Language/Communication Diversity in Trinidad & Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago has always been referred to as a ‘melting pot’ due to the mixtures in its culture, people and food. This can also be said of our language variety as English and Trinidadian English creole are spoken primarily, while Bhojpuri, Hindi and Chinese are spoken by minority groups. There is so much that can be said about our language diversity and communication in Trinidad and Tobago but here are some of the things I love most.
I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of the West Indies with a minor in Linguistics so needless to say I am fascinated by language. One thing that always amuses me is the ability of Caribbean people to creatively use language and certainly Trinidad and Tobago is no exception. A simple walk in the streets will reveal this fact, whether it’s the unique jingle of the ‘pie man’ on the corner, the comical sales pitches of market vendors or the carefully crafted pick-up lines. Our words can be intertwined into the sweetest form of flattery and the most absurd insults.
Our sing-song accent
Many of us have travelled abroad and had the experience of being identified by our accent which is usually described as sing-song in nature. Record a Trinbagonian telling a story and you will be sure to notice the various melodies. Our use of language, specifically Trindadian Engish Creole, is a huge part of our ‘Trinbagonian-ness’. Some are even able to identify the differences in speech between the dialect spoken in Trinidad as opposed to Tobago. I once called a business in Tobago and was immediately treated as a foreigner; I could not believe that the person on the phone instantly knew I was not from Tobago. I then tried to convince myself that I lived just ‘next door’ in Trinidad and did NOT have a different accent (which I clearly have- lol). Also, if you're really good, then you can even tell if someone resides in north, central, west or south Trinidad based on the way they speak as there are variances in the accent.
Truth be told, I love a good meme. So, memes that also highlight the elements of our language and culture are always favourites. Nobody and I mean NOBODY makes a joke out of every situation like we do. While this can be both a blessing and a curse, let’s focus on the blessing I’d like to call ‘meme education’. I use this phrase to refer to memes that are both amusing and educational. For instance, the following meme can teach us about tonal languages which, as the name suggests, are languages in which variations in tone change the meaning of a word which otherwise is pronounced the same. This is used by Trinbagonians all the time.
And just to throw in a personal favourite, I’ve included the meme below which has been circulating a lot recently. Talk about confusion for a foreigner!
Our openness to other cultures
Lastly, I love our openness to other cultures. In recent times we have seen a large influx of Venezuelans. While English is the official language of our twin Republic, this occurrence has brought the buzz of Spanish being our second language to the forefront (yet again). Many radio stations are playing more songs with lyrics in Spanish, businesses are having signs posted in English as well as Spanish, one newspaper has added a section en Español and even those who preach in the streets have sermons in Spanish. Just this week I was able to help two Spanish speakers, one who sat next to me in the taxi and needed help to get to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the other was a young lady who needed help to find the Peruvian Embassy. I could literally see the anxiety and distress drain from their faces when they realised that I spoke Spanish. Therefore, I urge you all to take advantage of any opportunity to learn Spanish as it will definitely prove to be useful.
Our literary landscape is becoming even more diverse and I am so here for it.
Tell us, what do you love most about our language and communication in Trinidad and Tobago?
Kimberly always had a passion for languages which led her to pursue a degree in Spanish at the U.W.I, St. Augustine. She hopes that her writing can serve as inspiration and a means of entertainment for all readers. Her interests include graphic design, reading, baking, travel, and photography. Check out her blog at https://extensionofexpression.com/