Trinidad English Creole is spoken by some 1,200,000 people in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, an archipelagic state consisting of two main islands, Trinidad and Tobago. They are situated in the Southern Caribbean Sea, with Trinidad just seven miles off the Venezuelan coast. Due to differences in colonial history and language influences in the two islands, Trinidad English Creole differs markedly from Tobago English Creole; only the former will be considered here. Trinidad English Creole is to be distinguished from Trinidad French Creole, the dominant language spoken on the island during the first half of the nineteenth century. Today, Trinidad French Creole is almost extinct.
Two principal Amerindian linguistic-cultural groups, the Arawaks and the Caribs, inhabited Trinidad at the time of the first European contact in 1498, when Columbus gave the island its modern name. During the first 300 years Trinidad was spared rigid colonization and rapid development into a plantation society. While officially a Spanish possession, settlement by Europeans remained sparse and resulted in only few Spanish-owned small-scale Cocoa estates. The contact between Europeans and the indigenous population nevertheless proved to be devastating for the Amerindians, whose numbers were already halved by 1592, from between 30,000–40,000 to approximately 15,000–20,000 people (Newson 1976: 77). Unlike in many other Caribbean territories, where African slaves had been imported in large numbers throughout the eighteenth century, the number of Africans in Trinidad was insignificant until the colony changed hands and became a British possession in 1797 (see Table 1).
(taken from the 1946 census, as quoted in Winford 1972: xxiii)
Shortly before the conquest by the British in 1797 and as a result of the French Revolution, an influx of French- and French Creole-speaking immigrants from the French West Indies had started to change the demographic and linguistic structure of Trinidad. In two decades, between 1783 and 1803, the population had not only increased tenfold, but an estimated 87.5% of the 28,000 Trinidadian inhabitants in 1803 used either French or French Creole as their chief medium of communication (see Table 2).
(Wood 1968: 33)
|Whites||Free Coloureds||African Slaves|
After the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807, the inter-island slave trade, although illegal, still prospered in the Caribbean. Despite the fact that deaths always outnumbered births in the Trinidad slave population, the numbers of slaves increased by 14 % between 1811 and 1813 (Brereton 1981: 52). The English Creole spoken by slaves coming in from other British possessions, notably Barbados, can be assumed to have influenced Trinidad English Creole significantly. English was made the official language in 1823 and the promotion of governmental and later educational institutions had an important impact on the gradual replacement of French Creole by English Creole. Slavery was officially abolished in Trinidad in 1834. In order to substitute labour on the plantations, immigrants were recruited at first from the British colonies St Helena (3,198) and from former slave ships via Sierra Leone (3,383; Brereton 1981: 98). Apart from English, English Creole and Krio (see Finney 2013), they brought with them African languages like Yoruba, Igbo and Mandinka (see Warner’s 1971 work on Trinidad Yoruba). A small number of French and Germans arrived in 1839/40 to work on the plantations, followed by Madeiran Portuguese (1,298) in 1846 and Chinese in 1853 (ca. 2,500; Brereton 1981: 99).
In 1844, the British colonial government sanctioned immigration of Indian indentured labourers to Jamaica, Trinidad and British Guiana. A dramatic demographic change followed: between 1845 and 1917 – when Indian indentureship came to an end – a total of 143,939 East Indians came to Trinidad, mostly from the Indian province of Uttar Pradesh (Brereton 1981: 103). The newcomers spoke Bhojpuri, a Magadhan language of the northeast of India which shares most of its lexicon with Hindi. Bhojpuri speakers shifted to English Creole within a few generations. Today, rural East Indians are generally acknowledged to be the most conservative Trinidad English Creole speakers.
In 1962, Trinidad and Tobago became independent from the United Kingdom. English is the only official language of the country and is used as a means of wider external communication, as a medium of instruction in secondary and tertiary education, as well as for written communication. Trinidad English Creole is the native language of the majority of the population and is used as a means of internal communication. Since 1975, Creole has been accepted in the classroom at primary level. Trinidad English Creole has been used as a medium of literary expression in written texts as well as in (humorous) newspaper articles since the first half of the nineteenth century (cf. Winer 1993 for a text collection of Trinidad English Creole writing, with the earliest text dating from 1827). Negative attitudes towards Trinidad English Creole were the norm in the 1970s (Winford 1976) but have changed to more positive evaluations in the last quarter of the twentieth century (Mühleisen 2001). Acceptability rates of Trinidad English Creole in the media, and particularly the radio, have also increased in this period.
There is substantial phonological variation between lower and upper mesolectal forms of Trinidad English Creole vowel use. According to Youssef & James (2005: 514), the “upper mesolect is merging to some extent with the Standard in general usage.” Winer (1993: 13–14) distinguishes between a traditional Trinidad English Creole vowel system, which consists of the vowels /a/, /ɒ/, /ɛ/, /ə/, /e/, /o/, and two high vowels resulting from a merger of /i-ɪ/ and /ʊ-u/. The vowel system presented in Table 3 depicts a more differentiated system in modern Trinidad English Creole where some oppositions developed due to pressure to avoid stigmatized pronunciations, e.g. walk [wak] towards [wɑk] or [wɔk] (Winer 1993: 14). Phonological heterogeneity can also be found along lines of ethnicity, urban vs. rural location, age and education of speakers.
Winford (1979) analyzed the vowel system of Trinidad English Creole, using five subsystems: (i) prestige norm, (ii) urban vernacular, (iii) younger Indians and Africans, (iv) older Indians and Africans, and (v) old Indians and found the most marked differences in groups (iv) and (v). For example, the Received Pronunciation (RP) vowel sound /ɒ/ in words like dog or box is realized as an open-mid back vowel /ɔ/ in most subsystems (i, ii, iii, and iv), but as an open front-central vowel /a/ in subsystem by old Indians (subsystem v). Generally, vowel sounds that are realized as diphthongs in RP have a monophthong quality in Trinidad English Creole, i.e., the vowel sound in pay /eɪ/ becomes /e/; poor /ʊə/ becomes /ɔ:/; low /əʊ/ is rendered /o:/. Diphthongs that are distinguished in RP peer /ɪə/ and pair /ɛə/ merge into one diphthong /iɛ/ or even into the monophthong /e:/ in more acrolectal speech. In words like down or sound, the diphthong /aʊ/ is rendered /ɒ/ in Trinidad English Creole, usually with a nasalized vowel (Youssef & James 2005: 517). Vowel sounds that are realized as the low front vowel man /æ/ in RP are more centralized as /a/ in Trinidad English Creole. Some neutralizations of vowel sounds occur (Youssef & James 2005: 516), e.g. RP cut /ʌ/, cot /ɒ/ caught /ɔ/ and curt /ɜ/ are all rendered /ɒ/ in Trinidad English Creole. Similarly, the vowel sounds in RP body /ɒ/ and buddy /ʌ/ merge into /ʌ/; RP bird /ɜ/ and bud /ʌ/ are also homophonous in Trinidad English Creole (/ɒ/). Vowel length is described as “one of the most unstable features of Trinidadian speech” and “the variety furthest removed from Standard English might be considered to have a single set of vowels of intermediate length” (Solomon 1993: 16). Nasalization of vowels occurs mostly in French and Spanish-derived words, e.g. couyon [kuyɔ̃] 'fool' (Winer 1993: 15).
The consonants are less variable than the vowels in Trinidad English Creole (see Table 4). Unlike many other Caribbean English-lexicon creoles, Trinidad English Creole is a non-rhotic variety. The most prominent consonantal difference between Trinidad English Creole and Standard English is the realization of Standard English dental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ as /t/ and /d/. According to Youssef & James (2005: 517), this formerly stigmatized feature has become acceptable even in educated Trinidadian speech in recent years. Like in all Caribbean English-lexicon Creole varieties, final consonant clusters are reduced. Solomon (1993: 21–22) states the following rules for final consonant cluster reduction in Trinidad English Creole: (1) In clusters ending with /-s/ or /-z/, for instance, in words like caps or calves, there is no reduction. (2) When /t/ follows any consonant except /l/ or /n/, e.g. in words like kept or last, the /t/ is lost. (3) When /-d/ follows any consonant, e.g. in bold or bend, it is lost. A common feature of consonant pronunciation in Trinidad English Creole is the palatalization of velar consonants, i.e., the production of a vowel glide after velar plosive consonants if followed by an /a/ sound, for example in [kjat] for cat. Another, less frequently found case of palatalization in Trinidad English Creole is the conversion of consonant sequences /tr/ and /dr/ into the palatal affricates [tʃ] and [dʒ], for example, in words like tree or drive which are pronounced as [tʃi:] and [dʒaɪv] or [dʒʳaɪv] (Solomon 1993: 20). Metathesis frequently occurs in voiceless clusters, e.g. in ask or crisp, which are rendered [aks] and [kips] (Youssef & James 2005: 517).
Trinidad English Creole tends to be syllable-timed and not stress-timed; therefore, Trinidad English Creole often has full vowels where Standard English has the reduced form /ə/. Unlike in many varieties of English, where pitch and stress are closely linked (high pitch and primary stress usually co-occur), there is no clear connection between pitch and stress in Caribbean English-lexicon Creoles. These two features – syllable-timing and the relationship between pitch and stress – are probably the most prominent ones in all Caribbean English Creoles and will also be found in acrolectal varieties. They are largely responsible for a (derogatory) description of West Indian speech as “sing-song”.
Solomon (1993: 34–36) describes the most common stress patterns in Trinidad English Creole disyllables: (a) low-high with stressed first syllable, e.g. PÒlíce; DÌSpúte; (b) high-low with stressed first syllable, e.g. NÓStrìl; SHÓULdèr. Trisyllables might be (a) low-low-high with stressed first syllable, e.g. CÀLlàloó; TÒbàgó; (b) low-high-high with stressed first syllable: Òbéáh; CÀRpéntér; (c) low-high-high with stressed second syllable, e.g. nèwsPÁpér; òrCHÉStrá; (d) low-low-high-high, e.g. vènèzuélá or (e) low-high-high followed by low-high: òrgánísàtión.
Alleyne (1980: 74) observed that tone plays a distinguishing role in Trinidad English Creole. Allsopp (1972: 6) cites pitch differentiation as a vital factor in distinguishing can’t from can in different parts of the Caribbean – the final consonant cluster reduction makes this pitch differentiation necessary – and provides examples for semantic pitch differentiation of two-syllable homonyms.
Number, gender and case are not morphologically marked in lower mesolectal Trinidad English Creole nouns. Where semantic indications of number are not clear from the context or choice of modifier (indefinite article a dog, demonstrative dat dog, numeral two dog, adjective some dog, etc.), plurality can be expressed by the postposition of the plural demonstrative dem to the noun, e.g. in de dog an dem (associative plural). A direct postposition of dem without the interposition of the conjunction an is possible in more basilectal Creoles, but not the usual form in Trinidad English Creole. The quantity or extent of a referent can also be conveyed by the use of quantitatives, most notably plenty, tumuch, a set a (1a-c):
Gender marking is almost absent in nouns even though some exceptions can be noted for animate referents, usually by way of compounding with lexical items like man (e.g. man-rat ‘male rat’), boy or gyal (boy-chail ‘male child’, gyal-chail ‘female child’). Case markers are absent in Trinidad English Creole nouns; possession is indicated by juxtaposition of nouns (2) in the possessor-possessum order:
The singular demonstratives are dis ‘this’ and dat ‘that’, plural dem ‘those.’
The Trinidad English Creole pronominal system shows little differentiation between subject and object pronouns: in the 1SG subject pronoun, there is variation between a and mi, while for the 1SG object, only mi occurs. In the 3PL, de (subject) and dem (object) can be distinguished. Gender distinctions are made in the 3SG pronoun in subject and object position, as well as in pronominal and adnominal possessives. Like all Caribbean English-lexicon creoles but unlike their lexifier English, Trinidad English Creole has a second person plural pronoun. The 2PL form allyu in Trinidad English Creole can be used interchangeably with the 2SG form yu for both singular and plural address. Unlike in a number of European languages the 2PL form is not used as a honorific or polite form of address. It has been shown, however, that it allyu in Trinidad English Creole is employed strategically in verbal interactions. Mühleisen (2010) singles out five pragmatic functions of allyu: (a) emphasis of plurality; (b) representation of an (absent) group; (c) avoidance of directness; (d) signaling of aggression; (e) signaling of humor.
In possessive constructions which involve pronouns, adnominal possessives precede the noun. With the exception of the 1SG (a/mi versus mi), they have the same form as subject pronouns. The pronominal possessives are formed as a combination of pronouns plus -own. It has to be noted that the emphasis is not on the -own because these forms are not emphatic but “correspond to the normal unemphatic disjunctive possessives of English and many other languages” (Solomon 1993: 51). According to Solomon, the presence of my-own and your-own instead of mi-own and yu-own, as well as the absence of it-own, confirm the non-basilectal nature of Trinidad English Creole compared with other Caribbean creoles.
Pronouns are reflexivized by the addition of invariant self: miself, yuself, hi/shi/itself, wiself, allyuself, demself. Self can also stand by itself and is then used to emphasize a nominal (cf. 3). It can also occur as emphatic and reflexive in the same sentence (cf. 4) (Solomon 1993: 52):
Descriptions of the TAM system of Trinidad English Creole (Solomon 1993; Winer 1993; Winford 1992; Winford 1993) vary slightly, but it is generally agreed that aspect marking is pivotal and obligatory, whereas tense marking is marginal and optional. Trinidad English Creole has eight overt tense and aspect markers (V+in, (do)z/uzeto, done, did, wuz, had, go and would) and a zero marker. Tense particles are did, wuz and had (all anterior), as well as go and would (both future). Aspect is expressed by Ø (perfective), (do)z/uzeto, -ing (non-perfective) and done (completive). Modal particles are kud, shud, mozbi, mait and bongtu (Solomon 1993: 117), to which wuda and kuda as counterfactuals have been added. Winer (1993: 33) distinguishes between “true modal auxiliaries” and “semi-modals” (e.g. bongtu) (cf. 7). The list of “semi-modals” could be expanded considerably and include verb-like particles in various stages of grammaticalization, e.g. sappose (in 8) or prefer (in 9). Table 6 lists and exemplifies all TAM markers.
generic present in narrative contexts
|-in||Mary eatin||non-perfective progressive|
|(do)z/uz eto||Mary (do)z eat||non-perfective habitual|
|(do)z be -in||Mary (do)z be eatin||habitual progressive|
|done||Mary done eat already||completive|
|did/wuz||Mary did eat||anterior|
|had done||Mary had (don) eat already||anterior completive|
|go||Mary go eat||future|
|wud||Mary wud eat||future|
|go be -in||Mary go be eatin||future progressive|
|kud||Mary kud eat||epistemic/deontic|
|shud||Mary shud (hav) eat||deontic|
|moz/mozbi||Mary mozbi eatin / mozbi did eat||deontic/epistemic|
|mait||Mary mait (hav) eat||epistemic|
|bongtu||Mary bongtu eat||epistemic|
|wuda||Mary wuda eat||counterfactual|
|kuda||Mary kuda eat||counterfactual|
A classification of verbs into stative versus dynamic verbs is not useful in the aspectual system of Trinidad English Creole since both categories derive from a “grammatically marked opposition between ‘perfective’ and ‘non-perfective’, and there are therefore forms like ‘dead’ which span the ‘action’ – ‘state’ divide” (Solomon 1993: 129). Perception verbs (e.g. see, feel, hear, think, etc.), which are customarily classified as stative verbs in English, are therefore often heard in the progressive form, suffixed with -in, even in acrolectal forms of Trinidad English Creole (cf. 10):
Of the two future markers in the Trinidad English Creole verb system, wud is the more upper mesolectal one. In opposition to the Standard English meaning of conditional would and future will, Trinidad English Creole uses wud for future marking (cf. 11) and will to express conditional (cf. 12) (cf. Solomon 1993: 129):
The same inversion applies to the meaning of can and kud in Trinidad English Creole in contrast to the meaning of can and could in Standard English.
The basic sentence structure in Trinidad English Creole in declarative sentences is SVO or Subject + Predicate. The subject can be either a noun phrase, i.e. a noun (with optional modifiers) or a pronoun, or it can be a locative, e.g. here. The predicate may consist of verb (13), copula + noun (14), adjective (15), locative (16), or noun (17), all with optional complements (cf. Solomon 1993: 55ff):
There are several particles in Trinidad English Creole which can be used for negation: eh for negation within the sentence, ent at the beginning of negative interrogative sentences, doh for the negation of imperative sentences, and -n for the negation of doz (Solomon 1993: 70). Eh as a negator is a particularly prominent characteristic of Trinidad English Creole and can occur in a number of possible environments:
(18) np _ adj De gyal eh sick. ‘The girl isn’t sick.’
np _ adv De gyal eh here. ‘The girl isn’t here.’
np _ prepp De gyal eh wid us. ‘The girl isn’t with us.’
np _ np De gyal eh a tiif. ‘The girl isn’t a thief.’
np _ v-ing De gyal eh crying. ‘The girl isn’t crying.’
np _ v De gyal eh know. ‘The girl doesn’t know.’
Interrogative sentences either have the form of affirmative sentences, with only a terminal intonation contour rise (TICR) (19) or they are formulated by the use of a question word (who ‘who’, which part ‘where’, weh ‘what’, wen ‘when’, and hau ‘how’) (20):
(19) Sean reach las night? (TICR)
‘Did Sean arrive last night?’
(20) Which part you living?
‘Where do you live?’
Existential sentences are introduced with it have, e.g. it have chrii chair in de yard ‘there are three chairs in the garden/backyard.’ Front focusing is a common feature of Trinidad English Creole, either by the use of the element iz (in 21-22) or all (in 23). In these constructions the verb in focus is repeated in the original position as well:
Verbs are not morphologically marked for passive voice. As Winer (1993: 38) notes, however, passivization seems to be achieved by a defocusing of the agent. Transitivity of verbs is often not determinable in Caribbean creoles and many verbs can be seen as ambitransitive. It is therefore possible to use a verb like bury both in a transitive (in 24) and an intransitive (in 25):
(24) Dey bury de man yesterday.
‘They buried the man yesterday.’
(25) Hi bury yesterday.
‘He was buried yesterday.’
Similarly, sentences like de fish catch ‘the fish was caught’ or de cyar fix ‘the car was fixed’ realize passivization by using the verb in an intransitive manner.
There are several sentence tags in Trinidad English Creole which can be used for various pragmatic meanings in conversations: nah [nə], eh [ẽ], yes, and wi – the latter possibly a retention from French oui. Yes and wi can be used interchangeably. Solomon (1993: 64) lists a number of possible interpretations of the tags, some examples of which are listed below in (26–30). It has to be noted, though, that ultimately context, intonation and accompanying non-verbal features are highly important for the meaning.
(26) seeking agreement:
De kyar nice, eh?
‘Isn’t the car nice?’
Yu chupid, eh.
‘What a fool you are.’
(28) threat or warning:
Doh do dat, eh.
‘You’d better not do that.’
(29) mild warning:
Let go mi hand, nah.
‘Let go of my hand, you hear.’
Hi chupid, yes/wi.
‘He sure is a fool.’
Several subordinate clauses can be formed in Trinidad English Creole. Relative clauses are introduced with the relative pronoun weh, which can be used for both animate (cf. 31) and inanimate (cf. 32) antecedents:
As in English, the relative pronoun can be omitted in non-subject positions. Temporal clauses are introduced by a number of conjunctions, most of them (wen, befo, afta, weneva) similar to English. There is one exception: as (in 33), which appears in an accented form (Solomon 1993: 82)
Due to the many different linguistic groups that have left their imprint on Trinidad English Creole, the variety has a particularly rich vocabulary. The influence of Amerindian languages (Arawak and Carib) is limited mostly to place names (e.g. Guayaguayare) and names for flora and fauna (e.g. cachibou, a native plant usually found on riverbanks).
Much of the Spanish-derived vocabulary in Trinidad English Creole (e.g. 34) is more likely to have its origin in contacts between Trinidadian and Venezuelan fishermen (cf. 35) than in the early Spanish colonial period, even though place names like Sangre Grande bear linguistic witness to that era.
(34) mamaguy (v.) ‘tease someone; deceive; try to get something by flattery’ <Spanish mamar gallo ‘tease; mock; make a monkey of’ (Winer 2009: 561)
(35) cascadura (n.) ‘an edible armoured catfish’ <Spanish cascara ‘shell’ and dura ‘hard’ (Winer 2009: 178)
French and French Creole influences can be found in abundance in Trinidad English Creole in words like crapaud ‘frog’ or ‘toad’ (cf. 36) or basodi (cf. 37).
(36) crapaud hand (n.) ‘very poor, illegible handwriting’
(37) basodi (v.) ‘make giddy; stun; confuse’ < French Creole bazudi (Winer 2009: 58); cf. French abasourdir ‘stun; astonish; stupefy; bewilder’
Lexical retentions from West African languages can be traced in words like those in (38).
(38) a. kaiso ‘an exclamation of admiration or appreciation for Calypso’ possibly from Efik ka isu ‘go on’
(Winer 2009: 481–482)
b. kunumunu ‘fool, simpleton’, with Yoruba kunun, kunu ‘shy, not self-confident’ as a possible source
(Winer 2009: 504)
Many lexical items from Bhojpuri/Hindi have entered Trinidad English Creole, especially food terms (e.g. roti ‘a thin flat round Indian bread;’ baigan ‘eggplant’), kinship terms and terms of address (e.g. daada ‘uncle;’ daadi ‘aunt’), and words of religious content (e.g. jandi ‘prayer flag’; mandir ‘Hindu temple’).
As a result of the diverse lexical influences Trinidadians often have a choice of terms of different origin for the same referent, e.g. eggplant (English), aubergine (French), melongene (French, possibly also from Spanish berenjena) or baigan (Bhojpuri) all denote the cultivated plant Solanum melongena in Trinidad English Creole.