What a dull world it would be if there were no diversity of speech
Stabroek News
November 10, 2001

Related Links: Letters on language
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Dear Editor,

Once again, I'm compelled to respond to one of R.J Eleazar's letters (SN 3/11/01). I thought the letter had been adequately answered by Harold Bascom (SN 6/11/01), but I was surprised to find Mr Eleazar being praised for this idiocy by G.Pat Walcott (SN 7/11/01).

In his letter Mr Eleazar points out that 'almost every Guyanese these days pronounces the word three as tree'. He seems repulsed by this. But does he not realise that this is the case for practically everyone in the Caribbean? Generally speaking in London 'think' is pronounced 'fink', 'nothing' 'nuffing', and 'three' is 'free'. The Irish also do not pronounce the 'th', so that they say 'tick' for 'thick', 'tink' for 'think', 'turd' is 'third' as these are for us.

Although in Guyana we tend to drop the 'h' in our speech we are well aware that the 'h' in such words is what makes them 'standard English'. And if this is not being taught in schools and at home, then of course Mr Eleazar has a point.

I hope it will be noted that I have used 'but' as well as 'and' to begin some of my sentences. There was a time when it was incorrect to do so. But now, we have a different set of linguistic rules and applications, reflecting the move towards diversity of expression. Cultural/English studies departments throughout the world have been striving to recognise 'new englishes' for cultural development and retention. In so doing, they have invested a great deal of research into oral societies/histories in order to encapsulate cultural legacies. Is Mr Eleazar suggesting that they are wasting their time?

I would like to know how Mr Eleazar would pronounce the title 'Braithwaite'? Would he not say 'Braffitt', knowing also that it is 'Brai-th-waite'? And what about 'Persaud'? Would he not say 'Passaad'? Or would he try to 'twissup' his 'mout' to say 'PERSOOAUD'? My aunt told me something I'd like Mr Eleazar to contemplate. Some years ago, the then agricultural minister, Mr Ptolemy Reid gave an address to the WRSM in Linden. He told them, that 'when dem a come to yoh wid dem academic, yoh na goh andastaan. So le' dem bruck am up fine, fine...' In other words, speak to the people in a way that they can understand, otherwise you've told them nothing, they understand nothing, but at least you said it with strict adherence to standard English.

I am also glad to say that I have been taught recently by Clem Seecharan, a Guyanese historian. I've been marvelling at Clem's total retention of his Guyanese speech. I don't just mean his 'accent' I mean the very inflections, intonations and pronunciations that are distinguishingly Guyanese. He makes no effort to disguise it and the class love it there's never a dull, nodding-off-to sleep moment. I don't see any perplexed glances, I hear no complaints and I see expressions of respect for the man. Yet, if you refer to any one of his scholarly works, you'll find the 'necessary' standard English therein, though beautifully enhanced by his individual style of writing.

In English we 'speak', in Guyanese Creole, we 'gyaff' an' buss laugh', it's our way of being 'us'. What a dull monotonal (English speaking) world it would be if there were no diverseness of speech, no rhythm in our language? So please, Mr Eleazar, allow us some linguistic autonomy and do as Bascom urges, 'lighten up' or 'low we le' we do we t'ing'.

Yours faithfully,

Michelle Stoby