[Video of last speaker of Berbice Dutch, Bertha Bell, interviewed by linguist Hubert Devonish of UWI-Mona.]
According to an article in the March issue of the Dutch edition of National Geographic, Berbice Dutch, a Dutch Creole spoken in part of Guyana, has been declared officially extinct. Berbice Dutch was spoken in plantations along the Berbice River, a part of Guyana which was once a private colony founded by a Dutch planter from Zeeland.
Berbice Dutch is a mixture of the Zeeland dialect of Dutch, the local Arawak Indian language, and Ijo, which was spoken by slaves from Nigeria. The Jamaica Language Unit of the University of the West Indies-Mona explains that one-third of the basic words in Berbice Dutch Creole, including words for “eat,” “know,” “speak,” are of Ijo origin. The last speakers of this language were found in the 1970s by Ian Robertson, living on the upper reaches of the Berbice River in and around the area of the Wiruni Creek. The last known Berbice Dutch Creole speaker was Bertha Bell, who was 103 years old when last interviewed by Ian Robertson and a UWI linguistics research team in March, 2004. She died in 2005.
A wide variety of Dutch creoles once existed around the globe. They included Albany Dutch, Jersey Dutch, and Mohawk Dutch in North America, Berbice and Skepi Dutch in South America, Cape Dutch in South Africa, Ceylon Dutch in Sri Lanka, and Javindo in Indonesia. Papiamento in the Netherlands Antilles and Sranan Tongo in Surinam remain as widely used and dynamic languages.