Dictation contest winner Olga Orman: "Papiamento is the language I breathe in"

February 2008 -

Papiamento was recognised as the official language on Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao in 2007. Children's book author, storyteller and former teacher Olga Orman is excited. "Papiamento is the language I breathe in. For cultural expressions like writing and poetry, it is extremely important to express yourself in your mother tongue. I learned Papiamento from my grandmother. We wrote letters to my mother who was staying in a tuberculosis sanatorium on Curaçao."


Olga Orman

"At school we were taught in Dutch by Dutch teachers who never took the trouble to learn Papiamento themselves. So even in nursery school I was singing songs in a language that I scarcely understood. Old manuscripts reject Papiamento as babbling nonsense. That was insulting and detrimental to one's self-image."

Although the language has now been officially recognised, the spelling causes many problems. The average number of mistakes made by the participants of the Papiamento Dictation Contest during Winternachten 2008 in The Hague was twenty and a half. Autodidact Olga Orman was the winner, with only eight mistakes. Not only Papiamento, but also Dutch and English are official languages on the ABC Islands. To make the situation even more complicated, there are two official spelling methods for Papiamento.

Aruba calls it Papiamento in word and script; Curaçao and Bonaire prefer Papiamentu. Papiamento spelling is based on the origin of the word – often Spanish – for example the number five hundred forty-five: cincoshenticuarenticinco. In Papiamentu, the spelling is phonetic (you write what you hear): sinkushentikuarentisinku. Orman blames the confusion on history. "The causes of this impossible situation include the colonial inheritance of discrimination and political confusion."