Dutch is the official language, and many islanders also speak English or Spanish, but the lingua franca of the ABC islands is Papiamento (also spelt Papiamentu), which originated with the Portuguese spoken by Jewish emigrants from Portugal, who were the most numerous settlers in the 17th century. Since then it has developed into a mixture of Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, English and some African and Indian dialects.
Papiamento has been in existence since at least the early 18th century, but has no fixed spelling, though there is a committee seeking to establish a standard orthography. It is spoken by all social classes and is becoming prized as a symbol of cultural identity. The Aruban parliament now conducts its debates in Papiamento; poetry, plays and novels have been published in it; Curaçao has 3 Dutch-language newspapers but 8 in Papiamento. There are differences of accent and vocabulary between Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao but speakers from the different islands have no difficulty understanding one another. There is more of a Dutch influence in Curaçao’s Papiamentu and more of a Spanish influence in Aruba’s Papiamento. There is a useful Papiamento Textbook by E R Goilo (6th edition, published by De Wit Stores nv, Oranjestad, Aruba, also Dutch and Spanish versions). The most comprehensive dictionary by Sidney Joubert is available only in Papiamento/Dutch, 2 others in Papiamento/English are by Jossy M Mansur (published by Edicionnan Clasico Diario, Oranjestad, Aruba) and Betty Ratzlaff (TWR Dictionary Foundation, Bonaire).