Trinidad’s Anglicisation Policy
One Big Reason Why Trinidad is No Longer Multilingual
Walking my dog in the Botanical Gardens in Port-of-Spain one day, I stopped at the little cemetery and noticed the tombstone above. I just had to take a photo of the grave of the once powerful Charles William Warner, Companion, Order of the Bath (CB). I remember thinking to myself, wow, Warner may have passed on, but he certainly had an impact on Trinidad, its language situation, identity and education system.
And just who was Charles William Warner, and what did he do? Donald Wood and others note that he was described variously as:
- “the most influential Attorney‐General in the history of Trinidad”
- “the dictator of Trinidad”
- “the evil genius of Anglicization”
- “the evil genius of the country”
- “a francophobe”
Warner was Attorney General from 1844 to 1870 (one of three Attorneys General in the family, including one in Antigua). Warner Street in Newtown, Port-of-Spain is named after him.
This was the man who fought to make Trinidad more British. According to Carl Campbell, “the consuming passion of his [Warner’s] long career was to give an English identity to a colony which was a mosaic of non‐English cultural elements…” (1978: 55). It must have been frustratingly difficult to govern a multilingual colony, where English was a minority language. Interestingly, Warner’s second wife was Ellen Rosa Cadiz, a Trinidadian of Spanish and Irish descent. One of their children was the cricketer, Sir Pelham Francis Warner.
He was educated in England, and was a practising barrister. One of his relatives maintains his online family tree at geni.com, and there is more about his father, Colonel Edward Warner, here. Edward Warner was “…a lineal descendant of Sir Thomas Warner.”
(Thomas Warner was the man who founded the first successful English colony in the West Indies in St Kitts in 1624, followed by the French a year later. St Kitts has been described as the possible birthplace of both the English Creole and French Creole languages in the Caribbean.)
Charles William Warner also figures in a genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain. Read more about the Warner families of Trinidad from Gérard A. Besson.
The 1830s and 1860s were decades of important non‐British immigration that permanently changed the face of Trinidad. During that century overall, some 30 languages were spoken, five of which were seen in the press, including English, French and Spanish with regularity, and also Chinese and Portuguese. Many were not even recognised, far less tolerated.
Hoping to govern more effectively, the British government developed and implemented what Bridget Brereton describes as a “full‐scale policy of ‘Anglicisation’” (1993: 37). Warner was at the helm of this policy.
This Anglicisation policy was aimed at the French of Trinidad, including the French Creole (Franco-Trinidadian) élite (the social and economic rivals of the less numerous British expatriates and British Creoles), the descendants of the important “free coloured” group, and the masses. Each group spoke Patois. The policy was designed to eliminate the Frenchness of Trinidad in every sphere of life, including language and culture. There are some more details here.
So, after thriving for decades after its arrival in 1783 (if not before), Trinidad had to watch French die as a home language among the French Creoles. But Patois (now known as French Creole), which also arrived in 1783 (if not before), survives to this day. Patois found a more permanent home in the the hills and rural areas all over Trinidad, especially wherever cocoa was planted, from Moruga to Paramin and in between. To a large extent, these places became a haven, a retreat and a protection for the language. Check out the documentary C’est Quitte: The French Creoles of Trinidad (excerpt below).
Patois or French Creole was first spoken in Trinidad by the French, West Africans and by the Afro-French. Patois also became the language of wider communication, the lingua franca, of multilingual Trinidad. Throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century, Patois was spoken by residents and learned by newcomers in this multilingual society, As a home language, it belonged to the more socially subordinate, whereas French belonged mainly to the élite. But both languages were part of French Creole society, in all its complexity.
In 1845, Warner went so far as to declare in the Legislative Council that “English rights and privileges should only be given to those who would take the trouble to learn English and to bring up their children in an English way” (Wood 1968: 181). One way to force this to happen was through education. Under the Education Ordinance of 1851, a system of secular government‐controlled Ward schools was established, and “this system of education established in Trinidad after 1838 exercised a powerful influence on social development” (Brereton 1981: 122). See more about education and its impact on language here.
Brereton (2002: 42) tells us that “Warner was regarded as the ‘real ruler’ of Trinidad during these years… and his era was called ‘Warnerism’”. He served under two governors but wielded a great deal of power. One of the lasting effects of Warner’s reign is the impact of the policy of Anglicisation on the island and country even a century later.
As Brereton notes (1981: 122), it was during this period of Anglicisation that Trinidad’s and the world’s first grammar of French Creole, a “living, flourishing language,” was written by John Jacob Thomas in 1869.
So, ever wondered why Patois is no longer “living, flourishing language” for most of us? One Big Reason was the Anglicisation policy, officially giving English more and more prestige and a position of power. If a Trinidadian spoke English, s/he could get a (better) job. Of course, there are many other complex, intertwining factors. Patois never had much overt or public prestige, and there was even shame attached to the language and its speakers, shame on the part of both speakers and others. It certainly had significant covert prestige, within some families and communities, enabling it to survive in some places.
Today, Patois and other languages have been mostly replaced by English Creole (Dialect). Ironically, English is still a minority language – possibly resistance on the part of the people? It is safe to say that most Trinidadians are bilingual in English Creole and English, some at least passively bilingual in English. Both Trinidadian English Creole and Tobagonian English Creole are alive and well, if not recognised in all spheres. Trinidad and Tobago English (standard and non-standard) still needs more documentation and description, to be made accessible to everyone.
Thankfully, Warner did not completely succeed in his plans. We still have languages struggling to survive, including Arabic, Bhojpuri/Hindustani, Patois/French Creole, Spanish and T&T Sign Language. UWI linguists are trying to document and help revitalise and save them.
(Unfortunately, our 11 plus Amerindian languages in at least 3 language families have already passed on, though some survive in the mainland/rimland/continental countries. French, Portuguese and Yoruba are also mostly a memory. Many descendants of speakers of these languages now want to learn their ancestral languages, in their modern forms.)
Had Warner succeeded, Patois and the other Trinidadian languages (above) would be much more alive and not mostly dead (according to Miracle Max, Princess Bride). Who knows, without Warner and others, we might have been like the ABC islands, with their four (or five) languages, spoken by smaller populations on smaller islands to this day.
Patwa ka viv toujou! Patois is still alive!