From Arabic, Chinese and varying mixes of French, Spanish and English ‘creole’, the languages of the Caribbean are as varied as the Flora, Fauna and peoples of the Caribbean.
Speak your language in the Caribbean, and the cultural heterogeneity of the people and their history will answer. Our exceptional Caribbean island provide the opportunity for anyone interested in listening to the expressions of an exciting and wondrous language variety to ‘tune in’ and be mesmerized by the ‘lingo’ – some of which you may understand or ‘pick up’.
A bonus flows from experiencing the colourful and flavourful variety of language sounds in your ear. Often what you think you hear may not be exactly what it is; so adapt your own understanding of it and sway to the guttural sounds.
There is a long history behind how and why so many languages washed up on the shores of the Caribbean, dating back 500 years ago.
In keeping with societies that had to innovate, literally makeover themselves, there is a story of language inventiveness that surrounds the bewildering variety of hybrid languages to have come out of the original languages brought into the region.
When walking on the streets alongside the people of the Caribbean, you should keep your ears ‘tuned-in’ at our markets; among the children playing games in the yard; on the radio; in the taxis; in the talk of the “rude boys”, in the expressions of calypso, reggae and Dancehall music.
If you do, you will experience a tingle in the ear as the amazing variety of peoples bred in the Caribbean express themselves orally, and with all of their being (and body) in a multiplicity of language forms.
It must be exciting for visiting Europeans, the English, Spanish, French, Dutch and Portuguese to hear their languages spoken far away from home – perhaps not in exactly the accustomed form, but with verifiable strains of the ‘creole’ languages brought to the region by their forebears.
Still existing are a number of elements of the African and Indian languages spoken by people removed a few hundred years and several generations from their ancestral lands.
In a second wave of language transferal is the retention, renewal and morphing of the original language forms brought to, and created in the Caribbean, by Afro and Indo Caribbean peoples, that have been blended into the English (American and British) by the West Indian Diaspora in Brooklyn, Miami, London, Manchester and Toronto.
When members of the Caribbean Diaspora return to the region for a vacation, they risk being referred to as “Fresh Water Yankees” as they speak a blend of American and West Indian English.
Chinese language forms emerged in Cuba, and would surely have influenced and been influenced by the Spanish of Spain settled in the Caribbean language dramatis personae.
As plentiful as the “Hak Gwai” pickneys – the offspring of Chinese males and African females – are the adaptations of the Chinese-Creole vocabulary.
Follow the body language inclusive of an array of gestures and facial expressions created to explain what it is to get “mamaguy” and to be “mauvais langued”.
But being the literate Caribbean that we are, there are books in which the meanings of “basodee” and “toutoulebay”, so too “im is ah genal man” and “duppy” are explained: “Cote ci Cote la” and “How to Speak Jamaican”; they can get you over whatever language hump you face in the Caribbean melting pot of languages.
Tony Fraser’s long career in journalism goes back over 35 years and covers his work in television, newspapers and magazines and radio.
In addition to his work as reporter, he has been investigative journalist producing television shows, newspaper articles, newspaper columns and editorial pieces for various media houses.