Thursday, July 1, 2010

Caribbean English -- a language unto itself

I had a conversation this morning with a friend with regards to one or tow professors who hail from the various parts of the Caribbean that went something like this.

Me: he just tears up my nerves!
E: lol, you'd better stop watching him before you implode!
Me: I have such a hard time figuring out what he's actually talking about. I can understand what he's saying perfectly well
E: you just don't click.
Me: there's something about the Caribbean prosody that just makes no sense to my Anglican brain
Me: the musicality of the words just don't flow
Me: give me a Brit and I'm fine. Germans, cools. Indians (some accents aside): ohne problem. Russians, meh. Caribbean -- forget it
E: lol, I understand. I'm the same way. I can barely understand when I call for KFC...
Me: they speak in clauses and phrases instead of constructed sentences. TANGENTS. OMG
E: yeah, their brains go places mine don't

Even though we all speak "English" there is something incredibly distinct about the English here that at times can make it nigh impossible to decipher what someone's words mean. Understand the words usually doesn't present with a problem, but there is a huge gap in prosody and phrasing between the English that I grew up speaking and hearing and the English I'm finding here. I very rarely have problems understanding non-native English speakers, especially those from Europe and India. That makes sense when one considers that a) British English is what is taught, and American English has its foundations in British English and we have a lot of British influence in the media and other places, so were used to the phrasing b) most of those people learn English separately from their mother tongues and as such learn it as English. I get the impression that frequently the local island languages are just translated word for word into English and that results in the odd-ball phrasing. The wording is often completely backwards from what one would expect to hear.I would imagine that as most of the European languages are from the same group (Indo-European) the phrasing and "mindset" of the languages have a lot in common. Here, however, much of the local langauge, Patois, is influenced by African and Caribbean languages the phrasing and rhythms were brought over. To my ears they don't tango with English. And that's all I have to say about that!

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