Located on the east coast of Central America, Belize’s diverse ecosystem mirrors the diversity of its residents. The only official English speaking country in Central America, Belizeans identify with Central America as well as the Caribbean. (See Belize Colonial). According to the 2010 census, the country’s 330,000 residents speak more than ten languages. 62.9% of residents speak English, 56.6% speak Spanish, 44.6% speak Creole (Kriol), 10.5% speak Mayan languages, 3.2 speak German, and 2.9% speak Garifuna (Statistical Institute of Belize, 2010, p. 21). Silvana suggests that in Belize, ethnicity is not necessarily a determining factor in language as the 2000 census showed that 24.9% claimed to be Creole and also showed that 33% claimed Creole (Kriol) as their mother tongue (as cited in Batty, S., Garcia, A., & Cucul, V., 2001, p.8). Belize is an ethnically diverse “culturally pluralistic” country (Bolland, 2003, p. 203).
Today, there are between 30,000 to 100,000 Garifuna speakers. Although there are approximately 75,000 Garifuna (also known as Garinagu) living in Belize who learned Garifuna as a first language, (Ravindranath, 2009, p. 12), the Garifuna language is used less and less as younger generations often choose to speak Spanish or Kriol. In 1981, the National Garifuna Council was created to promote and preserve Garifuna culture and language. In 1997, the Council created the Language Policy Statement of the Garifuna Nation creating policies meant to ensure the survival of the language including lexical expansion, corpus planning, language acquisition and use, resources and funding, and linguistic documentation. With this plan, the council announced their intention to take greater control of educational rights through language and curriculum.
While Creole has historically been linked to anyone who has both African and European ancestors, Belizean Kriol is tied to linguistic and cultural traits rather than genetics (Decker, 2005, p.2). Many residents who do not have African-European ancestors speak Kriol as their first language. Many Spanish speakers learn Kriol in order to “better identify as Belizeans” (Decker, p.2).
The National Kriol Council was created in 1955 as a means to promote the use of the Kriol language. The Council has worked to dispel the myth that Kriol is “broken English” and to demonstrate the unique characteristics of the language. Since its inception, the council has worked to promote Kriol culture and language schools. They have created and published a Kriol dictionary and translated the Bible into Kriol.