More than 14 languages in Suriname!

By: Tania van Velthuizen

May 2019

Suriname is very rich in various cultures. About 500,000 people live in the smallest independent country in South America and speak more than 14 individual languages. Unique or not? 

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Which language is spoken in Suriname?

Suriname is the only Dutch-speaking country in South America as well as the only independent nation in the Americas where Dutch is spoken by a majority of the population. Suriname is also one of the two non-Romance-speaking countries in South America, the other being English-speaking Guyana.

Suriname is home to several ethnic groups who brought their culture, including their language therefore now a diversity of languages is spoken in the country. In Suriname, Dutch is the official language. Spoken by government agencies, taught in schools, spoken at other official offices, and recognized by law as the country’s official language.

Surinamese Dutch Dictionary

Suriname became an associate member of the Dutch Language Union in 2004. With the publication in 2009 of the Woordenboek Surinaams Nederlands (Surinamese-Dutch Dictionary) the Surinaams-Nederlands (Surinamese-Dutch) was recognized as a national dialect

The history of  Sranan, a language of Suriname

Sranan Tongo language is considered by linguists as a fusion of the languages spoken between the 16th and 20th centuries in Suriname, which included Dutch, Portuguese, English, and African. It is also sometimes called Taki-Taki, is the native language of Creoles and much of the younger population and is lingua franca among others.

The Taki Taki or Sranang is to be known as an emotional language and usually spoken by grow-ups entering the country (street language). Although this language is not taught in schools, the Surinamese government established an official spelling for the language to aid in its written format in July 1981. While the use of Sranan Tongo is discouraged and suppressed by the Suriname education system, Henri Frans de Ziel, who is credited for composing the Surinamese national anthem, wrote the second verse of the national anthem in Sranan Tongo.

What other languages are spoken in Suriname?

 

Every Surinamese speaks more than 1 language! At home, they speak their own cultural language and at school, dutch is learned. Sranang is the street language and spoken by almost every Surinamese. As sad earlier Suriname is home to several cultural groups from all over the world. The list underneath will give you information about the languages that are spoken in Suriname beside Dutch and Sranang.

  • The Native people of Suriname, known as  Indigenous or Amerindians have their own cultural languages such as Lokono/Arowak, Warau, and Carib.
  • Africans brought to Suriname by the Dutch also develop their own languages depending on the plantation-owner main language. Because of the bad situations on the plantations, they escaped and formed their own communities in the interior of Suriname. These resourceful ‘Maroons’ not only survived but thrived and established their own unique culture and language. The 5 ‘Maroon’ groups in Suriname are; Saramaccans, Paramaccans, Aucaners, Kwintis, and Matawai.
  • Caribbean Hindustani (a dialect of Hindi),
  • Javanese,
  • Portuguese,
  • Spanish,
  • Korean,
  • North Levantine spoke Arabic, 
  • Mandarin is spoken by the Chinese,
  • and English is also widely spoken and even small children understand English because of the fact that most movies are in English.

Surinamese welcomes all nationalities to there beloved country, you will feel at home ones you settle down!

 

To get a feeling about a Surinamese language, listen to this song about the fact that ‘you know where you are going in life and where you’re from’ by Byciel Watsaam (my favorite Aucaans singer).

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Tania van Velthuizen is the owner of Pejego Tours. She was born and raised in Suriname. She studied Surinamese law and loves to travel. Before going to Europe, she worked at the Ministry of Regional Development, so she visited every bit of the Amazon rainforest. At the time, she fell in love with everything it had to offer, including the Amerindians and the Maroons, the fauna and flora. She also wrote a book on the land rights of Indigenous people and the descendants of the Maroons.

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