Echoes of Berbice Dutch Creole – by Dmitri Allicock + video

Albertha Bell

Albertha Bell



103 years old Albertha Bell, the Last Speaker of Berbice Dutch Creole, interviewed by Jamiekan Langwij Yuunit in 2004.

Echoes of Berbice Dutch Creole

By Dmitri Allicock

“Language reflects our thoughts and knowledge is lost when it becomes extinct”

Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America, but English has been the official language for much less than the 232 years when Dutch was the main medium of communication. The actual words spoken by most Guyanese is an English base creole that is very elastic to various regions and has slight historical influences from Dutch, West African, Arawakan, and to a lesser extent Indian Languages. Berbice Dutch Creole was a language developed by the slaves on the plantation of Berbice that survived the passage of time and only recently was considered officially extinct by international language database Ethnologue.  

Read more: Echoes of Berbice Dutch Creole..

Berbice Dutch Creole  – video

Uploaded on Jul 22, 2010 – Dote Te: Requiem for a Language is a short study of the woman who, in 2005, was the last known speaker of Berbice Dutch Creole. This language used to be widely spoken in the former Dutch colony of Berbice, part of what is now Guyana. Albertha Bell (d. 2005) was 103 years old when interviewed by Ian Robertson and a UWI linguistics research team in March 2004. As he called the names of those people who used to speak the language, she replied with dirge like monotony, ‘Dote te’ — ‘Dead’, hence the title, Requiem for a Language. This video is approximately nine and a half minutes (9:58) long . The narrative incorrectly states that ‘dote’ meaning ‘dead’ is of Eastern Ijo origin. According to Silvia Kouwenberg, an expert on this language, it originates from the Dutch word ‘doto’.

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  • deokie  On March 17, 2014 at 10:15 am

    An excellent post – very interesting information.

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On March 17, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Thanks for that historical gem, Dmitri. I had no previous knowledge of Berbice Dutch Creole.

  • Dmitri Allicock  On March 18, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Thanks guys

  • Leighton Waterman  On March 21, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Very good. Many thanks Dmitri.

  • Dmitri Allicock  On March 26, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    You are welcome Leighton.

  • Henry Horton  On March 27, 2014 at 1:42 am

    The word for :death” in Dutch is “Dood”. I am sure that no Dutch linguist would state otherwise. The word “Dote” is obviously the Guyanese Creole linguistic interpretation interpretation.

  • francis jackson  On March 28, 2014 at 1:51 am

    why did we wait so long to discover this gem in our midst – very interesting, I would have loved to see and hear more about her before she made it to age 104. Thank god the researchers who found her.

  • Dmitri Allicock  On March 28, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Thank you for your comments Francis

  • Jabnaki  On April 5, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    There are more records of the last speakers, but it will take some time till they can be published, because the records have to be digitalised first.

  • Jabnaki  On April 5, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    I forgot to mention that I can speak Berbice Dutch. I am learning it with Silvia Kouwenberg’s grammar. It isn’t very difficult, but because I have to learn alone it is going on quite slowly. Still I like Berbice Dutch very much.

  • Hubert Hintzen  On July 13, 2014 at 1:05 am

    I am quite sure there are still other people who speak Berbice Dutch. My Dad and my uncles spoke it, as well as my grandparents. If one check areas in Berbice, such as Union Village (Corentyne), there is a small village up the Canje River and I can’t remember the name, as well as a small area in No. 19 Village. Check also a village at the end of the road on East Bank, Berbice River, then last also check Ithaca Village, West Bank Berbice.

  • Jabnaki  On August 15, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    At least one woman, mentioned in the Grammar, should still be alive, but she only learnt Berbice Dutch a little bit when she was younger. Will you please ask around a bit? Last week a boy who is a very quick language learner told me he will learn it too. He already started. I posted a big word list on my blog for him, but anybody can take a look.

  • Dmitri Allicock  On August 23, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Awesome guys!

  • Jabnaki  On August 24, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    I am excited about that.

  • Jabnaki  On August 25, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    There was also a Dutch creole in Essequibo. Maybe somebody speaks that too.

  • Dmitri Allicock  On August 27, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Yes Jabnaki, it called Skepi Creole

  • Jabnaki  On September 1, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    If somebody would like to learn Berbice Dutch along I would help. It is rather easy, but I don’t know everything. If youse remember Berbice Creole or Skepi Creole words please tell me.

  • Jabnaki  On June 5, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    On another WordPress site where this video is shown somebody remembers Berbice Dutch words. But I cannot contact this person.

  • Jabnaki  On June 27, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    The Berbice Dutch chat can be entered with the following link. You have to type ##berbice-dutch where it says ‘Channels’.

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