This dialect

So It Go

Anyone who knows anything about my work in music will know of my commitment to Caribbean dialect.  In my consciousness, there is no high meaning as to why this is so, but there it is. It may owe to the very rhythm of the dialect that lends itself so naturally to music, or it could be the “sweetness” of some of the constructions, or to the unique words that we find only in the dialect. Frankly, I don’t waste my time trying to figure out the propulsion; I love the dialect expression and verve, I embrace it fully, and I’m always listening for it in my travels.  But it wasn’t always so.

Going back a bit, in my early years as an immigrant to Toronto I would often be embarrassed by some mispronunciation of mine that Canadians would laugh at.  I particularly remember my difficulty with what linguists call the interdental – the “th” sound that is missing in most Caribbean dialects – and the confusion, for example, when I would point to the apples in the grocery and say, “Can I have tree of those?” Like many Caribbean immigrants I went through my share of such awkward moments, but probably propelled by my involvement in Caribbean music where I was constantly dealing with dialects, I continued to enjoy the expression though I must admit that I was selective about where I would display it.

20130127martinsAnd then there was a signal occurrence.  In the late 1970s, with Tradewinds well established, I decided to go to university, as a mature student, to widen my horizons, so to speak. In the first year of a BA programme I jumped headlong into a linguistics course along with a number of foreign-born immigrants to Canada.

Halfway in the year, with some linguistics basics in place, we were askedto do a paper on the dialect we spoke in our homeland, and I set about to unravel the way I spoke at Hague and Vreed-en-Hoop growing up on the West Coast. I was less than enthusiastic.

After all, this was my “bad English”.

Halfway through the paper, came the epiphany.  In sifting the West Coast dialect through the linguistics matrix, it suddenly struck me that what I had been led to believe was “bad grammar” or “ people talking ignorant” was actually a very precise language with all the ingredients (tense, declension, plurality, aspect, syntax, etc) of such.

In the dissection to explain it, I saw, for the first time, the legitimacy and correctness of our language, the adherence to rules and structure. I saw it for the first time as legitimate, for its function, as Standard English was for its.  It was a thunderbolt. It affected me powerfully, because it went, as I interpreted it, beyond the language aspect into every aspect of Caribbean life, and it consequently transformed the way I saw myself and, by extension, my people.

It may sound melodramatic to some, but that moment of revelation in that classroom in Toronto has had more impact on me than any other single experience in my life.

The irony of it – and this came to me early as well – was that the very thing that had served in the past to embarrass me, or even make me feel second-rate, was now instead actually a demonstration of the self-worth and intelligence and inventiveness of Caribbean people.

It is a realization that has been hardened and embellished over time, and probably because of the effect it has had on me, I take particular delight in this dialect “awe dis does talk” whether it’s West Dem, or Montego Bay or Bridgetown or Castries.  Naturally, we must learn Standard English – the reasons are obvious; I won’t bother to list them – but we must also wholeheartedly accept these dialects we speak because time after time they are the most telling and pungent and effective ways we have to communicate, and they are our creations; substantial ones.

It’s there in the brevity. How better to describe a pane of glass breaking than to say “kleeshing”?  Just one word – “kleeshing”.  Take the meaning we convey, referring to someone who ignored us, when we say, “She didn’t even voomps on me.”  In that single word we all know, “voomps”, we immediately grasp what a dictionary sequence would take a sentence to explain.  Think of the convolutions one would have to achieve in Standard English to describe what you mean when you say, “She? She too ruction.”  Or the delicate accuracy of “she siddung bad”?

In matters of cuisine, we have an expression referring to some food a small bite of which blunts your appetite; we say “it gains’ mi”.  See the difference? Seven words one way; three words in dialect.  In the Cayman Islands, they’re even more brief.  They say, “it stallin’”.

Think of the Guyanese expressions “cummerish”, “fenkyfenky” and “watawata”.  Do you know how to explain such conditions more concisely? I know that I don’t. Indeed, are there any single words in Standard English at all to properly describe “cummerish” and “fenkyfenky” and “lamata”? Those are only three examples of the kind of word creations that we exhibit in our dialects that are not only rhythmic to the ear but very precise in their meaning.

Where, for example, is there a more beautiful description of a roguish, conniving person than in the Jamaican word “jinal” or in their description of a sensual folk dance as “brukkins”?

Our dialects sing in their manipulation of words into picturesque patterns. In our Tradewinds nightclub in Toronto we had a champagne draw every Friday night at midnight.  A Jamaican patron came in late one Friday, very upset that he had missed the draw.

When I asked him what had happened, he said.  “I was in the West End, and a lateness take me.”

Learn your Standard English people, but put your dialect under lock and key and let no one take it from you or attempt to devalue it.

It is a powerhouse of information and specificity and besides, in these days when all mankind is scrambling to be unique, it is one of the things that belongs only to “awe dis”.

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Can Guyana afford parking meters?

‘Cities love meters – they are a “captive” income source. … unless you know someone or are a “public figure”, the city will tow your car if you have too many tickets.

20160629Development Watch29

Government spending and the economy

Last week the Private Sector Commission (PSC) urged the government to increase its spending to stimulate the needed aggregate demand to sustain business activity.

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Peru’s president-elect demands freedoms in Venezuela

Peru’s pro-business President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski won his country’s elections by a hair with the last-minute help of a leftist party, but — judging from what he told me in an interview — he won’t budge on his criticism of Venezuela and other repressive regimes.

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Public financial management: 1966 – present (Final)

This is the fifth and final in a series of articles on the above aimed at highlighting the extent of our achievements in the post-Independence period.

LUCAS STOCK INDEXThe Lucas Stock Index (LSI) rose 0.54 per cent during the third period of trading in June 2016. The stocks of six companies were traded with 79,573 shares changing hands. There were three Climbers and one Tumbler. The stocks of Banks DIH (DIH) rose 1.98 per cent on the sale of 18,757 while the stocks of Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) rose 5.26 per cent on the sale of 41,667 shares. In addition, the stocks of Demerara Tobacco Company (DTC) rose 1.51 per cent on the sale of 13,603 shares. In contrast, the stocks of Demerara Bank Limited (DBL) fell 5.26 per cent on the sale of 4,324 shares.  In the meanwhile, the stocks of Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (BTI) and Republic Bank Limited (RBL) remained unchanged on the sale of 222 and 1,000 shares respectively.

Massy and Guyana (Part 1)

Steadfast Last year, this writer looked at the Massy Group of Companies formerly Neal and Massy to gain an understanding of the operations of this company which has been doing business in Guyana for the past 48 years. 


Value-added performance of the forest sub-sector: Erratic, weak, declining

Erratic Last week’s column highlighted what I consider to be a most distinctive feature of the extractive forest sub-sector’s performance in Guyana’s economy, during the past decade.

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The UK bids Europe farewell

On June 23 by a small majority, the British people voted to remove themselves from the European Union (EU). The decision has consequences for the Caribbean.

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What would life be without sport?

I wonder what it would be like to exclude sport completely from one’s life for, say, one year? No playing sport, no watching it, no reading it no discussing it no thinking about it even.


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