In this month in 2003, Aruba declared Papiamento—the most widely-spoken language on the Dutch Caribbean ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao—its official language. Papiamento and Dutch now reign as the country’s official languages to address government officials and institutions.
In celebration, Aruba’s Culture Department has deemed 2013 the “Year of Papiamento.”
While Papiamento has been Aruba’s official language for 10 years, it has been the island’s native tongue for more than 300 years. Papiamento is a creole language, emerging from nearby languages and constantly evolving over the past three centuries. Nearby languages such as Venezuelan Spanish and American English influence the language today. The very word “Papiamento,” meaning “to chat,” stems from Portuguese and Spanish.
“Papiamento is a young language,” Aruban linguist Ramon Todd Dandare explains, “And like all languages it is developing and changing.”
Papiamento is spoken on all three of the Dutch Caribbean ABC islands, although there are variations in dialect from island to island.
“I can hear right away if someone is from Bonaire or Curacao—there is a slight difference,” Dandare says. “Just as in the United States, there are different accents from region to region.”
Aruba is part of the Dutch Kingdom and therefore its governmental, legal and educational systems have historically favored the Dutch language. Although 70 percent of the local population speaks Papiamento, all official written documents were worded in Dutch for 350 years. Until recently, all official school exams and classroom instruction have been given exclusively in Dutch. A new pilot project has begun for the 2012—2013 academic year, coinciding with the Year of Papiamento, called “Multilingual School,” in which students are instructed in Papiamento and gradually introduced to Dutch, English and Spanish.
Establishing Papiamento as Aruba’s official language has helped to stimulate its use alongside Dutch in official settings. The language’s official 10-year anniversary is a triumph for natives hoping to preserve and improve their mother tongue.
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