Is Kriol a Language?

Many people feel that Kriol is a dialect. A dialect is generally considered as a variation of some other language. There is often the implied implication that a dialect is less prestigious than the language of which it is a dialect. There are many ways to define a language; our concern here being whether Kriol is a dialect, and if a dialect, then a dialect of what. A linguistic definition of a language is a form of speech used by a group of people with a unique set of vocabulary combined in uniform patterns (syntax) to convey meaning (semantics).

A political definition says that a language is a dialect with an army behind it. Theoretically, if the government of Belize decided that Kriol would become the national language of Belize, then Kriol suddenly becomes a language. But nothing has changed with the way Kriol is spoken. (We do not support the idea that Kriol should become the national language of Belize.)

Some people feel that a language is a dialect with a body of literature. Belize Kriol is beginning to have a few items written in Kriol. How large of a body of literature will be necessary to meet this definition? No one knows.

Some people feel that a language is spoken by a large group of people multi-nationally, a dialect is only regional. By this definition Kriol would qualify as a language because there are speakers of Belize Kriol living in the United States and England, as well as Belize and elsewhere. There are also other varieties of Creole spoken in nearby countries, such as Nicaragua and Colombia, that are extremely similar to what is spoken in Belize. Other similar Creole varieties are spoken around the Caribbean and this group could be considered as a community of millions of speakers.

Some people say that Kriol doesn’t have a grammar, so it can’t be a language. Kriol has a uniform grammar, and it is different from English in many ways.

Some people feel that because Kriol has so many words similar to English, then it must be a dialect of English. However, there are other languages that have greater similarity than English and Kriol, for example Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, Spanish and Portuguese, and no one considers them dialects of each other. And a language is more than just the words that are used; the sounds used in the words, the meanings of words, and the grammars of Kriol and English are different.