Identification. The name "Bahamas" derives from baja mar (Spanish: shallow water). The best-known islands in the Bahamas island chain, from northwest to southeast, are Grand Bahama, the Abacos, the Biminis, New Providence, Eleuthera, Andros, Cat, San Salvador, the Exumas, Long, Crooked, Acklins, Mayaguana, and Inagua. Turks and Caicos, at the southeast end of the island chain, are a British crown colony; the two islands were separated from the Bahamas in 1848.
Location. The Bahama Islands, a chain of islands, reefs, and cays lying southeast off the Florida coast of North America, extend over 942 kilometers from 20°56′ to 27°56′ N and between 72°40′ and 79°20′ W. Depending upon the count, there are twenty-nine islands and 661 cays. The total land area is approximately 14,000 square kilometers. (These measurements and figures do not include the Turks and Caicos.) The largest islands in the group are rimmed with sandy beaches and coconut groves. Low-lying hills, seldom exceeding a height of 30 meters, run the length of these islands. Pine forests grow on many of the ridges. The Bahamas have a subtropical climate, with an annual mean daily temperature of 25° C; the mean for the coldest month, February, is 22° C, and for the warmest, August, 28° C. Rainfall, concentrated in the late-summer months, averages about 125 centimeters per year.
Demography. The population was estimated at 268,726 in July 1993. The official census of 1980 placed the population at 209,505. Of the thirty inhabited islands and cays, the most densely populated is New Providence, with 171,502 residents (almost 70 percent of the total population) in an area of only 208 square kilometers. Andros, the largest island, with an area of 5,980 square kilometers, had a population of 8,155. Approximately 85 percent of the population is of African origin. Of the Whites, some 25,000 are native Bahamians; the rest are largely British, American, and Canadian expatriates. Most White Bahamians live on New Providence, the Abacos, and Grand Bahama.
Linguistic Affiliation. Standard English is the official language of the Bahamas. Creolized English, termed "Bahamian dialect" is the language of working-class Bahamians. Many White Bahamians and middle-class Bahamians of African ancestry speak varieties of English that fall between Standard and creolized English. All Bahamians understand standard English, and many can converse in several dialects.