Bay Islands English
RegionBay Islands Department (Honduras)
Early forms
Latin (English alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Bay Islands English is an English variety spoken on the Bay Islands Department (Guanaja, Roatán, Utila), Honduras. Ethnologue reported that there were 22,500 native speakers in 2001.[1] Mainlanders know this language as Caracol, which literally means "conch". Genealogically this variety descends from Cayman Islands English.[2]


The NURSE vowel varies in quality in Bay Islands English. Roatan speakers usually realize it as either [ï] or [ʌ], as do Utilian speakers (although among them, the balance favors [ï] over [ʌ]). The dialect largely features the fern-fir-fur split. The FUR vowel is predominantly realized as [ʌ] by Roatan speakers. About 3/4 of male Utila speakers also realize it in this way, but about 5/6 of female Utila speakers realize it as either [ɛ̱] or [ï]. (Among them, [ɛ̱] is also the most common pronunciation for the FERN vowel, while [ï] is also the most common pronunciation for the FIR vowel.) Some Utila speakers also realize the FUR vowel as [ɔ], although pronouncing "turtle" as [tɔɹtil] is also common for Roatan speakers. The FERN vowel is the most varied of the three, as it has possible realizations like [ɔ(:)], [ɒ(:)], [ɑ(:)], [ʌ(:)], [ɛ(:)], [ɛ̱(:)], and [i(:)]. Approximately 12/18 Roatan speakers pronounce it as a low back vowel, while this is not the norm for Utilian speakers. Approximately 5/6 Utilian female speakers pronounce the FERN vowel as a front vowel, while only about 3/18 Roatan speakers pronounce it with a front vowel (in their case, it is never pronounced as [i]). Graham (1997) has noted that all speakers make a distinction between the vowel qualities in the words "learn" and "girl", while 26/28 speakers distinguish the vowel in "learn" from those in "third" and "bird". He has also theorized that the fern-fir-fur split in Bay Islands English is likely a result of influence from Scottish English, which also has this phenomenon, and neither RP nor GA having a strong dominant influence on the dialect's historical phonological development.[3]

Bay Islands English is generally rhotic. Most white speakers always pronounce it as /r/. It is often elided in post-vocalic, and especially in unstressed word-final position, among black speakers.[4]

Bay Islands English has poor distinction between the sounds [v] and [w]. The two sounds are often merged with each other (and sometimes, [b], resulting in a four-way whine-wine-vine-bine merger) or substituted in opposing positions. Graham cites the influence of the Twi language, which lacks /v/ in its phoneme inventory, and other West African languages with the same feature as a likely cause for this.[5] A similar process also occurs in Bermudian, Bahamian, Saban, Vincentian, and other Caribbean Englishes. However, it is also possible for these sounds ([w] and [β]) to be realized as variants of a single phoneme. Warantz also claims that [w] occurs categorically before /a/, /ʌ/, and /ə/ and variably with [β] in all other environments. However, the phonemic contrast in Bay Island English is generally neutralized in all environments, with possible realizations including [w], [v], [β], [ɥ], [ʋ], [b], and [ɞ].[6] Graham has judged [w̥][a] as the most common realization, and the usual realization of /v/ post-vocally. A word-final /v/ (as in have, live or love) is often raised through the influence of the following element, thus causing it to be realized as either [w̥][a] or a vowel with a [ɞ]-like quality. This results in intervocal sequences such as [ɐw̥], [ɛw̥], and [ɵw̥].[a] [w] can occur before both front and non-front values, and it is only unlikely to occur before [i] and [e]. [ɥ] can only occur before [i] and [ɪ]. [β] occurs before [ɪ], [e], and [ɛ]. [v] occurs in the same positions as in Standard English, but never where SE has [w]. Whenever [v] occurs intervocally or as the first element of a consonant cluster, it may be dropped altogether. This results in pronunciations such as [nɒ:r] (never), [hʌn] (having) and [pe:d] (paved). [b] is found sporadically among creole-influenced speakers.[8]


  1. ^ a b c In his document, Graham used w̥ to denote a labio-palatal/velar approximant, which has no IPA symbol.[7]


  1. ^ Lewis, M. Paul; Simmons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D. (2013). Ethnologue: Languages of Honduras (PDF). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. p. 10.
  2. ^ Warantz 1983, p. 71.
  3. ^ Graham 1997, p. 190-194.
  4. ^ Graham 2010, p. 102.
  5. ^ Graham 1997, p. 162.
  6. ^ Warantz 1983, p. 84.
  7. ^ Graham 1997, p. 164.
  8. ^ Graham 1997, p. 162-164.