Le Sereno - St Barthelemy, St Barthelemy

St. Barths: The Galapagos Islands of Language

  • Corossol

Visiting the rural villages of St. Barths is a study in contrasts. There’s a change in geography across the island but also a noticeable change in demography: different communities, different lifestyles, even different languages. It’s like visiting several distinctive countries that all coexist on a single island no bigger than 8 square miles and 8,000 people.

Coincidence? Not in the least.

What most people don’t know about St. Barths is that behind the glitz and glamour of the Caribbean’s most elegant island is also one of its most extraordinary cultures. And not just culture in the modern sense of the word; St. Barths is the linguistic and cultural equivalent of biology’s Galapagos Islands.

French linguist and professor Julianne Maher has written a detailed book on the matter and here are some of her most fascinating takeaways:

  • Welcome

One Island, Four Languages

Traditional French is the original and official language of St. Barths but if you listen closely you’ll notice there are significant linguistic differences across the island. That’s because, over hundreds of years, each community has developed a completely unique tongue with very little cross-influence.

The western side, for example, is home to the prevalent St. Barth Patois—similar but not to be confused with Cajun French or Canadian French. On the eastern side you’ll find St. Barth Creole, comparable to what you’d hear on neighboring Martinique. The central part, meanwhile, is the traditional home of Saline French—a very fast-spoken dialect practiced mostly by the older generations. Gustavia, on the other hand, is historically an English-speaking town—a pattern that can be traced back to the island’s internationally minded Swedish reign.

  • History

A Real-Life Laboratory for Cultural Evolution

What makes St. Barths’ linguistic differences so unique is that each of these languages has developed, coexisted, and survived despite the island’s small size and population. Having all originated as traditional French during the island’s colonization just a few hundred years ago, the fact that today’s communities have evolved so differently is nothing short of extraordinary.

The reason for this unique development is that each language belongs to a different community of people—seafarers, herdsmen, and farmers—and these communities have traditionally had very little contact with each other. They strictly married within their communities and rarely ventured across the island. The result: not only do the groups speak mutually unintelligible languages, they even have different blood types! It’s an evolution of culture and language you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the world.

Le Sereno
Grand Cul de Sac BP 19
St Barthelemy, St Barthelemy
Call: 1 888 Le Seren | +59 (05) 90 29 83 00

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Le Sereno | St. Barth Luxury Resort

Le Sereno is an intimate St. Barths beach hotel and spa with just 36 suites and three, large four-bedroom Villas. Inspired by the island’s magical contradiction of luxury and simplicity, renowned Parisian designer Christian Liaigre has helped Le Sereno earn its reputation as the most stylish and private sanctuary among a select group of St. Barths hotels. Stretching 180 meters (600 feet) along the beach at Grand Cul de Sac, virtually all of Le Sereno’s suites and villas offer views of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. With a focus on personalized attention, an impeccably trained, around-the-clock staff prides itself on anticipating and satisfying guests’ every whim, with an array of “laid-back luxury” amenities and services. The perfect place to experience all the wonders of St. Barth, Le Sereno exceeds expectations by both capturing the spirit and energy of the island and creating a welcoming environment that makes each and every visitor feel as though they have found a second home.