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An exceptional variety of languages is spoken in Suriname. Dutch is the official language. It is used mainly in education, government, business and the media. Suriname became the third member of the Dutch Language Union in 2004. Dutch is spoken as a mother tongue by about 60% of the Surinamers, while most others speak it as a second or third language. In the capital Paramaribo it is the main home language in two thirds of the households. Only in the interior of Suriname is Dutch hardly known.
Recognised regional languages:
Sranan Tongo, Hindi, English, Sarnami, Javanese, Malay, Bhojpuri, Hakka, Cantonese, Saramaccan, Paramaccan, Ndyuka, Kwinti, Matawai, Cariban, Arawakan Kalina
Sranan Tongo, a local creole language originally spoken by the Creole population group, is the most widely used language in the streets and often interchangeably with Dutch depending on the formality of the setting.
Surinamese Hindi, a dialect of Bhojpuri, is the third-most used language, spoken by the descendants of British Asian contract workers.
Javanese is spoken by the descendants of Javanese (Indonesian) contract workers.
The Maroon languages, somewhat intelligible with Sranan Tongo, include Saramaka, Paramakan, Ndyuka, Aukan, Kwinti and Matawai.
Amerindian languages, spoken by Amerindians, include Carib and Arawak.
Hakka Chinese and Cantonese are spoken by the descendants of the Chinese contract (koelie, coolie) workers. Mandarin is spoken by more recent Chinese immigrants. English, Spanish and Portuguese are also used.
English is used in schools and business purposes, while Spanish and Portuguese are spoken by South American residents (Portuguese for Brazilians) and their descendants and also taught in schools.
The public discourse about Suriname's languages is a part of ongoing debates about the country's national identity. While Dutch is perceived as a remnant of colonialism by some, the use of the popular Sranan became associated with nationalist politics after its public use by former dictator Dési Bouterse in the 1980s, and groups descended from runaway slaves like the Maroons resent it. Some propose to change the national language to English, so as to improve links to the Caribbean and North America, or to Spanish, as a nod to Suriname's geography.