks like a mistake: "1972 Homes & Gardens Nov. 60 It seems almost a kudos to have a lady pilot."

  7. In any case the /r/ would always be pronounced in AmE, as in Burma and Myanmar. ("If you see it, say it; if not, not.")

    Similarities to the colloquial Burmese form 'Bama' notwithstanding, 'Burma' probably derives from a form that did include an /r/ sound. Compare other names used in European and Indian languages like Birmania, Birma, Barma, even Brahmadesh. Whatever the origin of 'Burma', it was probably not a rendering of 'Bama' by non-rhotic British colonizers as many people seem to assume.

  8. - all you'll ever need to know about dominoes. - lovely clip about rastafari in barbados

    Did you also find the 'Market Vendor'? -

    I am currently researching accents for a production of 'Elmina's Kitchen'...

    Had the wonderful luck at Brixton Station to chat for ages with a fella, who saw me eating a cake, and who, when offered a piece, told me 'Oi'm seventy foive, an' oi've never touched salt nor sugar' - he was quite surprised when he asked me where I thought he came from, and I immediately said 'Barbados'.

    I did not of course have the foresight to have any kind of recording equipment with me...

  9. I heard someone from a different part of the West Indies comment on the (to her) confusing way in which an announcement at the airport referred to flight AA 88 as ʔeː ʔeː ʔeːʔ ʔeːʔ.

    There's a freeway here in Northern California called the Interstate 880. It's often pronounced [ʔeɪʔ̚ ˈʔeɪɾi] by locals, especially younger ones.

  10. ʔeː ʔeː ʔeːʔ ʔeːʔ

    I just got a sore throat from trying to pronounce that. Prolly a good thing I never tried making it as a linguist.

  11. Re: hearing Bajan, perhaps we should listen to interviews with Rihanna? She's the only famous Barbadian I know of, although she might moderate her accent for her market.

  12. @Lazar Taxon
    err ... who?

  13. @Lazar Taxon: You have to remember who you're talking to. You can't expect people here to know who Rihanna is. I was thinking the same thing though. Good idea.

    I'm American and I've always said /bɑrˈbeɪdoʊs/, but I'm not sure about others. For me "kudos" is always /ˈkudoʊz/ and I've never heard it pronounced any other way here. /ˈkudɒs/ would sound quite odd to me and I (and others) would definitely make fun of anyone who pronounced it that way.

  14. Here's a white Barbadian man speaking (yes, they do exist). He says Barbados with a schwa in the last syllable. He also has no /r/ at the end of dinner right around here. However, you can hear that the /r/ is present right before that in your. It's interesting to hear that though.

  15. This link is better for hearing him say dinner. It starts a bit earlier so you can actually hear the context.

  16. I am posting in haste (and may repent at leisure), so please forgive me for any inadvertent duplication of the links posted above. As soon as I have the time, I plan to check on all links above. Meanwhile ...

    Speech Accent Archive has one sample:
    BBC Voices has some excellent clips of Barbadians and those of English people of Barbadian descent living in Reading, Berkshire:
    Perhaps the best-known export of Barbados (aside from rum and sugar) is Rihanna. Look for interviews with her on YouTube.
    Gi Mi a Break (amateur (?) Bajan comedy movie):
    Fudds Straker (Bajan comedian):
    Caribbean Comedy:
    Hear brief RealAudio excerpts from Alfred Pragnell’s CD Skylarkin’ (you can also order the CD):
    Voice of Barbados radio is at: Click on On Air > On Demand > Market Vendor (not all of the Market Vendor pages have audio) or on any sound link on the home page (not all of them work consistently).
    CBC Channel 8, a public broadcaster from Barbados, can be viewed online at: (you will need to register). You can also try
    BajanTube has many videos, only a few of which will be useful for speech study: The clips of Dr. David Estwick (, of the Democratic Labour Party give ample scope for accent analysis, whether or not you agree with any of his political views, and the trailer for the film Holding On ( gives samples of several variations in accent (there’s at least one Londoner in there, too).
    Doan Mind Me, a blog by a Bajan in Toronto, has many posts written in dialect:
    For an audio overview of Caribbean Englishes, see BBC’s The Routes of English, “The Hurricane Speaks”: The fourth sample compares Barbadian with Jamaican, and speaker on the fifth sample is from Barbadian-born poet Edward Kanu Braithwaite.

  17. mallamb: I suppose by historical I mean 'older than me'. But I don't see why the mid-19th century (which introduced the word) should be specially privileged over the mid-20th (which added a new count-noun sense to the earlier mass-noun one). And though the OED uses erroneous to describe the pluralization of kudos, it likewise uses mistaken to describe the pluralization of cheris(e); what begins as an error or mistake does not always remain so.

    Wikipedia lists some interesting back-formed singulars: termite for termes, phase for phasis, and syringe for syrinx (which also survives in a different sense, with plural syringes or syrinxes).

  18. John Cowan says '"Barbadoes" was indeed an earlier English spelling'. Last January, I stayed on holiday in Barbadoes Street, Christchurch, New Zealand.

  19. John C,
    though the OED uses erroneous to describe the pluralization of kudos, it likewise uses mistaken to describe the pluralization of cheris(e)

    Thanks for getting back on this, and for the Wiki reference.

    The OED says " Sometimes erron. treated as pl." of present usage, and would no doubt be deeply shocked at the suggestion that in its etymology of 'cherry' it uses 'mistaken' likewise: it says " it was probably derived from ONF. cherise (still used in Northern France), inferred to have given an early ME. cherise, cheris, which was subseq. mistaken for a plural in -s, and a singular cheri educed from it." The mistaking and the eduction were part of the early evolution of ME, not like the synchronic phenomena which even Wiki agrees 'kudos' as plural and 'kudo' as singular are: "kudo is considered an error".

    Wiki's example 'biceps' as plural with singular 'bicep' is beneath the notice of the OED. I do sympathize, but I would guess it is more common than kudo!

    Ethos are as ethos do, and I submit that eschewal of such solecisms is more appropriate to the etho of this blog.

  20. While searching for samples for a student, we found the following two sources:

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