Sunday, August 1, 2010

Trinidad Creole Lives !

While shopping in Brooklyn the other day, I had a rare pleasure. I discovered a new language. Two cashiers who ring me up regularly departed from their usual flawless English and spoke with each other a language that I first thought was Spanish. I was puzzled, however, because the percentage of the conversation I could understand was much lower than it would be with Spanish.

"Is that Spanish you're speaking?" I asked.

"No, it's patois, one of them replied." It's Trinidadian patois."

She then explained that the language hearkened back to the days when Trinidad was a Spanish colony. The language has a Spanish component, mixed with a great deal of French and French Creole. The infusion came about during a period in the 1700's when the Spanish encouraged settlement of the island from nearby French colonies to develop Trinidad.

The British did their best to replace Trinidadian Creole with English when they took over Trinidad. The language was marginalised and its speakers ridiculed. Holly Betaudier, a speaker of Trinidadian Creole had experience with such prejudice. Montray Kriyol, a web site devoted to the linguistic treasures of the Carribean reports as follows.

He noted that the French never taught slaves their language but the English did. When the British system was brought in, the colonisers taught everyone to speak their language and the patois became a "bastard" language.

Betaudier’s parents came from Martinique and his grandmother, who raised him, only spoke the patois to him. He recalled going to school and one day the whole class laughing at him because he was talking English with a patois accent.

He said that during that time, if a student couldn’t speak English, he was considered "less than a dog". He added that to get employment, people had to speak and write in English, and the patois was considered "degrading", so only older people spoke it.

The campaign over decades has reduced the number of fluent speakers of Trinidadian Creole to about 6% of the total population. Fortunately, public attitudes are shifting and Trinidadian creole is getting some belated respect. Trinidadian creole is a language with vocabulary and grammar that reflect the history , immigration patterns and social relationships among the people of Trinidad. It is heartening to see one of Trinidad's cultural treasures get some respect. I wish the language and its speakers long life and prosperity.

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