The Dutch Language Is Deeply Rooted in Guyana
When you hear talking about Guyana, you don't immediately think of Dutch. However, there are still numerous historical references to the Dutch language there. In addition, a Dutch language course also offers opportunities and perspectives for the inhabitants in the present time.
What area do we mean when we talk about Guyana? Guyana is on the one hand a neighbouring country of Suriname, but at the same time we mean by the name Guyana the geographical area from the river Orinoco in the east to the Amazon rainforest in the south. Part of Venezuela is located in this region, as are the countries of Guyana, Suriname, French Guyana, and part of Brazil. Guyana is therefore not only a country but also the geographical indication of the north of South America. In the region of Guyana several languages are spoken. Each country within the region has its own official language: Spanish, English, Dutch, French and Portuguese. The language shows who was the final, last colonizer in which area.
Fort Zeelandia in Guyana © Rusty Travel Trunk
Dutch influences in English
In the country that is now called Guyana, English is currently the official national language. However, local variants of English-Creole are the most widely spoken. Dutch language influences are still visible in the streetscape. From 1616 to 1812, Guyana was a Dutch colony, which can be heard in the names of streets (Vlissengen Road), the names of people such as Amsterdam, De Haan, Deweever, Holland, Meertens and Westmaas, of forts (Fort Zeelandia, Fort Kyk-over-al) and the names of villages such as Goed Fortuin, Goedland, Goed Raad, Herstel, Nootenzuil, Ruimveldt and Schoon Ord. Before 1812 the capital Georgetown was called Stabroek, named after the then head of the West India Company. There is still the Stabroek Market and the newspaper Stabroek News.
Dutch as a foreign language
In the Guyanese schools Spanish, French and Portuguese are taught as foreign languages. Dutch can be learned in Guyana at the International Language Institute and The Language Institute. Both are private institutions in the capital Georgetown. Most Dutch students are adults. They usually have two reasons for learning Dutch. The first is because of contacts with Suriname and Surinamese. The second reason is to be able to participate in the integration test to live and work in the Netherlands or in the Caribbean Netherlands. The students at both institutes are mostly staff members of embassies, regional and international organisations, government or private sector. The course material is based on the European frame of reference.
This story was previously published in Dutch on the website of the Dutch Language Union.