A Plug for Patois (Part 2)

by Guest Blogger/Blagger

Unlike what exists for other languages, reference works for Trini Patois* (which have been around since 1869) are sometimes not so easily accessible. Or so we think.

To help editors, authors and the interested reader, here is a list of 7 tips on how to use Patois, written and spoken, as promised in A Plug for Patois (Part 1). These will also help the language gain the respect it and all languages deserve, not just to struggle to survive for more years to come.

Tip 1: Refer to Patois as a language, not as a dialect. It’s actually both. Trini Patois is a dialect of Caribbean Patois (a.k.a. the French Creole language). A dialect is really just a variety of a language. Even one variety such as Trini Patois can also have its own range of sub-varieties. Patois is one of our national heritage languages and should be referred to as such.

Tip 2: Since all languages have proper names which are spelt with initial capital letters, it’s Patois (not “patois”).

Tip 3: For traditional spellings, consult Lise Winer’s Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad and Tobago, a.k.a. The Indispensable Dictionary—don’t make up or guess spellings or Frenchify them (further). Patois has its own traditional (yes, sometimes Frenchified, sometimes Anglicised) spellings, as in The Dictionary. It now has its own modernised and systematic (as opposed to vie kee vie or vaille que vaille) spellings. Some do look very French, some not: two different but related languages—two different but related spelling systems.

Tip 4: For modernised/standardised Patois spellings, join a Patois class with Nnamdi Hodge—at Workingwomen in Tunapuna (663 9509), at the Venezuelan Embassy in Port-of-Spain, or at Caribbean Yard Campus at the Lloyd Best Institute in Tunapuna, or at the Centre for Language Learning at UWI, St Augustine.

Refer to the St Lucian Kwéyòl Dictionary (free online) and to dictionaries from Martinique and Guadaloupe. At the same time, a word of caution: the spelling system for St Lucian (developed by a team of experts, including  Trinbagonian Lawrence Carrington) is the same, as for all of the Lesser Antillean varieties of Patois. But some words and pronunciations differ, just as words and pronunciations differ from English variety to English variety around the world.

Use the regional spelling system to reflect our pronunciations (no need to make Trini Patois suffer yet another blow in self-esteem by negative comparisons to a sister Patois). Last time, we mentioned Haiti as being a reference point for some; this time it’s St Lucia. We need to be our own reference point and develop our own models, while learning from others who are making good progress, including Dominica and Grenada.

Tip 5: Refer to and consult specialists and researchers. Ask any question on spelling(s), meanings, etymologies, history, etc. Well-known and respected authors Fr Anthony de Verteuil and Gérard A. Besson did just that with their recent books.

Like the good authors that they are, they did thorough checks on the spellings appearing in their books, with a proofreader’s help. Fr de Verteuil includes Patois songs, proverbs and riddles in his book, Trinidad’s French Legacy 1776–2010, with chapters on Patois specialists John Jacob Thomas and Charles Renaud.  Gérard Besson’s 2011 fictional novella, The Voice in the Govi, has each chapter beginning with a Patois proverb. The languages of Besson’s book are English/Patois. Both include up-to-date spellings.

Voice in the Govi (72 dpi)

Tip 6: Visit your local bookshopPaper Based, for example, has the Winer dictionary, and the Besson and de Verteuil books above. That bookshop can order many others such as the famous The Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar by John Jacob Thomas, originally published in Port-of-Spain by Chronicle Publishing Office, 1869, and republished in London by New Beacon Books in 1969. They have in stock these additional titles, as follows:


(Songbook and CD)

 Cest Quitte  81whsSBL8TL__SL1500_  la_petite_musicale

(Documentary film, television series and music CD)

Paper Based can order other Patois titles such as Augustus Junior Howell’s Patois and English Folk Songs of Trinidad & Tobago, with Music Lesson Plan. There are also novels, poetry collections, dictionaries and studies from the French Caribbean, Haiti, St Lucia, Dominica and Grenada.

Check out the two volumes of this great pan-Caribbean atlas (focus on the Lesser Antilles), featuring Trini Patois (also available on Amazon.fr):

atlas_linguistique 1  515ezwr7JtL._

Tip  7: Find a native speaker. You can hear Patois before, during and after the Dimanche Gras Patois mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe R.C.Church in Paramin every year.

Paramin RC

Record your own parents’ and grandparents’ memories, jokes, riddles, proverbs, songs and more. If it’s totally lost in your family, check out our interviews on YouTube, helpfully subtitled into English, sometimes Spanish for our Venezuelan viewers. Yes, Patois is spoken in Venezuela too, and is actually a legally protected and often promoted language there (spoken in two states), a great model for us.


See more on the UWI-RDI Trinidad and Tobago Endangered Languages Project, and on the Annou Palé Patwa wiki. Find us on Annou Palé Patwa on FacebookRead more on page 66 of STAN here.

 *A.k.a. Creole, Créole,Kwéyòl, Kréyol, French Creole, Creole French, French-lexicon Creole (Patois in Patois is spelt Patwa—English has kept the French spelling of Patois).

7 thoughts on “A Plug for Patois (Part 2)

  1. Interesting! I know that the old folk often used the word “sequite” to refer to a drink (alcoholic). I had associated it with “se quita (la sed)” as a vestige of the Venezuelan influence. Now I see it can also be “c’est quitte” from the patois although the implication is slightly different. This may be just semantics but at any rate, the effect is the same. I still use the word to offer a thirst quencher and it is still very clear what I am talking about.

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