Introduction to the CREOLE – STANDARD INTERFACE:
Some Aspects of Sound
There are sounds of letters and combinations of letters that differ between Trinidad English Creole (TEC) and Trinidad Standard English (TSE). Sometimes, the way a student may pronounce a word would determine the way that word is spelt; in other words, the student may spell the word using the letters of the sound she thinks she hears. This ‘strategy’ may cause the student to misspell words, or, put another way, spell phonetically. There are many and varied spelling strategies that are available to the teacher to teach spelling; however, a critical point to note is, learning to spell is not useful by mainly drills. There needs to be explicit teaching of spelling skills and repeated use of the new words in context for the learner to become comfortable with the new stock of words.
The following attempts to capture the most common Creole-Standard sound interface for Creole speakers at the primary level. Please note that if there are any features not listed but are features of the students you teach, please include them as examples when you are teaching students the differences between TCE and SE sounds.
Approximate spelling in Creole using phonetic spelling
the, thing, that,
“de”, “ting”, “dat”
In TEC, /th/ is pronounced as /d/, /t/ or /ch/. Students should know that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with Creole pronunciations but that they should also be able to say the words when using SE.
1. Listen to these words as pronounced in TEC and SE to hear the difference between them.
2. Hear these words correctly pronounced on a regular basis.
3. Learn, practice and use these words in oral and written activities including: repeating after a model, reading lists of words, sentences and passages with these words.
4. Become familiar with the spelling of these words.
This feature of TEC creates unique homophones which teachers and students do not usually acknowledge, for example:
three – tree / pack – park / lock – luck
Teachers would need to identify any other pair of TEC homophone and point them out to students as unique to Trinidad and Tobago, as well as for spelling purposes.
-ing ending: running, eating
“runnin”, “eatin” (Sometimes represented with an apostrophe where the /g/ should be pronounced.)
Commonly referred to as ‘dropping gs’ and is not unique to our context. In TEC, -ing is pronounced as in SE in accented syllables but is not pronounced in unaccented final syllables for example, ‘sing’ versus “singin”.
This can be linked when teaching verbs with the continuous aspect.
Word medial and word final /r/
work, teacher, ear, short
Trinidad and Tobago English Creole is non-rhotic; this means that /r/ is not usually pronounced inside and at the end of words. Words with an Indic origin, like “Kumar”, “kurma”. Since students do not hear an /r/, they may omit it from some words when spelling them; the students would need to become familiar with the words that have /r/ in the spelling but not in the pronunciation. A list of these words can be generated and used in various ways for students to build their familiarity with them.
Word final consonant sequences:
· When /t/ follows any consonant except /l/ or /n/, the /t/ is unpronounced
kept, act, left, last, breakfast
· When /d/ follows any consonant, the /d/ is unpronounced
This feature of Creole may affect students’ spelling since they may not include the letter to represent the unpronounced sound endings. It would be necessary to identify these words to have students become familiar with their spelling and Standard English pronunciation through practice exercises and consistent use. Sometimes, grammar is affected by this feature, for example, plurality – breakfast – breakfasts / text – texts / desk – desks. Speakers may be inclined to add an extra syllable to the word ending since the –st cluster is unpronounced.
Students must have a good model of Standard English pronunciation.
Interrogative forms – Yes/No questions: Asking questions using voice (terminal intonation contour)
Uses questions words to request information –
You does eat in the morning [./?]
It was bright [./?]
Ent you is a teacher?
“who” -“Who tell you?”
“whey” – “Whey you doing?”
“which part” – “Which part you living?” “when” – “when you coming?”
“how” – “How you know that?”
In TEC, yes/no questions are signalled by intonation – the rise and fall of the voice when speaking. There is a rise at the end of the statement instead of a ‘question word’ at the beginning of it. If the question as asked in Creole were written, it would not look different from a regular sentence/statement which ends in a period/full stop (not considering subject-verb agreement).
“Ent” functions as a negative word located before the question; this too resembles a SE statement.
Students need to know how questions are asked in TEC and SE so they would know how to use SE questions in their writing; they would be less likely to make ‘mistakes’ by writing a statement instead of a question using: ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘how’, ‘do’, ‘does’ or ‘did’ (auxiliary verb “to do”).
Palatalisation of /k/ and /g/ before certain vowels:
cat, carrot, gas, garlic
“cyat”, “cyarrot”, “gyas”, “gyarlic”
This feature is not for all Trinidadian or Tobagonian Creole speakers. It does not affect grammar but may influence spelling since a student may be influenced to insert a letter to represent the /y/ sound. If this is a feature of your student, oral rehearsals are necessary to the SE pronunciation. A good model is necessary.
Palatalization of /tr/, /thr/ and /dr/:
try, through/three, drive
“chry” “chrough” “chree” (pronounced like the /ch/ in “church”), “jrive”
This feature does not affect grammar but may affect spelling and certainly affect SE pronunciation. Students would need to have a good model of SE, be taught and reminded of the SE pronunciation of these words and be encouraged to use these words often.
Some Aspects of Grammar and Syntax
Creoles are rule-governed and have their own structures. As a result, Creoles have a grammar of their own. Consequently, it is possible to speak ‘incorrect’ Creole if one does not follow the usual way of saying things in that language. Teachers usually comment on the ‘errors’ and ‘mistakes’ that they find in students’ writing and hear when they speak; however, students may be using their Creole knowledge in a SE context. If students are taught the features of TEC and SE and how these features function in the languages, they would be less likely to ‘make mistakes’. The following table attempts to compile the common areas of grammar issues related to the needs of the primary learner.
Creole – Standard English Interface
-s usually added to the noun to show more than one in SE while the noun remains bare in Creole:
SE: book – books
Creole: book – two book, the book and them, them book, plenty book, some book, a set of book
(Plurality is expressed by “quantity expressions” so there seems to be no need for the plural –s ending (Hodge 56).
Students need to know the difference of plural formation on TEC compared to SE. What and how much is taught to students depend on their levels of language. Teachers would have to explain how plurality functions in TEC and make the connection from what they know to what they need to know in SE. A T-Chart may be useful for the comparison for older students.
It may be necessary to distinguish between countable and uncountable nouns since they are often confused and also since non-countable nouns are a challenge to make plural.
Countable nouns are those with a singular and a plural:
computer, pen, book
Uncountable/Mass nouns are things that are seen as one item, usually “materials, substances, food or abstract things” (Hodge 58):
information, bread, rice, hair, cloth, water
Sometimes, some nouns can be considered as both countable and uncountable and these should be noted.
Test: uncountable nouns cannot be used with the definite article a/an.
me book – my book
you book – your book
he/she/it book – his/her/its book
allyou book – your (plural) book
they book – their book
my-own/one, mines – mine
your-own/one – yours
he/she-own/one – his/hers
we-own/one – ours
allyou-own/one – yours (pl)
them-own/one – theirs
The possessor and the thing possessed are put next to one another in TEC but it functions differently in SE.
Where SE has the possessive pronouns, TEC has those to the left (Solomon 51).
Comparisons between TEC and SE would be necessary to distinguish features. SE features must be used often and in content rather than drilled in isolation; students need to apply the knowledge through speaking and writing tasks to become proficient users.
meself – myself
youself – yourself
he/she/itself – himself/herself/itself
weself – ourselves
allyouself – yourselves
themself – themselves
Sometimes, in TEC, “self” alone is used to emphasise a nominal: “Is she self I talking about.” – “It is she that I am referring to.”
Students need to know, learn and practice using the SE features correctly and in meaningful ways, at first orally and then in their writing.
There + to be –
Existential sentence “There is/are”
TEC: It have…
SE: There is/are…
Used to express the notion of existence and are related to categories such as location and possession (Solomon 72).
Creole does not use the verb “to be” for this structure. Some speakers use “it has” and “they have” as SE equivalents for “It have” and “them have” respectively; however, these are not SE.
Refer to Table 1
Could and would
TEC: could is used as the present tense of to be able to
present tense – can (present tense of to be able), will (the auxiliary used to form future tense of verbs)
past tense – could, would
TEC: would is one way that TEC forms the future tense.
e.g. I would tell you tomorrow.
TEC uses “could” where SE uses “can”.
e.g. The car could fit four passengers. “Can” should be used since the ‘situation’ is now. If the situation were past tense, then could is correct SE.
TEC uses “would” where SE uses “will”. Would is a less creole form of the future particle “go” (Solomon 106).
e.g. The teacher would buy the snacks later.
“Will” means ‘is going to’; “would” means ‘was going to’.
“I doesn’t go by she.”
“They doesn’t sell roti on Fridays.”
“They don’t like she at all.”
“I don’t care what they say!”
“Me eh know what she talking about.”
“They eh feeling cold?”
TEC: “He eh bathe the dog.”
SE: “He hasn’t bathe the dog.”
Doesn’t and don’t – usually used for the present habitual tense in TEC; physical action that takes place all the time or regularly (Hodge 135).
eh – used as a negative marker with verbs of mental action.
If “eh” is used with a verb of physical action, the tense would correspond to the English present perfect.
“I don’t want none.”
“He doesn’t want nothing today.”
“Nobody never do nothing for me.”
Creoles usually use more than one negative marker at a time; this feature is ungrammatical in SE – there is only one negative marker. Hodge indicates that using double negatives deliberately can make a positive statement (139); however this is not common or applicable to Primary level.
Verb “to be” – past simple tense marker
SE: was Creole: did
“She was afraid.”
“She did frighten.”
“You was she neighbour.”
“She was we neighbour.”
“Them was we neighbour.”
Usually, in Creole, the verb “did” is used in place of SE past simple tense marker “was”.
“was” is used with both singular and plural subjects to indicate simple past tense. More attention therefore is needed to ensure students understand subject-verb agreement (concord).
No copula before adjective
TEC: “He sick.”
SE: “He is sick.”
A very common grammatical feature of TEC is the absence of the verb “to be” also known as the copula, before adjectives.
“He does eat anything.”
Creole occurrence of non-perfective particle “does” before a predicator
“I go do it later.”
“I go (future) go (verb) tomorrow.”
TEC uses “go” to signal future instead of SE “will” and “going to”. Sometimes, one may notice “go” as future particle and verb together.
Note to teachers
Teachers are encouraged to get copies of the following books: The Speech of Trinidad: A Reference Grammar by Denis Solomon since he designed the book for Trinidad teachers, especially those of English. For Tobago, there is The Languages of Tobago: Genesis, Structure and Perspectives by Valerie Youssef and Winford James and Merle Hodge’s The Knots in English: A Manual for Caribbean Users is also very useful. These texts provide knowledge for teachers of Trinidad/Tobago Creole English speakers who need to learn Standard English. This section is only an introduction to this knowledge.
Hodge, Merle. The Knots in English: A Manual for Caribbean Users. Massachusetts: Calaloux, 1997.
Solomon, Denis. The Speech of Trinidad: A Reference Grammar. School of Continuing Studies, St. Augustine: Multimedia Production Centre, 1993.