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Kriol-English Dictionary Celebrated in Belize

Sir Colville Young, Governor General of Belize

Sir Colville Young, Governor General of Belize

(October 2007) About 300 guests attended the official unveiling of the Kriol-Inglish Dikshineri held on the grounds of the House of Culture in Belize City on 31 October. The dictionary’s debut highlighted the partnership between Ministry officials, The National Kriol Council and SIL linguists.

Sir Colville Young, Governor General of Belize, wrote the dictionary's Foreword. He was honored at this historic event for his vision for the development of the Kriol language.

The Honorable Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education of Belize

The Honorable Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education of Belize

The Honorable Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education of Belize, also addressed the gathering, and provided each school, library and media house a complimentary copy. The day’s celebration included Kriol music and dances. Local radio and television news programs featured the book’s inauguration.

This new dictionary provides an authoritative, affordable reference guide to Kriol—the language spoken by the majority in Belize. It is a bilingual dictionary since English is the official language of Belize.

The Ministry of Education and the National Institute of Culture and History funded the printing of 1,000 copies of the 465 page dictionary, designed the cover and also hosted the unveiling celebrations.

Belizeans and Creole-speakers throughout the Caribbean take pride in their culture and language. In recent years more people have attempted to write down their thoughts, stories and poems in Kriol as well as read what others have written. It had become increasingly evident that the English writing system alone did not serve the purpose, and a more standardized system of writing Kriol was needed.

Film crews from local TV stations film Sambai Dancers who are students from Queen's Square Primary School.

Film crews from local TV stations film Sambai Dancers who are students from Queen's Square Primary School.

A brief history of the Kriol-English Dictionary

Dr. Colville Young, who was then president of the University of Belize, along with other Belizeans desiring Kriol language development, requested assistance from SIL linguists starting in 1993. In 1994 a Kriol orthography development workshop was held in Belize City. Participants were those who had been actively writing in Kriol, as well as representatives from community organizations, churches and educational institutions. They developed a set of spelling rules based partially on the English system of writing and partially on phonemics.

The National Kriol Council, a non-profit organization, was formed in 1995. Members believe that appreciation of, and literacy in, one’s mother tongue is essential for self-enrichment and expression of identity. The Council is committed to the preservation of Kriol culture. It is committed to giving the opportunity to read and write to everyone whose first language is Kriol, as well as to others interested in Kriol. It is committed to producing literature and to conduct training in the rich Kriol language. The Belize Kriol Project was formed as the language-development arm of the Council. In 1997 the Kriol Project produced a glossary and spelling guide.

In 2002 the Kriol Project called together a committee to revise the writing system to a completely phonological orthography, similar to those used by many other languages—a system based on sounds rather than rules. One important advantage of this system is that knowledge of English spelling rules is not required in order to write Belize Kriol. Another is that variants in regional and generational speech can be represented.

When literature was produced to test the new orthography and people began learning to use it, there was an urgent need for a dictionary. The Song of Kriol: A Grammar of the Kriol Language of Belize was published in 2006 as a collaborative effort of Belizeans and an SIL linguist. SIL linguists work alongside Council members to help Belizeans expand the body of Kriol literature.

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