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Towards a Writing System for Vincentian Creole


by Paula Prescod PHD

Part III of III

Consonants: as in the case of the vowels, I shall limit my remarks only to those VinC sounds that divert from English. The VinC phonological system displays twenty consonant sounds, i.e. four consonants less than in the RP system. There are four double consonants and one triple consonant. I shall first comment on the triple consonant. {{more}}

The reader will agree that the final sound in the word ‘watch’ is identical to the initial sound in ‘chair’. Based on this observation, it is only fitting that this resemblance be reflected in transcriptions. Thus, the ch initial sound in ‘chair’, ‘cheese’ ‘chop’ will be transcribed /tch/ to render the equivalents tchei, tchiiz, tchap. So too, the final sound in ‘edge’ is identical to the initial sound in ‘jeep’. Accordingly, English words beginning with j will be spelt with /dg/: dgudg ‘judge’.

In keeping with the need for consistency, words with the double consonant sound /sh/ will reflect uniformity so that one clearly gets the picture of phonological similarity between the initial sound in ‘shoes’ and ‘sure’. VinC equivalents will be spelt shuuz and shoo respectively. Some consideration must be given to VinC pronunciations of words like ‘measure’. The spelling mezha is suggested, making /zh/ a distinct phonemic combination.

The status of /h/ also requires some attention. In non-initial position, /h/ signals that there is a glottal stop i.e. it is as if the vocal cords are pressed together, hindering the explosion of a sound. A typical example is that of the English interjection ‘uh-oh’. This could be observed in the VinC pronunciation of the English word ‘but’ buh.

Lastly, the sound /ng/ must be noted as having an independent status. One may frequently observe that an inflected English word like ‘eating’ is transcribed eatin’ in Vincentian folk literature, throughout the Caribbean as well as in wider international circles where non-standard English is used. Strangely enough, although VinC speakers rarely use Standard English /ng/ in -ing verbs, the base words ‘sing’ or ‘thing’ are more often transcribed sing and ting in VinC than sin’ and tin’. This is proof that both types of words must be accounted for differently since VinC, and Caribbean creoles for that matter, do not mark verb inflexion. Interestingly, Caribbean teachers of English painstakingly try to teach their students to pronounce the English participial -ing inflexion. One may be tempted to think that creole speakers have an innate difficulty acquiring this /-ng/ sound when in fact we effortlessly reproduce it in words like ‘sink’ and ‘thank’, even though both groups of words do not have the same structure. This bears witness of the fact that we are dealing with distinct phonetic units and that our spelling system must make provision for this feature. Thus, singk and tangk are suggested for ‘sink’ and ‘thank’. To avoid the /ngg/ sequence, word internal and non-coalesced /-ng-/ will also be transcribed /ng/ so that ‘finger’ becomes finga and not fingga despite the fact that one hears a distinct /ng-g/ segment in actual pronunciation.

Having established this writing system, let us now examine how it applies to the transcription of some popular Caribbean sayings. The English glosses and interpretations have been provided for each example.

[1] Hu ded beri hu mashup tcho we- Who dead bury who mash-up throw away = ’There is always a possibility of finding the right action to take in any given situation.’

[2] We ai na si haat na griiv What eye not see heart not grieve = ’What the eye ignores the heart does not regret.’

[3] We naa kil doz fatn- What not is kill does fatten =’The experiences that do not harm us strengthen us.’

[4] Go blo yo nooz we yo ketch yo kool- Go blow your nose where you catch your cold = ’Take your troubles to the people who caused them.’

[5] Mun doz run til de ketch om. -Moon does run till day catch um = ’When all is said and done, what is to be will be.’

[6] Foul we naa hei shu doz fii bap- Foul what not-is hear shoo does feel bap = ’He who will not listen will suffer the consequences thereof.’

[7] Bluhd tika dan waata- Blood thicker than water = ’Our loyalty to our blood-related family members is strong no matter how we may feel about them.’

[8] Mongki neva no i saiz a i bak said til i swalo plum siid Monkey never know the size of his backside until it swallow plum seed=’One day we will regret doing something we didn’t think could have serious consequences.’

This essay sought to propose a writing system for the Vincentian creole, based on the conviction that the mere calquing of English spellings on VinC words does justice neither to the creole nor to Standard English. After all, the English orthography was designed for English, not for creoles. Readers may find that some of the examples provided above are not instantly recognisable. This is to be expected since some words do not mirror English etymology. I have stressed the need for us to have a consistent system that authentically and adequately reflects the sounds of Vincentian speech and not to be drawn towards making the language resemble English. I trust that the proposed system will be met with approval based on thorough application and that users will acknowledge that it remedies the problem of spelling variation.