• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Dokkio Sidebar (from the makers of PBworks) is a Chrome extension that eliminates the need for endless browser tabs. You can search all your online stuff without any extra effort. And Sidebar was #1 on Product Hunt! Check out what people are saying by clicking here.



Page history last edited by Franz Sledge 13 years, 10 months ago


Don't Worry


A detailed description of any language's pronunciation is going to seem long and complicated at first glance. Don't worry. If you make an effort, you will be able to learn the pronunciation. (Unless you have a chance to practice every day, you might not be able to masquerade as a native speaker, but that's okay.) Relax!


You will get better results by carefully listening to spoken Papiamentu and imitating what you hear, rather than relying on a written description. Check the Links page to find sources of audio and video files that you can stream or download. The best results would come from conversing or taking lessons with a native speaker.



The Overall Sound


In general Papiamentu sounds a lot like Spanish. If you have studied Spanish or any of its relatives in the past, most of the vowels and consonants in Papiamentu will already be familiar to you. However, there will be a few surprises.



Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao


Aruba uses a very Spanish-like spelling system. Curaçao and Bonaire have officially adopted a more "phonetic" spelling system in which the /k/ sound is always represented by the letter k and the /s/ sound is always represented by the letter s. The description below pertains to the Curaçao orthography.







ch in Papiamentu sounds like the ch in the English word chip


dj in Papiamentu sounds like the letter j in the English words juice and jam


sh in Papiamentu sounds the same as it does in the English word ship


zj in Papiamentu sounds like the j in the French word bonjour and the z in the English word azure


regular consonants


b, f, k, and m have the same sounds in Papiamentu as in English.


d as in English. In Papiamentu, d is sometimes devoiced (in other words, it may sound like t) at the end of a word.


g : There are 3 rules for pronouncing this letter.

1) Before a, l, o, ò, r and u, g is pronounced as in the English word go.

2) When it occurs before e, è, or i, the letter g is pronounced with a "guttural" sound like the ch in the German word achtung and the ch in the Scottish word loch.

3) In the letter combinations gue and gui, the u is silent but it indicates that the g is pronounced as in the English words guest and guide.


h as in the English words heat and hop.


l is similar to the l in English lamp and light.


n as in English. At the end of a word, Papiamentu's n is often pronounced like the ng in the English word sing.  The Papiamentu word tin rhymes with the English word sing.


ñ is like the ny in the English word canyon and the ni in onion.


p approximately the same as in English, but "less explosive" according to Goilo, which probably means less aspirated or not aspirated.


r : r is most often pronounced as an alveolar trill or tap (resulting from Spanish/Portuguese influence). I think I have heard Dutch-speakers pronouncing it or as an uvular trill or fricative [confirmation needed]


s as in the English word sassy.


t is similar to the t in English taught but the exact place of articulation might be different, and Papiamentu's t might not be aspirated. [more information needed]


v : There are 3 rules for pronouncing this letter.

1) v sounds like English f in some words of Dutch origin.

2) v sounds like English v in words of English origin.

3) In words of Spanish origin, Goilo says v can sound like the "soft Spanish b" (a voiced bilabial fricative consonant in which the lips come close but don't actually touch). [confirmation needed]


w as in the English word water.


y as in the English words yoyo and yard.


z as in the English word zone.


retired consonants


The letter Q is not generally used in writing the Curaçao dialect of Papiamentu.


Except when it's part of the digraph "ch," the letter C is also not generally used.


Words that used to be spelled with X have been respelled with "ks" in the official Curaçao orthography: exacto has become eksakto.


You may occasionally see these "retired" letters in proper nouns (such as people's names or the names of countries), in older texts, in other dialects of Papiamentu, in loanwords from English or Spanish, etc. 






illustration: Papiamentu vowels arranged in the chart format that is popular with linguists.


a in Papiamentu sounds similar to the a in Spanish padre or the a in English father


e in Papiamentu is like the e in Spanish mesa, Dutch heer; this is like a purer version of the vowel in the English word they (without the glide towards an "ee as in free" sound). 


i in Papiamentu usually sounds like the i in the English words ski, police and machine. In a few words of Dutch or English origin it sounds like the i in the English words stick and tin. Sometimes i is like the y in English yawn and yet; this occurs in piesa and sabio which are both two-syllable words.


in Papiamentu sounds like o in Spanish and Italian; similar to the o in the English word note but purer. 


u in Papiamentu usually sounds like the u in the English word truth. When followed by another vowel, u is usually pronounced like the English letter w; this occurs in words like kuadra, kuenta, kuido. 


ü (the letter u with two dots above it) in Papiamentu is pronounced like the ü in German. This vowel does not exist in English. You can approximate it by pronouncing the "ee" vowel of the English word "free" while rounding your lips into a circular pucker as if you were going to kiss someone. This vowel only occurs in a few Papiamentu words; notable examples are hür (to rent or lease something) and minüt (a minute).


the vowels with grave accents (`)


The grave accent mark does not indicate stress or tone; it indicates a completely different vowel-sound (phoneme) for the letter in question.


è (the letter e with a grave accent) represents the vowel that occurs in the English words bed and stem. Papiamentu words containing this vowel include pèn (pen), ènkel (ankle), sèntwich (sandwich).


ò (the letter o with a grave accent) represents the vowel that occurs in the Dutch word kok. This vowel is represented by the symbol ɔ in the International Phonetic Alphabet. This sound does not exist as a distinct phoneme in all regional varieties of English, but if you think of the way dog is pronounced in New England (northeastern US), you may get the idea. Papiamentu words containing this vowel include shòt (injection / scene in a film), dòkter (doctor), stòf (dust / drizzling rain).


ù (the letter u with a grave accent) normally represents the vowel which is represented by the symbol ø in the International Phonetic Alphabet. This vowel does not exist in English; it occurs in the French word feu and the German word können. 


further thoughts about the vowels


To get the distinction between e and è right, English-speakers might want to think of e as a cross between the vowels in ten and tin, and think of è as halfway between the vowels heard in the English words bet and bad. But really, the only hope of pronouncing a new language correctly is to listen to native speakers very carefully and imitate them.


Stress affects the pronunciation of vowels especially in casual, rapid speech. Unstressed a and e become very schwa-like. Unstressed i sounds less like the vowel in English ski and more like the vowel in stick.


I suspect that Papiamentu speakers whose first language is Dutch may sometimes pronounce ù as [ʏ] in words of Dutch origin such as yùfrou. I also suspect that ù might be pronounced as [ə] or [ʌ] in words of English origin such as plùm and trùk. This is just a hypothesis. [more information needed]





Papaiamentu uses several diphthongs. Many of them also exist in English. Papiamentu bai souns like English buy and by. Papiamentu's diphthong ei sounds like the ay in English day, therefore teip sounds like tape.  When ia is a diphthong it has a "yah" sound as in the last syllable of papaya. 


When you encounter a written word for the first time, you cannot always tell whether a sequence of two vowels should be pronounced separately or combined into a diphthong. This is a shortcoming of the writing system and unfortunately the most easily obtained Papiamentu-English dictionary does not give this information.





"Stress" refers to pronouncing one syllable more loudly than the other syllables in a word. 


The stress in most words can be determined by these rules:


1) When a word ends with a vowel, the next-to-last syllable is stressed.

     Examples: hende, ayuda, kabana, papiamentu


2) When a word ends with a consonant, the final syllable is stressed.

     Examples: nashonal, popular


When a word does not obey the above rules, an acute accent mark indicates the syllable that is stressed. Examples: fásil, fonétiko, Perú


There are some variations that will seem like exceptions to the above rules. Some words of Spanish origin are accented on the next-to-last syllable even though they end in consonants, for example nomber. When the suffix -nan is added to a noun the stress does not move onto nan even though nan ends with a consonant. 


NOTE: Stress is not the same thing as tone. Some Papiamentu words, especially two-syllable words, have a distinctive tone pattern.See the next section for details. 





Some words in Papiamentu have a distinctive tone pattern. The phenomenon is especially noticeable in two-syllable verbs. This system of intonation is difficult to describe in text. Goilo wrote, "The verbs of two syllables have a melodious accent… You just have to hear them pronounced."


Thirty or 40 years ago it was common for people to believe that each syllable in a Papiamentu word has a fixed tone: high or low. Recently professional linguists have been measuring the actual tone contours of Papiamentu words and phrases. Some of them believe the situation is more complex. 


Raúl Römer (in Studies in Papiamentu Tonology, 1991) noted that the tone contours of a particular word can change depending on whether the sentence containing it is affirmative, negative, interrogative or imperative. 


Remijsen and van Heuven concluded that it is more accurate to speak of rising and falling tone rather than high and low. They write, "The majority of words have rising pitch on the stressed syllable in the citation form and when focused in an affirmative declarative sentence. Most disyllabic verbs, however, have falling pitch on the penultimate syllable and rising pitch on the final syllable in the same contexts." They believe the rising tone in both types of words is a signal of focus prominence – a signal that is moved elsewhere in certain discursive situations.


It is also important to mention that the intonation of words and phrases varies from island to island. Indeed, this is one of the most noticeable differences between the spoken dialects of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. 


For the student of Papiamentu, all this data adds up to one conclusion: When you are practicing, you must focus your attention on imitating every detail of your teacher's or model's speech. You must train your ear not only to recognize vowels and consonants but also to notice the "melody" of phrases and sentences.





Goilo, E.R. Papaimentu Textbook, ninth edition 1994

Maurer, Phillippe Die Verschriftung des Papiamento (in: Zum Stand der Kodifizierung romanischer Kleinsprachen), 1991

van Putte, Florimon et al. Basiscursus Papiaments 2002

Bert Remijsen and Vincent J. van Heuven "Stress, tone and discourse prominence in the Curaçao dialect of Papiamentu" in: Phonology (2005), 22:205-235 


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.