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Geography and Sociolinguistic Characteristic of the Carribean

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According to Baptiste (1995) the thing which is very important and helpful in understanding the Caribbean English and where that language comes from is studying the history, geography and sociolinguistics of the Caribbean. Humanities, social science and natural science need to be taken into account to know what varieties of English are spoken in Caribbean, how this language developed and what kind of connection has the language with people who live there.

1.1 Location and definition of the Caribbean

The location of the Caribbean can be simply defined as the area ranging from certain parts of Florida to the northern coast of South America. As Baptiste (1995) assumes, it should be mentioned that the Caribbean geography is very complicated and the reason of that complexity is the European colonialism, which made barriers and divisions between the islands. The number of effects of the European colonialism was extensive, as for example slavery and infectious diseases but finally left the area split into British, Spanish, French and Dutch totality. At least 7,000 isles, cays, bars and islets can be numbered among that region. There are multiple uses of the word Caribbean. Its principle ones are historical, geographical, philological and the others are social. The Caribbean can also be extended to contain territories with strong cultural and historical connections to slavery, European colonisation and the plantation system. Caribbean Basin proposed by Lewis (2005) is the term which is the most extensively used to denote all the islands and islets of the Caribbean area, and includes:

– The sovereign countries of Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad-Tobago, Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Antigua-Barbuda, St. Kitts-Nevis, The Bahamas, Suriname, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines – The UK dependencies of Montserrat and British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Bermuda, Anguilla, Cayman Islands – The US Virgin Islands of St. Thomas and St. John, St. Croix and Puerto Rico – The Dutch colonies of Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao, part of the island of St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba – The French external subdivisions of Martinique and Guadeloupe, dependencies of Desired, Cayenne, Les Saintes, Marie- Galante, St. Barthelemy, and rest of the Saint-Martin, Guadeloupe

Baptiste (1995) stands that in spite of the many aspects which differentiate the islands, the one important thing which characterises the islands` similarity, is their geography. For example, with the exclusion of Guyana, the Caribbean Sea eroded all the shores off Caribbean countries. Other analogous factors are history and colonial past.

1.2 The history of the Caribbean

The history of the Caribbean region is similar to the sea that washes its shores. At first glance, the sea seems to be a range of colours from turquoise to royal blue, but a closer look shows the water actually has no colour at all. Baptiste (1995:3).

The above description shows that the Caribbean history is very intricate. It may seem to be very easy to express the history of the Caribbean but during the deeper analysis we can come to the conclusion that it is a combination of fairytale, alteration and folklore. The history can be briefly characterized by few words like devastation, captivity, racial extermination and colonisation. It is generally known that in 1492 a Spanish voyager called Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. Columbus was convinced that he reached India. Nowadays we know that it was a part of Caribbean, precisely Bahamas.

Many sources report, among others also Baptiste (1995), that during this period, the Caribbean Islands were inhabited mainly by Arawak or Taino people, the Caribs and the Ciboney in fragments of Cuba. Columbus called those people Indians. He was also amazed by the jewels which the land had yield and he decided to go further and searched for valuable metals. After him went many Spaniards who wanted not only the gold but also to take the land, which was already populated by the local peoples. The Arawaks and the Caribs were the two tribes in the Caribbean which had the first connection with Spanish and actually that was the time when the enslavement begun. Native people were treated by Spanish with cruelty. Some of the aboriginal people chose to execute themselves in order not to work for the Spaniards.

Brea (2003) states that in 1492 when Columbus arrived to Caribbean, the populace of the native people was over one million. Regarding with other historians, one third of the aboriginal people was deceased by 1497. In the northern and western parts of the Caribbean, in the Antilles, the Arawaks tried to displace the Spanish, but the Spaniards had unconventional weapons and they were taught in fighting techniques. Those who stayed alive suffered from famine, system of involuntary labour, mistreatment and European diseases, principally smallpox. It took over a century until the Spanish conquered the Caribbean and other European countries could find a strong base there. When new European nations arrived, as Baptiste (1995) mentions, the northern coast of South America, Panama, Cuba and Peru were already propertied by Spain. These nations were the Dutch, French and British, they had to struggle with Spain for few years before they could colonise the Eastern Caribbean. Also the Caribs fought with the colonisers for a long period of time, but (it was a well- known fact) Europeans who had stronger and well-armed firepower, won and banished the Caribs from Dominica and St. Vincent into the island’s mountainous territories. The new colonisers started to produce tropical goods. They selected tobacco and cotton which`s cultivation they learnt from aboriginal people and these were their central cash crops.

According to Williams (2009), in the sixteenth century it was Spain which began importing people, who were caught in West Africa. The African people substituted aboriginal natives of the Caribbean. Baptiste (1995:10) points out that:

…the capture and trade of African people was a huge operation involving the movement of millions people for nearly four centuries…the principal players in the trade of Africans were for European countries-Britain, Holland, France and Portugal… all of these countries established bases in West Africa to secure a monopoly on trade for their own possessions and for sale to the Spaniards.

But the real reason which made slavery a great industry was the appearance of sugar cane and the necessity of the low-priced labour power on sugar plantations. It can be seen that the plantation system took a great impact on life in the Caribbean and it subjugated the people, society and politics. The owners of plantations had lucrative benefits because of the system, but there were still not enough hands to work on fields. More than 20 million West Africans were captured and brought to the Caribbean to work. Of course, when the profits of the colonies raised, the war between them started. They fought to control the region and the Caribbean became a place where armed conflicts burst. The consequences of the war were that several countries many times changed the ownership among the British and French colonisers.

Williams (2009) proposes that very important events happened at the beginning of the 17 century. African people started to refuse the plantation landlords their power. It was the outbreak of the revolution which started in one of the French colonies. The success of that small colony gave the fortitude to other enslaved people and, of course, shock for the owners of the colonies. There were other several uprisings throughout the British, French and Dutch colonies. It was already known that the slavery in the Caribbean area was coming to an end.

The Industrial Revolution, as Williams (2009) stands, had a great impact upon the problems of the Caribbean. The main one was that it left the colonies with great economic and social problems. The second issue was that the slavery was no more profitable. The next one was the amount of labourers. The solution was to bring new workers from India, Africa, Europe and Asia and from that time, there was not only white and black colour structure but also people who came from China, India and Japan. In Caribbean There were more than half a million people, in Caribbean who generally came from some parts of Asia and India. In consequence, the societies became multiracial. There was the domination of two populations that was people of African and Asian ancestors.

3. The origins and the influences of the English language on the Caribbean

The history and social structure of the Caribbean are the most important influences on what language is spoken and how it is spoken. Colonial history has resulted in the islands being divided today into English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, French-speaking and Dutch-speaking countries. Baptiste (1995:15)

According to Youssef (2010:52) the important fact which should be mentioned is that the Caribbean could be grouped conferring to the languages which are official. We can distinguish such groups as: hispanophone, francophone and anglophone. Of course the leading is the Anglophone group.

It can be clearly understood that native people of the Caribbean did not stay alive after the Spanish expeditions and their native language neither. But the interesting case is that several of their words did last. Baptiste (1995) denotes few examples, such as cassava, tobacco or guava because Spanish did not have appropriate terms for them. The causes were that they accepted Arawak and Carib words because of regular usage of them. The mixing of languages depends on what part of Caribbean was settled and by which country. The greatest influences on originating the language on the Caribbean had Spanish, English, French and Dutch. When one of the colonizing countries took control over the colony which belonged to a different country, it tried to obliterate and hint of the other’s language and quickly introduced its particular language. The consequences are seen in the present days. Countries of the Caribbean area indicate a diversity of impacts, which depends on the history and colonial past of a given country. As an example, it is worth to mention Dominica, which colonial settlers have changed 12 times among Spain, Britain and France. Finally Dominica became a British settlement, but even nowadays we can observe the French impact on the nation and language, which is concrete.

The very important fact which should be mentioned is that the slaves who were caught in Africa spoke many different languages. These belonged to the Niger-Congo family of languages, from Western and Southern Africa. When the slaves were brought to the Caribbean they had to learn the European languages. It depended to which of the European countries a colony belonged to. Also, certain peripheral effect had the indentured workers from India and China. The next important fact was that they attained to Caribbean into somewhat altered conditions, from those which had experienced people from Africa. The consequences were that the new workers provided space between the people of white and black races. It contributed to another class being introduced and did donate to the national and social development of certain countries. Baptiste (1995) notices that large number of aspects has effects on what kind of languages are truly spoken and in what way. As an example, Dominica and St. Lucia are countries which are reflected as these where English language is spoken but the French, leftovers are apparent in their language and it has appeared as a French creole spoken by the great number of people.

The plantation system mentioned earlier by Baptiste (1995), formed something which can be called a pyramid structure of the society. The structure of the pyramid corresponded with the linguistic structure. The topmost were those who become skilled with the European languages, and the lowest were those who could not learn the spoken European languages. We can observe a great connection with history, language and social/class improvement in the area, therefore we can resolutely say that Caribbean languages are affected by the composite landscape of the history of the region. This was resulted in the expansion of Creole English which devises of own set of pronunciations, distinctions and lexes.

1.3.1 The characteristic of the Caribbean English and sociolinguistic approach

It is known that Anglophone group is the major one and has raised the greatest sociolinguistic interest. Youseff (2010) points out that it is better to know how the region is organized before we want to describe the sociolinguistic problem of the Anglophone Caribbean. The first thing which should be described are the Greater Antilles which occupy three islands (one consists of two separate countries): – Cuba (Hispanophone)

– The Dominican Republic(Hispanophone) and Haiti(Francophone/French official) – Jamaica(Anglophone Creole speaking/English official)[1]

There is the most important emphasis on Jamaican Creole and its intervention with Jamaican English. Youseff (2010) discusses that issue in more details. The next group, the Lesser Antilles, is composed of smaller islets. The foremost Francophone terrains are Martinique and Guadeloupe. There are Francophone Creole and French as separate enigmas within these countries. To the north are US lands, with US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Within these two terrains lasts a battle of the domination of American English, because there are two languages, creolized English and Spanish. The Bahamas is a participant of the trade and industry union of the Caribbean, nevertheless geographically it is north of the area. The Hispanophone terrains have not marked considerable respect within sociolinguists, maybe because of the absence of Creole languages except for Papiamentu in Aruba and Bonaire.

We simply specified major islands where English speaking occur. All of them are: Jamaica, Bermuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guyana, U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, Belize, Anguilla, Barbados, British Virgin Islands.

1.3.2 The varieties of English spoken in the Caribbean

As it was mentioned earlier, there are different variations of English in the Caribbean. Exactly there are five differentiations of spoken English. In accordance with Baptiste (1995), we can easily simplify Caribbean English as:

– Creole English
– Erudite English
– Foreign English
– Rasta English
– Standard English

To study further the first variety of Caribbean English, the definition of pidgin language should be examined. Muhlhausler (1994) defined Pidgin as a very simple language that originated from two or more languages. The causes of pidgin language improvement, is the language contact and the usage of it by certain people, who do not have a universal language in a definite geographical region. At the basis of pidgin it is easy to classify the origins of notion Creole. As Sebba and Mark claim that: Creoles are languages which evolve from Pidgins when the pidgins become first languages for some or all of their speakers Sebba, Mark (1997) Starting with Creole English, that was already mentioned and defined by Sebba and Mark (1997), it is the language used by people with lower education. Caribbean English Creole is a specialist term for that English Creole or a cluster of creoles in the Commonwealth Caribbean. Mostly in all cases, the varieties have not got definite names which are used by speakers and scientists. In these circumstances normally the varieties are called dialects by the speakers.

The researchers termed this diversity by its regional name which is followed by English for example Barbadian English-based Creole. The Caribbean English Creole is the consequence of interaction between European and West Africans, in the sequence of European interventionism. The local dialects, which English-speaking settlers used, were the basic origination of vocabulary for Creole before the 20th century. Also the daily vocabulary of Creole provides a great number of lexical items and idioms of West African provenance. The set of grammatical structures indicates forms which are characteristic to West African languages family. Beckford- Wassink (1999) points out in his research that Creole English is apparently a language which is applicable for different circumstances. As it is known, Creole English is the most frequently used language in the Anglophone territories.

Caribbean Creole English dividends more than a few characteristics, which are described by the following quote:
(1) Expressing tense, mood, and aspect mainly by pre-predicative particles: (Jamaican) Im waak- He or she walked, He or she has walked, Im a waak- He or she is walking, Im bin waak- He or she walked, He or she had walked. (2) Marking noun plurals by postposed particles, not -s: (Jamaican, Guyanese) di daagdem- the dogs, (Trinidad) di dog-an-dem- the dogs. (3) Using front-focusing structures to disambiguate or emphasize: (Trinidad) Iz mi mʌdʌ tel mi du it- My mother (and not someone else) told me to do it; (Jamaican) A tief im tief di gʊot- He stole the goat (he didn’t buy it). (4) Reduplication in word-formation and for emphasis: (Jamaican) poto-poto- slimy, muddy, fenky-fenky- slight, puny, cowardly, fussy, batta-batta- to beat repeatedly; (Guyanese) tukka-tukka- a kind of plantain. (5) Differentiation of singular and plural second person, like archaic thou and you: (Barbados) yu versus wVnV; (Trinidad) yu versus all-yu. (6) Possession shown by placing unmarked nouns side by side: (Trinidad) mi fada kuzn hows- my father’s cousin’s house.[2]

Erudite English refers to language which is used by fairly skillful persons. According to Baptiste (1995), those people impressed with their knowledge by sound, using Latin and Greek and also by reciting biblical phrases. It is very important to say that the Bible has a minor impact upon the Caribbean language. People who can read and know the Bible have to be from upper, more educated level. This variety of English was mainly used in appropriate contexts. It can be especially heard on some kinds of religious meetings and other similar events. The introduction of the Bible in the Caribbean, begun with the European colonisation and its effects were very durable. The Bible was the tool of the church which was the basis in those times education of common. Consequently, the deep awareness of biblical phrases was a strong suggestion of learning at the higher level.

Foreign English can be regarded with languages that are spoken by nowadays people in America, Canada, and Great Britain. We cannot say that it is spoken only by foreigners but there are cases where Caribbean people try to replicate one of the Foreign English accents. In consequences, we can say of some influences on Caribbean English which result from other varieties of Foreign English.

Also a person, who naturally speaks one of the variety of foreign language, will try to replicate the Caribbean speech, has to remember about three very important features which characterise it:

1. Insert man or mon before and after almost every clause 2. Change every [th] to [t] or [d] as in ting/thing or dat/that 3. Use a Jamaican accent Baptiste(1995:Foreign English)

The Rasta English (The Rastafarian) is the mixture of African cultural subjects, Christianity, Old Testament plots and Marcus Garvey’s preaching. It has its own ideology which says about the refusal of social class order and prepares a constructive self-perception for all Black societies. The way of speaking which offers the Rastafarian, very easily assimilates with the home-grown dialects of the Caribbean. Rasta both discard from Creole English and Standard English.

A major syntactic difference from Creole is the use of the stressed English pronoun I (often repeated for emphasis and solidarity as I and I) to replace Creole mi, which is used for both subject and object. Mi is seen as a mark of black subservience that makes people objects rather than subjects. The form I and I may also stand for we and for the movement itself: I and I have fi check hard … It change I … now I and I [eat] jus’ patty, hardo bread, from Yard.[3]

Standard English, when it comes to Caribbean English, Baptiste (1995) denotes as the English which is not considered Creole. The diversity between Standard English which is spoken in the Caribbean and those English varieties, which appear in English-speaking countries like Canada, Great Britain or the United States is strongly marked. The specifics of Caribbean Standard English results from its pitch, stress and common tone and that is why it diverges from standards which are spoken in Canada or Great Britain. The Caribbean history also provides many issues which illustrate suitable words, denotations and idioms.

These are of several sorts: there are irreplaceable words like calypso, bush, tea and aacke; there are old words like stupidness and cuffuffle; new words like shirtjac, irie and ital.; there are words with unique Caribbean meanings like tea (any hot drink), lime (to visit) and cool out (to relax) Baptiste (1995:34).

4. The definition of the Taboo Slang

To study further the main problem of the whole topic, it should be explained what the taboo slang is and what indeed the slang is. Partridge (2008:15) explains

[…] from about 1850 has been the accepted term for illegitimate colloquial speech: but since then especially, among the lower classes, “lingo” has been a synonym, and so also, chiefly among the cultured and the pretentious, has “argot”. Now” argot” being merely the French for “slang”, has no business to be used thus-it can rightly be applied only to French slang of French cant: and “lingo” properly means a simplified language that, like Beach-la-Mar and Pidgin-English, represents a distortion of (say)English by coloured peoples speaking English indeed but adapting it to their own phonetics and grammar […]

He assumed that slang indeed is unpretentious in usage, but it may cause problems when it comes to writing. Partridge (2008) described that almost every word, which is considered slang, is drained from enjoyable activities (amusements, sport, games), from the ecstasy of life. Especially for that reasons, slang has been humorously called language on a picnic.

Slang is divided into numerous kinds, which are committed to different occupations and classes of society. Many people, according to Partridge (2008) do not know when to use it, and many condemn it, but it is obvious that almost all the people use slang. Mattiello explains that[…] using slang allows people to escape the dullness of neutral conventional style and to avoid the monotony of ordinary language. Mattiello(2005:17). The problem is in what context it is used, because, as it should be mentioned, the words which are considered slang can be classified to these which are the most abusive. That will be:

– Offensive slang-words which should be used with care, can be offensive to the person they are applied for. – Vulgar slang-words which should be used with extreme care, if used inappropriately, they could easily shock both, the person who is listening to and anyone with whom we talk. – Taboo slang-in general taboo words are the most shocking and should be avoided.

The important fact is that not all of words can be used freely. Frequently there are some restrictions, as Zapata (2008), claims which society forces. In almost every language there are words which are very seldom used in public, because of their denotation to the subjects which are obscene, offensive and in some kind disturbing for the listener. These words can be easily specified as taboo words. Particular taboo words have some connotations with religious topic. Freestanding usage of that words outside the ceremonies many people contemplate as profanity. On the other hand, in some cultures the use of taboo words has relation to sex, sexual body parts, and biological functions.

1.4.1 Expressing emotions of anger, annoyance and frustration in Caribbean English.

Particularly in all cases, people use abusing words when they are angry, when they want to wreak their frustration or show annoyance. In these kinds of situations, taboo words are usually helpful. In the Caribbean English, there are also words which contain the meaning of taboo. Ricks and Michaels explain that It is hard to put two words together in creole without swearing. Words are spat out from the mouth like live squibs (in Ricks and Michaels 1990,pp. 1-14). The Caribbean English can be described, as language that is spoken very harshly that any words which are used can have negative connotations. Of course, this case of formatting words which can express anger, annoyance or frustration has strong connection with Caribbean history and its social approach and earlier mentioned pyramid structure of society.

The abusing words, according to Hughes (2006), were observable in colonization times. It is known that in colonial times, there was racial mixture which resulted in mixing of languages, customs and races. The English words were mixed with other Europeans languages. Also aboriginal people who were taught the European languages were upon the influences of other foreign languages. For example, Buckra which in the American South has become a term of contempt for a poor white, has always had an elevated status in Caribbean English. Hughes (2006:58). The issue which is worth mentioning, is that the abusive words or taboo slang which will express the bad emotions of anger, annoyance and frustration, will occur mainly in Creole English. There can be also found some cases in Rasta English, but apart from that group, in other circumstances the appearance of such words is rather infrequent.

Another very important fact, mentioned by Jay (2008), is that the words expressing strong, especially bad emotions, have tendency to be remembered better and in deeper levels than more neutral words. Of course, it has to be examined what sort of words will be used by a person which is in the state of frustration or anger. It depends how people react when they are angry, and to what purposes these words will be used. For example, when a given word will be referred to a person who is the reason of someone’s annoyance, he could use abusive word, and call that person in an offensive way, or he could use an offensive word for the situation that appeared. However, the usage of slang and taboo slang, is more likely observable within young people and the lower class of society.

As it was mentioned earlier, the Caribbean English is a language which originated from contacts of languages, which had beginnings in the colonial times and lasts, till nowadays. Because language itself is in a constant state of changes, it is very simple to verify that, words which in colonial times were easily called taboo, in modern world are lesser considered to this notion. Another important fact is that, there is a wide borrowing tendency for words from other languages, which are the most popular and are in frequent use. In consequences, the Caribbean English taboo slang will be similar to the slang which is used by speakers of other English spoken countries. The difference will occur in pronunciation, word- formation, word structure and spelling etc. but the meaning will be rather the same. For example : Mudascunt-. contraction of “mother’s” & “cunt” implying that the person is stupid or ignorant, as though they had just come from the womb. Also used in general as an insult or in reference to somebody, as one would use “motherfucker” in the states.[4]

The whole examination of the history, geography and sociolinguistic approach of the Caribbean is helpful in further study, which covers the case of taboo slang, that is used in certain Caribbean language, especially English. As the example above shows, the Caribbean taboo slang is in some way different, than any other varieties of English slang which are more widely known. The introductory topics and subtopics not only clarified the origins of that language, but also show the differences as well as similarities between the language and the people who use it. All in all, the whole theoretical layout is for purpose to approximate the second chapter which covers the practical aim of the topic.


Baptiste, A-J. (1995) “Caribbean English and the Literacy Tutor” Beckford- Wassink, A. (1999) „ Historic low prestige and seeds of change: attitudes towards Jamaican Creole” , Language in Society, 28. Hughes, G. (2006) “An Encyclopedia of Swearing: the social history of oaths, profanity, foul language and ethnic slurs in the English-speaking world” Lewis, A. (2005) “An International Handbook of Tourism Education” Partridge, (2008) “ The new Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English” Sebba, Mark (1997): Contact Languages: Pidgins and Creoles. London, Macmillan. (Especially Chapter 7). Williams, J. (2010) “Euro- Caribbean English Varieties: The Rutledge Handbook of Sociolinguistics around the World” Youssef, V. (2010) “Sociolinguistics of the Caribbean”: The Rutledge Handbook of Sociolinguistics around the World” http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O29-CARIBBEANENGLISHCREOLE.html http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=mudascunt&defid=1682828

[1] See Youssef (2010:52)
[2] Available at http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O29-RASTATALK.html [3] Available at http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O29-RASTATALK.html [4]
Available at http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=mudascunt&defid=1682828

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