If I reach by the library in San Juan via the Croisee on a Tuesday in February, walking with my tablet, it seems that if I went there and asked for some good literature on Maths, or to watch a film on Siparia, and then went to heng in a nearby parlour selling corn curls and chewing gum, and went home to have fish broth/tea, a tuna sandwich and cucumber and tomato salad, a cupcake with icing, crispy khurma, cocoa tea or coke in a tin, nearly everything I say or pronounce would be “wrong” (just because, ahm, why, exactly, according to who(m)?). Feeling stupid, and scratching my forehead, ketching meh tail, asking myself whappm and why; this is real buss and tief head, needing some medicine… Kinda rough to be wrong in my own country. It would be like watching someone else’s reflection in a mirror and saying “Daiz me!” or “That should be me…” Who sez. Off to charge my batteries, and find a nice Pollock zaboca or a shrimp roti to eat.
There has been a lot written about past errors that are the source of present pronunciations in English. Here are some interesting compilations:
- Language Gone Wrong: Words That Started Out as Errors (vocabulary.com)
- 10 Words that Started Out as Errors (Mental Floss)
- 8 pronunciation errors that made the English language what it is today by David Shariatmadari (Guardian)
When in doubt, or even when cocksure, check out the Winer 2009 Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago, and Etymonline.com.
P.S. The flag above is not just a show of patriotism – it is also the cover of the must-have Winer 2009 Dictionary mentioned above and shown below.
*Some people are now pronouncing era like error (Trini English is non-rhotic), no doubt thanks to watching American cable TV. It’s actually okay to say “eera” for era.
Not Just a Trini Thing
Speakers of English around the world confuse pacific for specific, prostrate for prostate and much more. It’s really not just a “Trini thing”. Check out these pedantic (and/or helpful) posts from other countries:
- 51 Words You Should Know How to Pronounce (ragan.com)
- 50 Incorrect Pronunciations that You Should Avoid (Daily Writing Tips)
- 38 Common Spelling and Grammar Errors (Mental Floss on YouTube, Ep 9)
- 19 Common Errors in the English Language that You Must Avoid (Prolific Living)
- 10 Mispronunciations that Make You Sound Stupid (Tech Republic)
- 10 Common Words You Might Be Mispronouncing
- Common Pronunciation Errors in English (Jakub Marian)
Influences from Our Own National Heritage Languages
Tanty is from French and Patois (French Creole).
Chive(s) is pronounced sive because of our French and Patois heritage. So are the pronunciations of salad, San Juan and Croisee. Check out another blag on Patois.
Mammy (Mami) is from Spanish.
Historical Phonology: Different Emphases on Different Syllables
*Character – CHAracter or chaRACter?
The second one with the second syllable stressed is the earlier pronunciation that sailed the Atlantic around Shakespearean times and stayed here in the Caribbean (and some parts of the USA). Other words that used to have the stress on the second syllable include conTEMplate, balCOny, deCAdent, soNOrous, and many more. So chaRACter was right for one period of English language history, but not any more? Sounds more like fashion than fact.
The period known as the Early Modern English (EModE) period spanned c. 1500 to c. 1800. British colonisation in the Caribbean started in that very period, first with St. Kitts in 1623 and then Barbados in 1627 (Bermuda was colonised in 1612).
There weren’t any truly official standard varieties in Britain before the 1600s. Standardisation of English was firmed up in that very period too, reducing official variability and variation, and leaving that to the dialects of English that did not undergo standardisation. Here is an overview of that time.
Many of those dialects that came to the Caribbean later got pushed into geographic and social obscurity in Great Britain and elsewhere, but were happily preserved here, or maybe not so happily, judging from all the criticism often hurled at Caribbean varieties of English, not to mention English Creoles. Both language varieties share close connections with aspects of Early Modern English dialects of England.
Therefore, Early Modern English varieties are the ones that settled here, not prescribed Present Day (standardised) English. We would do well to study those EModE varieties, which still have echoes here, instead of ONLY modern English from foreign textbooks, which we must also use in our writing and other media. It is okay to be bidialectal and bilingual.
See page 57 of this article, “Aphesis in English”, by J D Alexander (WORD, 39 (1998):1, 29-65).
Or 151 of Algeo’s The Origins and Development of the English Language (Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 6th edition, 201o).
Or check out page 208 of Collins and Mees’ Practical Phonetics and Phonology (Routledge, 3rd edition).
See also For the Love of Language: An Introduction to Linguistics by Burridge and Stebbins (and others by Burridge) (Cambridge University Press, 2015)
By the way, Shakespeare might have said “the cyat was hiding in the gyarden”. He might also have said buss, cuss, fuss, nuss, wuss, for burst, curse, first, nurse, worse, and more. These pronunciations were cool then too.
Other varieties of English also have stress shifts. Not that external norms “validate” us, but it’s just good to know.
Other varieties of English also have vowel differences one from the other (even internally, like break vs breakfast) – variety is the spice of life! See etymonline.com for a nice explanation of meet/met, five/fifteen, house/husband, break/breakfast.
Modern International Synchronic Variation
There is an increasing familiarity with and respect for General American norms, what with a) Miami around the corner (on the same continent), and with flights to London just too expensive; b) the switch to American cable programming (and other media) away from British offerings; and c) the lessening of national and Caribbean television offerings (and apparently either lack of contact with elders or a general scorn of preceding generations or both). Unfortunately, all this contact also seems to parallel increasing distance from the older Trinidadian self almost to the point of mockery, scorn and derision, even complete lack of awareness of older local and national norms – calling them “old fashioned.” Such are the attitudes towards language change in progress.
Apparently, when some Trinis travel overseas, they find themselves looked on as a curiosity and a minority, and allow themselves to be laughed at, to be questioned (more like doubted), to be found cute and/or exotic (and not taken seriously), and through a lack of self-acceptance or self-understanding or both, quickly end up adopting another accent (and attitude) or adapting some of the time, instead of teaching others who we are. Let’s have some pride, be secure, and take ownership of our languages, people – we are 54 going on 55 years old as a nation.
See another rant here.
This word has at least two pronunciations.
Forehead does rhyme with horrid. See “There was a little girl” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).
Both are fine. Pronouncing maths like [mats] is fine too (just like [kloz] for clothes and [monts] for months. It is called dissimilation.
*Schedule (it was originally sedule from Old French cedule, anyway)
Both pronunciations are fine (the one with the ‘sh’ sound is more British, the one with the ‘sk’ sounds is more US-based). I vote for sedule.
Phonology: Switching Sounds (Metathesis)
*Aks andAsk= they came from the verbs acsian and ascian from way back when.
*Crispy and Cripsy = almost like Waps and Wasp
*Film and Flim = Take the flim challenge and name 10 words that end with [lm], where the [l] is pronounced. (These can’t include balm, calm, palm, psalm and salmon which dealt with the [lm] problem by deleting the [l] in speech – some of them weren’t there from the start, and were even stuck in to look closer to their etymologies, like in balm.) Now name 10 words that start with [fl]. Which is easier and more common?
Other varieties handle this [lm] problem by breaking up the sequence with a vowel, like some varieties of Irish English. So, deletion, insertion and metathesis are all skilful coping strategies to deal with any pronunciation problem.
Kurma and Kumar are a type of metathesis too.
FYI, in addition to aks and ask, and waps and wasp, if flim and cripsy are wrong, then all English speakers should revert to hros for horse, brid for bird, tronado for tornado, brust for burst, birght for bright and udder such examples!
Phonology: Vowel/Syllable Deletion (Apocope)
The deletion of an unstressed vowel (leading therefore to a reduction in the number of syllables) is common and normal, as in chocolate which has two syllables these days (in English). The first syllable CHO is the main one and is stressed, the second one CO was the least stressed, and the last one LATE is not as stressed as the first. So the vowel in CO vamoosed and the consonant repped by C moved over to the last syllable, giving us CHOclate.
This is the reason for the way we pronounce these words and more (like other speakers of English, except for many Americans who prefer to keep all syllables):
medicine (and yes, when the collapses, the ends up next to the and starts to sound like a – see Assimilation below)
Phonology: Insertion (Epenthesis)
Icing, fishing and flowering sometimes get an extra consonant, and athlete and translation sometimes get an extra vowel. The process is called epenthesis. Insertion and deletion processes fix syllable structure to match existing syllable norms or templates, sometimes by analogy with similar sounding words.
For most speakers of English, the
in news by itself is different from the in newspaper. In the second instance, it sounds like an [s], but in the first, like a [z].
It’s okay if pigtail sounds like picktail and Princes Town sounds like Princess Town. It’s for ease of articulation and the in pig is becoming a [k] to match the in tail, and the
(really a [z]) in Princes is trying to sound more like the in Town.
Assimilation explains punkin for pumpkin, and sangwich for sandwich.
Assimilation also explains choon for tune, and Chuesday for Tuesday (and historically explains why sure and sugar have an sound at the beginning).
The digraph has two distinct pronunciations, as in thigh and thy. But it can also have a third, as in [t] in Anthony (now being pronounced with theon this side of the Atlantic), Thames and Thomas.
These two sounds have been variable for a long time. Mother was originally modor, and father was originally fader in Anglo-Saxon times. Someone writing about the author of a thesis on theatre in mediaeval times would have said the autor (Latin via French) of a tesis on teatre (both originally Greek words via Latin and French). It was okay then, but not so okay now. So which are better, archaisms or neologisms, and why? Answer = neither.
TH-sounds can be “stopped”, that is, speakers can exchange voiceless [t] for [θ] in tings for things and voiceless [d] for [ð] as in dese for these. Many varieties of English stop TH-sounds, as in New York English, Irish English, Indian English, Nigerian English, Filipino English and many more. The voiceless TH-sound can also be “fronted” as in fish brof for fish broth.
People seem to complain that tree and three, and taught and thought have become homophonous in T&T English and English Creole. It’s okay to have homophones. One person has collected 441 other homophones in English; we just have more.
Mixing Up Words and Pronunciations
Meaning change is obviously not a “mispronunciation”, but this is a brief response to those who commented using these words as examples. Some are British vs American usage or pronunciation, and some are creative innovations from right here.
*Allyuh (second person plural pronoun)
This is helping to remove the ambiguity in English in which you and you are both singular and plural, unlike all the other pronouns! (English used to distinguish between both numbers with different forms, and speakers of English around the world are trying to help English fix this.)
Both are fine. We grow (or used to grow) cane in rows here.
*Carry and Take
Yes, we CAN carry someone to the grocery.
Grocery (and its various pronunciations) is fine.
*Sweetdrink and Softdrink
Both are fine.
And sweedrink is fine (nobody says the in Christmas), or seedrink(nobody pronounces the in two, answer or sword – okay, well, some mix up sword and sward) or seejink(the sounds like anyway) are all fine. And ask for a soda here, you will get a club soda.
*Tea – any hot beverage (even marijuana, no?)
The word tea in English came to English from an Amoy Chinese word in 1644, meaning “a hot aromatic beverage based on leaves.” It is related to chai from Mandarin Chinese, both words beginning with an coronal plosive, and ended with a front vowel (so, technically, chai tea is historically and etymologically redundant, but there is nothing wrong with redundancies – English has lots of them).
Other varieties of English have two or three meanings for this word. The second meaning is a semantic extension of the word to mean “mid-afternoon social meal time at which tea is served”. The third meaning includes non-leaf-based hot teas.
T&T and elsewhere throughout the Caribbean* have another use of the word tea. It’s called semantic extension, lexical creativity, word stock expansion, etc.
*P.S. If it’s so widespread in our region, it either means we all inherited it from a common source (usually Indigenous Amerindian, Western European or West African), or we borrowed it from others up the archipelago.
*Windscreen and windshield
Both are fine.
*Take away and Take out
We used to saytake away (like others elsewhere), but now with exposure to the US, and all the American fast food chains here (over 15), and their fixed branding, “take out” seems fixed to stay for take away food.
*Tin and can
Both are fine.
It’s also okay to say bonnet and trunk. The British say bonnet and boot, and Americans say hood and trunk. We do our own thing. Plus we walk on pavements and have sidewalk sales, live in apartments called flats, and much more.
Slightly off topic but this is a great infographic.
Read more in one of our blags here, and a brilliant article by John Holm on the English origins of some aspects of Caribbean speech and lexicon, “Sociolinguistic History and the Creolist” in Historicity and Variation in Creole Studies (edited by Highfield and Valdman), 1981.
BTW, gallery, moreish and pawpaw are all English words.
Not a ting wrong wit Language Variation and Change! It is all OKAY.