Monthly Archives: June 2013

Ethnic change, language shift, and Belize

Posted by dianamuir on June 05, 2013
Ethnic change, Language shift / Comments Off on Ethnic change, language shift, and Belize


Belize is a small, Central American country that has its origins in a seventeenth-century English, pirate base. The settlement survived and in the eighteenth century grew into a small, English-speaking, self-governing unit capable of defending itself from Spanish military assault but not recognized by any government.   The economy was based on the use of slave labor to cut and export mahogany and logwood, a tree used for dye.   It formally became a British colony, British Honduras, in 1862 and was given independence in 1981.   Over the centuries Belize developed a complex ethnic mix, including descendants of the Mayan Amerindian people, descendants of the indigenous Garifuna, but the majority were part of a uniquely Belizean creole blend of descendants of all of the people who had immigrated to this small place, whether as slaves, slave owners, or workers, who spoke a unique creole language (Kriol).   Education, publishing and government, however were carried out in English.  In recent decades, this creole and English speaking culture has been undergoing rapid change as waves of Spanish-speaking immigrants called mestizos and regarded as of mixed Hispanic and indigenous descent, have arrived from El Salvador and Guatemala.   Some came fleeing war, others seeking land and jobs, but the overall impact has been to rapidly change Belize to a country where the majority of the population are native Spanish-speakers, and Spanish has become the dominant language.