Dutch is the sole official language, and is the language of education, government, business, and the media. Over 60% of the population speaks Dutch as a mother tongue, and most of the rest of the population speaks it as a second language. In 2004 Suriname became an associate member of the Dutch Language Union. It is the only Dutch-speaking country in South America as well as the only independent nation in the Americas where Dutch is spoken by a majority of the population, and one of the two non-Romance-speaking countries on the continent, the other being English-speaking Guyana.
In Paramaribo, Dutch is the main home language in two-thirds of households. The recognition of “Surinaams-Nederlands” (“Surinamese Dutch“) as a national dialect equal to “Nederlands-Nederlands” (“Dutch Dutch”) and “Vlaams-Nederlands” (“Flemish Dutch”) was expressed in 2009 by the publication of the Woordenboek Surinaams Nederlands (Surinamese–Dutch Dictionary). Only in the interior of Suriname is Dutch seldom spoken.
Sranan, a local creole language originally spoken by the creole population group, is the most widely used language in the streets and is often used interchangeably with Dutch depending on the formality of the setting.
Surinamese Hindi or Sarnami, a dialect of Bhojpuri, is the third-most used language, spoken by the descendants of South Asian contract workers from then British India. Javanese is used by the descendants of Javanese contract workers. The Maroon languages, somewhat intelligible with Sranan, include Saramaka, Paramakan, Ndyuka (also called Aukan), Kwinti and Matawai. Amerindian languages, spoken by Amerindians, include Carib and Arawak. Hakka and Cantonese are spoken by the descendants of the Chinese contract workers. Mandarin is spoken by some few recent Chinese immigrants. English and Portuguese are also used.
The public discourse about Suriname’s languages is a part of an ongoing debate about the country’s national identity. 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 escaped slaves might 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 location in South America, although it has no Spanish-speaking neighbours.