The official language of the U.S Virgin Islands is American English. British Virgin Islands uses the Queen’s English. But that’s not what you’ll hear on the street. Native born citizens of the islands speak Virgin Islands Creole, known locally as “dialect,” incomprehensible to you and me.
To linguists, it’s not really an English dialect, it’s a different language. When enslaved Africans from different regions were thrown together in a colony dominated by English speakers they communicated using a pidgin English with African words and language structure.
Pidgin is a simplified manner of communication, developed by groups that have no common language. It’s not the first language of anyone, but a second language established out of necessity. The term may have originated from a Chinese pronunciation of the English word “business.”
In the case of Virgin Islands Creole, the new form of communication was passed on to the next generation as a creole language. In different parts of the Caribbean, Dutch is the base language of the creole. Today, Virgin Islands Creole is evolving, incorporating African-American and Jamaican influences that arrive via pop culture. Native speakers can shift easily from “dialect” when chatting with their friends to English when they want to transact business or communicate with the tourists.
It’s possible to pick up a bit of the meaning of a conversation in dialect, but be careful, it may be considered inappropriate for an outsider to try to speak it. If you’re headed to the islands, take a look at http://www.islandmix.com/backchat/f6/island-creole-dialect-143214/ for a word list that will give you the flavor of “dialect.” (Even some “bad words” which I won’t list here.)
I’s = I am
you’s = you are
all ah we = all of us
heh = here
deh = there (Sometimes an extra deh is added to make the term “deh deh.”)
dat = that
ting = thing
dem = them (Can be used after any noun to make it plural.)
wha pa he/she/you deh? = where is he/she? Where are you?
tek = take
geh = get or have
geh from heh = go away
mek = make
nah = no
vex = upset
mehson = literally “my son,” but used as an exclamation at the beginning or end of a sentence, something like “oh man!”
yuh chek? = you know, frequently used at the end of a sentence
wuk up = to dance
rample = mess up
This is a Test: Can you translate, “Don rample de bed I mek up, mehson!”