Language Attitudes and How They Inform Our Understanding of Regional and National Identities in the English-Official West Indies

The social, political, and linguistic situations in Barbados specifically and the English-official West Indies generally are marked by the legacy of hundreds of years of colonial rule and the implementation of chattel slavery that continues to affect the institutions and individuals of the Caribbean to this day. The flags of colonizers remain in many parts of the Caribbean, and their covert presence is still felt on islands that have won independence. Regional institutions like the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), as described by their Mission and Core Values, aim in part to “affirm the collective identity and facilitate social cohesion of the people of the Community”. Though Caribbean nations and territories share some similarities, a sense of regional cohesion and unity is a relatively recent concept and is a so-called postcolonial solution informed by a colonial past and present. The English-official West Indies includes a wildly diverse group of peoples, cultures, social statuses, and language varieties. By using language attitudes towards speakers from diverse groups in the region, derived from surveys and interviews at the multinational campus of the University of the West Indies Cave Hill in Barbados, I hope to describe how Barbadian university students use language to reflect on the sense of regional vs. national identity and whether or not the “social cohesion” promoted by CARICOM manifests itself in language attitudes.

“Colonialism and imperialism have not paid their score when they withdraw their flags and their police forces from our territories. For centuries the capitalists have behaved in the underdeveloped world like nothing more than war criminals.”

-Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 1961


  1. This is a fascinating topic! Made even more so by the current trend of rising nationalism. I’m not sure if you are aware of Laurent Dubois’ A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787–1804. It examines exactly the questions you are asking in a different time and place. Dubois finds that enslaved people on the island of Guadalupe used the revolutionary rhetoric of their colonizers to argue for their own life, liberty, and fraternity. It might be worth a skim if only for context.