Trinidad and Tobago Standard English?
By Winford James
March 18, 2001
On Tuesday coming, the Department of Liberal Arts and the School of Education of UWI at St. Augustine will be jointly holding what they call a Linguistics Day during which one of the topics that will be discussed is whether there is a Trinidad and Tobago Standard English. In anticipation of that event, I will in this column argue that there is, and suggest possible words, phrases, idioms as possible candidates for assignment of the label 'standard'.
Deciding what is standard and what is not is not a straightforward matter. We clearly speak and write a standard English - in formal, consultative situations such as lectures, judicial judgments, sermons, feature addresses, classroom instruction, academic theses, and the like. But we generally think that such a standard is something apart from us, something received from more linguistically respectable societies such as Britain and America, something that has been called Internationally Accepted English (IAE). We consider ourselves consumers of that language and do not usually think that we contribute to its shape in grammar and vocabulary, and even, to a certain extent, in pronunciation. In brief, we do not see ourselves as (part-)owners of IAE.
There are a number of reasons for this, but five of the most important are as follows: 1) our negative history as slave and indentured acquirers of English; 2) a traditional attitude that the Creole we created - from the contact of (initially) English and African and (subsequently) Indic languages - is not a genuine language for audibly being a 'corruption' of English vocabulary and grammar; 3) the use of English for 'high' social functions but the use of Creole for 'low' social functions; 4) the international prestige of American and British English versus the international lack thereof of Creole English; and 5) codification (in grammars, dictionaries, style/usage manual, etc.) of English, but not of Creole.
And yet, because language cannot be acquired naturally by import but in regular social and cultural networks (in a customary physical and political environment) in which people live out their lives, we must be creating our own standard brand of English right here in Trinidad and Tobago. That standard exists alongside the Creole and is distinctly flavoured by it - in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. The trouble is how to convince a mind accustomed to seeing an outside standard as the standard that there is one right here with a distinctly local character.
We have no trouble making locals understand that the Creole shares words with IAE, and we all accept that such shared vocabulary is part of the standard we speak; after all, it is other people's vocabulary which we have adopted. But when the words/phrases either have not been created by the prestigious English-speaking societies or have undergone changes in meaning locally, we question their standardness. I have no space in this column to argue for these local creations to be considered standard. All I can do now is to suggest two principles by which we might judge that a local creation deserves the label 'standard':
1. Words/phrases that refer to local flora, fauna, cultural institutions and ways of doing things and that are normally unavoidable in literate, formal speech; and
2. Other words/phrases/idioms that automatically occur in literate speech in formal situations.
I now propose the following local words/phrases/idioms, presented under different heads, for you to decide whether they should be assigned as standard or non-standard, especially in speech. Those in context are highlighted so that you can pick them up easily.
seed-under-leaf, love-vine, bois cano, barcano, grater-word bush, christmas bush; vori-vine, ver-vine, greasy-bush, roocoo
tattoo, manicou, salipainter, gouti, lappe, wild-meat, yard-fowl
balata, dou-douce, table mango, mango vert, julie mango, fig, monkey apple, kenep, chenep, chennette
Salaka, J'Ouvert, Dimanche Gras, Soca, Chutney, Chutney Soca, Ragga soca
Orisha, Shouter Baptist, Hosay, Divali, Eid-ul-fitr, Obeah, obeahman, workman, jumbie
Food and drink
crab-and-dumpling, shark-and-bake, pelau, rice-and-peas, peas-and-rice, boil-down, stew-down, roti (sada, parata, bussopshot), doubles, roast-bake, fried bake, coconut bake, mauby, hot-water tea, milk tea, chocolate tea, cocoa tea
bell-lax, moral, rounders, bat-and-ball, bat up-and-catch, out-a-man, all-fours
marble pitching (tor/tar, lines, lines down, stickle wax, rug down, tops, ups, bokey, big poke, slug, kaw, chounks, hand stink / hand in, shy, bills, etc)top spinning (crecks, sleep, larva)
kite flying (koolie, moon, box, batman, mad-bull, chicky-chunk etc)
I saw a/one set / a/one heap of ants on the counter
If the thing costs (a) coupledollars, we can buy it.
Any mails for me today?
I got two interesting emails last night.
Those furnitureslook good.
Those equipments are costly.
Plural-only -to-singular nouns
A sharp scissors
A nice pants/shoes
A new glasses/binoculars
door-mouth, eye-turn, eye-water, foreday-morning, god-horse, mouth-water, sam-sam, skin-teeth
Single-word verbsIdioms (in sentences)
The taxidriver carried me to the airport.
What hasn't met you hasn't passed you.
I scorn them people there. They're too nasty. ('treat with distaste/revulsion')
The mangoes are finished. (sth be finished)
You've to care your plants.
He mashed his brakes.
A fella just bounced me.
I am going to brush the lawn.
He brought first in test.
Panday's action (of using losers in his cabinet) burns me. (without 'up': annoys me intensely)
When I was in New York, I bounced up Colin.
He stood up at the corner waiting for the bus.
The fete is at PSA grounds. Walk with your cooler.
Carnival is a time to get on bad.
When the attendant told him he couldn't park there, he carried on in the worst of ways.
The two men held down the girl and killed her.
Try fix it.
He fell sick and died.
The teacher took advantage of the child.
He took ill with a fever. (by analogy with 'took sick')
You bought that man's old car! I think you bounced your head there.
I have no time with him. (Have no time with sb).
He laughed ki ki ki / kya kya kya.
When he walked out on her, she held him in her mind. (Hold sb in your mind)
If you see what Jovica did to the Butcher. He beat him, he beat him, he beat him. He did for him. (to do for sb)
He took shameface and went back to see her. (take shameface and do sth)
from foreign; do it one time; I like her bad; walk good; she is real nice Adjectives
ignorant, newbrand, bazodie, coskel, suckeye
sick (as in, I feel sick) ('ill', NOT 'to vomit')
plenty (as in, There are plenty mangoes in the trunk / Plenty people came to see the show)
Tell me, no
What did you call me for, eh?
Shadow is the Soca Monarch, ent?
He cut off her hands, yes/oui!
A Signature of Tobagonian Speech
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