One of the first things you’ll notice when you arrive on the beautiful island of Bermuda, is the unique way the locals speak.
English is Bermuda’s first language, but there are many different languages spoken by people all over the island. And this has helped shape the accent and informal aspect of the language.
As Bermuda is a draw for many big industries, many Bermudians will put on a formal accent to seem more professional. But outside the office or school, you’ll encounter something quite different—a relaxed and easygoing Bermuda accent and way of speaking that feels much more in tune with the laid-back lifestyle of these beautiful islands.
In this article you’ll learn a little about how the Bermuda accent and language developed, as well as some of the most useful terms to know.
The History of the Bermuda Language and Accent
The local Bermuda language is a regional dialect known as Bermudian English. It began to develop after settlers arrived in the early 17th century, and for this reason it still has some characteristics of Elizabethan English.
The Bermuda accent has a particular sound that you might find hard to place. It doesn’t quite sound American, Caribbean or British, although many of the island’s inhabitants are descended from settlers who arrived from these countries. Instead, it combines a lot of elements from each language.
This makes perfect sense when you know the history of Bermuda. It’s located near the Caribbean. It was discovered by the Spanish in 1503 and eventually settled by the British and Americans followed by the Portuguese and West Indians. Any accent would naturally begin to take on subtle characteristics from all the different influences.
Bermuda English is technically categorized as a form of American English, said to sound similar to the speech and accent of Virginia and South Carolina. But on some parts of the island, you’ll hear a Bermuda accent that is more like Caribbean English.
Characteristics of the Bermuda Accent
The most obvious thing you’ll notice about the Bermuda language is that it switches around letters that are similar.
The two most obvious ones are “v” and “w”, which was a feature of dialects in southern England in the past two centuries as well as modern-day language in the Bahamas and St Vincent. So instead of hearing “wonderful wine”, you’ll hear “vunderful vine”.
The same thing happens with “a” and “e” – here are some good examples:
- Everyone - arryone
- Effort - affert
- Expect - ax-pact
- Never - nawer
- Ten - tan
- Election - elackshun
- Reception - resapshun
- Everybody - arrybody
Another characteristic is that the “th” sound is often replaced with “f” instead. So you might hear something like this:
- Breathalizer - Breffalizer
- Deal with - deal wif
- Skin cloth - skin cloff
- Worthless - woffless
And there’s also the common replacement of “th” with “d” – sound you might hear “dis”, “den” or “dere” instead of this, then and there.
You’ll hear different kinds of vowels—someone might go up the “heel” instead of the hill.
Like any holiday destination, it’s useful to learn some of the common terms and phrases of Bermuda English before you visit. It can help smooth social situations and make life easier!
Here are 10 top words to get to know for your trip to Bermuda.
- Wopnin - This is short for “what’s happening”, and it’s a common greeting used all over the island.
- Jet - When you 'jet', you're going somewhere quickly.
- Ace Boy or Ace Girl - This would be your best friend.
- Chingas - You say this when you’re surprised or you want to say ‘wow’. “Chingas!”
- Black – Don’t order a rum & coke, order a ‘black’ & coke! This is short for Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, a popular island drink.
- Piggly – This is a grocery store, probably derived from the name of the American chain, Piggly Wiggly.
- Session - This is said to describe a party, celebration or drinking. “Out for a big session? Awesome!”
- Haff hot – Say this when you want your friends to know you’re tipsy. “Dis beer is making me haff hot.”
- Bailins Suit – This is what many Bermudians call their swim suit.
- Sers – This is the shortened, Bermudian way of saying ‘seriously’. “Sers, tho, Bermie is da best.”
Bonus: One last one you have to know is that most islanders call Bermuda, ‘Bermie’.
Other Languages on the Island
You’ll hear many different languages spoken in Bermuda. Naturally, there are countless tourists from all over the world, but the other two main languages spoken on the island are Portuguese and French. There is some Spanish too but it’s a distant fourth.
Many descendants of the original Portuguese immigrants still call Bermuda home, and they surprisingly make up around 25% of the islands’ total population. Portuguese is the official second language of Bermuda. It’s becoming more common to find official information such as customer forms, websites and signs in Portuguese, including in retail centers, banks and government offices.
French is also a common language, although the French population is much smaller than the Portuguese. There are only around 120 French citizens in Bermuda.
Unlike the Portuguese descendants, they are still treated as foreigners under the law and are not yet able to take Bermudan citizenship, vote, or buy real estate at the same price as the locals. However, the community thrives and there is a local organization called L’Alliance Française des Bermudes that was established in 1965. It promotes French culture and offers scholarships to students from Bermuda who are speak French and wish to visit the country to study.
Want to Know More?
The Bermuda accent is difficult to practice. Even ex-pats who’ve been living in Bermuda for years still struggle to get their mouth around it!