Saturday 10th June, 2006

Lisa Allen-Agostini
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A language suite

When you was a little popo, if you born in T&T, the first words you might of ever hear in your life was somebody cooing in your ears, “Mammy nice chile.” Or they could of been whispering, “My chunkulunks. My sugar dumpling. My little sugar lumps.”

They probably wasn’t saying it in Standard English.

Whatever class you from, or if you ent have no class at all, I could put my head on a block and say that at least some of the time you does talk in dialect. Try this: say “dog.” If what come out your mouth sound more like “dawg” than the stingy Standard English version (“dog” is a short, sharp word, not long and drawl out like we does say it), you done talking T&T English right there.

I myself grow up talking more Standard than dialect, to tell the truth. My mother, God rest she soul, used to boast she went convent, and she had a perfect command of the Queen’s English. I never hear she make a green verb yet, though she did like to switch in-between Standard and T&T English at will, like I myself. I start up a little correspondence with a Trini in Canada and he was too surprised when I write him in Standard.

“You mean you doesn’t really talk like that?” he ask. Well, yes, sometimes. My friends does get kicks on my head because is like I bilingual, talking to them in one language and talking to people on the road in a next one. But is all good. The point of communication is to make people understand what you saying; to my mind it don’t matter what version of English I talk if is easy for the people who I talking to to understand me.

I figure this column does worry some people. It have English teachers out there shivering in their boots that some little schoolchild go cut out the column one week and bring it in school for a show and tell, and is then the bacchanal go start. The child, the teacher go think, ent go know this column write in a different language from the one they supposed to use in school. The child, the teacher go think, go figure is okay to conjugate the verb “will” as: I go, he/she/it go, you go, we go, they/them go.

But, Miss, I don’t think that go happen.

And if one day it do happen, let me make a suggestion. Instead of you fraid the child bring the column, bring it for yourself first. Take it and strip it down and show them, look, this is not Standard English. It might be the way all of we does talk but is not the way you have to write your exam or you go fail.

Just like how when you learning French or Spanish you go have to do translation exercise and thing, make them translate the T&T English into Standard English, replace the “I go” with “I will,” the “could of” with “could have,” and that kind of thing.

Show them that it have nothing wrong with the language they does talk home with they family, but that is not the language you expect them to talk in school.

It have plenty precedent for this, Miss. In countries where English is the official language but it have plenty other language people does talk, what you think they does do? Wring they hand and complain how the children not writing in English? No, they does teach the children and them English as a foreign language.

We language is a beautiful thing, a sweet language with a whole special rhythm and pace that different from other Caribbean English, and real different, in some ways, from the English they does talk in Buckingham Palace.

I not saying that we must talk T&T English in Parliament, that we must lay laws in it and go to court with it. But we must respect it as a thing by itself and not try to beat it out of children. Is part of who we is, and nothing and nobody ent show me yet how the two language can’t live good together.

In the Shakespeare play The Tempest, the character name Prospero have a famous line about how he teach the island fella, Caliban, language so that Caliban could know he own meaning. But Caliban had a whole world before Prospero sail in from wherever he come from to confuse Caliban head with a set of high talk. The play don’t say, but I have a mind Caliban never feel a feeling he couldn’t explain.

Same way, it have plenty people in these two islands who good good, talking the language they hear since they come out their mother belly and ent need nothing else. Is when you have to work with the Government or go and do exams and thing you have to know your “thoses” and “thems,” instead of your “dozes” and “dems,” but don’t get tie up.

Talking T&T English don’t make a man any more or less smart or stupid and if you ask me, when it come to languages, the more the merrier.






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