Frequently Asked Questions

Caribbean Stuff


A. Language can be studied from a physical or biological perspective, as well as from social perspectives. Linguistics is the study of language in general, as opposed to the study of particular languages. It is the scientific or objective analysis of the nature, structure, function and usage of human language. Linguistics describes how languages actually work, how they vary and change, how they are born (or created) and die, and how they may be revived.

Linguistics bridges the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. Part of the wider fields of semiotics and cognitive science, linguistics has several multidisciplinary theoretical sub-fields, such as phonetics, phonology, morpho-syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics and applied linguistics.

This foundation discipline contributes to several other fields such as literature, education (including language arts and language teaching), communication, psychology, history, law, sociology, anthropology, ethnology, mathematics, computing, biology, physics, medicine, and neurology.

See also UWI, Mona's Explore! Linguistics.

A. See SCL member and Vice President Hubert Devonish's article on Caribbean linguistics.

A. Linguistics is foundational to these fields:

  • Linguistic Research
  • Language Survey(s)
  • Lexicography (dictionary making)
  • Speech pathology
  • Voice coaching
  • ESP (English for Special Purposes), including ELT (English Language Teaching)
  • Translation

Linguistics is valuable in these fields:

  • Advertising (including New Product Naming)
  • Communication
  • Computer Industry (Speech Synthesis and Speech Recognition)
  • Education (Teaching, Planning, Policy)
  • Foreign Language Learning
  • Information Processing
  • Interpreting
  • Journalism and writing
  • Literature and Literary Criticism
  • Literacy
  • Publishing and editing
  • Speech and hearing
  • Speech therapy
  • Technical writing
  • Writing Consultancy

Linguistics can be useful in these fields:

  • Law
  • Library Science
  • Neurosciences
  • Philosophy
  • Public Relations (Information flow)

See page 3 of UWI, St. Augustine's What Do I Do with a B.A.?

For careers in languages , see the CILT, and MLA websites.

A. As one person put it, learning a language is like learning to drive a car, and studying linguistics is like learning to become a mechanic. Everyone can learn how to drive a car, but not everyone needs to become a mechanic, although having some knowledge of how a car works is valuable indeed.

A person, including a linguist, who learns and speaks many languages is also called a polyglot. A linguist who does linguistic research studies the structure of languages, not necessarily with a view to speaking them.
A. At least one — their mother tongue. Linguists don't learn languages (they do that also, but not as a profession); linguists mostly learn about languages.

Mark Mandel quotes Lynne Murphy: "Asking a linguist (language scientist) how many languages he speaks is like asking a doctor how many diseases she has" (Dr. Lynne Murphy of the University of Sussex). To express this aphorism otherwise, we might say: "Asking a linguist (language scientist) how many languages s/he speaks is like asking a car mechanic how many cars he has."
A. Check out our cool Phon with Funetix page for lots of phonetics links.



A. A remark traditionally attributed to Weinreich is that "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy."

In Western thinking, this means that if the speakers of a linguistic variety have the power to govern themselves politically, then their variety is considered a 'language', whereas the linguistic variety of those speakers who do not have such power is considered a 'dialect'.

In linguistic terms, a dialect is a variation or sub-division of a language, which can therefore comprise many dialects, depending on social, geographical and other divisions. See the Ethnologue Introduction , and the problem of language identification, and the criteria they use for what constitutes a "language" and what features define a "dialect."

A. Astandardarised variety of a language is the dialect of a language that has been chosen (either naturally over time, or consciously, or both) to be used as the representative dialect of a given language. Part of the standardisation process includes codification, namely establishing and/or normalising the spelling system (orthography), agreeing on acceptable grammatical norms, and selecting vocabulary appropriate to various domains. Standard varieties often combine features of several dialects, and are usually considered to be neutral and unmarked, compared to other dialects of the same languages. The term 'dialect' is usually reserved for non-standard varieties of a language, referring to and encompassing societal and regional differences in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary, although 'dialect' simply means variety of a language.

The standard dialect is usually the native variety and domain of those speakers who have greater political and socio-economic leverage in their society, and therefore greater access to power-based decisions such as the choice of the language of government, education, etc. It is often the variety that commands the most respect, both by native and non-native speakers of that dialect. Like any variety of a language, standard dialects have various registers, including formal and informal, though very often the formal register has come to be the one most closely associated with the standard variety, as this variety is most used in formal domains.
A. A vernacular language is that variety of a language natively spoken by a community or group of people. It now usually refers to the language of the home, and is sometimes contrasted with the literary language of a people, if the two are different, and if the two co-exist.
AnsweA. A dialect is a variety or subset of a language. Uppercase Dialect /dajaˈlɛk/ is the proper name given to many English-lexicon creoles in the Caribbean. The term (whether capitalised or not) is often used disparagingly, not only in the anglophone Caribbean, but throughout the English-speaking world.

Lowercase dialect refers to language varieties that usually differ from each other at the levels of accent (phonology) and vocabulary (lexicon), with relatively minor differences at the level of grammar (morphosyntax). Speakers of different dialects of the same language usually understand each other, though sometimes they need time and effort to do so (depending on how different the dialects and accents are from each other, and depending on language attitudes, among other factors). All languages comprise dialects which differ from each other at the levels of accent and vocabulary, and which may be sociolinguistically defined on regional, ethnic, gender and socio-economic bases. Socially-based dialects are also referred to as sociolects or social dialects. Speaking of accents.... See the LSA article, Why Do Some People Have an Accent? and other interesting FAQs on language and language-related topics.
A. See SCL member and SCL past president Don Winford's article Languages in Contact.

See also Yves Dejean's FAQs on Haitian Creole.

Of significance is SCL member Michel DeGraff's paper against "creole exceptionalism", the common view that creoles are typologically unusual and aberrant. One might well ask the following question. Much of early historical linguistics (cf. the comparative method) was based on the study of systematic phonological relationships and correspondences between and among different languages (see Grimm's Law and Werner's Law). For example, philologist Sir William Jones posited a relationship between Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and Farsi based on common phonological patterns seen in specific words. If these languages were seen to have common ancestors based on phonology and lexicon, then is French Creole a Romance language? They share the same vocabulary. Is English Creole Germanic? Don't these languages rightfully belong in the Indo-European family tree?
A. Lowercase 'patois' originated in France, a common noun referring to a geographical (rural) variety of French often marginalised and considered socio-economically inferior to standard French. Uppercase Patois is a proper noun, used as the name of a specific language, such as Patois, or French-lexicon Creole spoken in the Anglophone territories of Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and Trinidad, and the Francophone territories of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. The name is accepted in the Anglophone territories, but less so in the Francophone territories, where the term créole (or kwéyòl) is preferred. The latter term is becoming more and more popular in Dominica and St. Lucia, as the term 'patois' is believed to have negative origins. There is also Jamaican Patois/Patwa, or Jamaican English-lexicon Creole. The territories that use the name Patois for their varieties of French-lexicon Creole were either colonised by or greatly influenced by French settlers. It is not clear how Jamaicans came to adopt and apply the name to Jamaican Creole, which is an English-lexicon creole.
A. No, a creole is thought to be a type of language, and a dialect is a subset or a variety of a language. All languages, including creole types, have dialects.
A. Lowercase 'creole' is a common noun (and also adjective) used to refer to the language 'type' in general (whether as a sociohistorical reference to its genesis or as a typological term, if such is possible), and uppercase Creole is a proper noun, used as the name of a specific language; thus, "In the study of creole languages…" or "This is a characteristic feature of many creoles" but "In Haitian Creole…" or "In Haiti, Creole is…."

Note that uppercase Creole also refers to people, so French Creoles in Trinidad are Trinidadians of mainly French descent (although the term has erroneously been extended to other European Creoles as well; in a similar vein, 'coolie' has also moved away from its original meaning, that of 'labourer' and been misapplied to Indians, sometimes Chinese, and their descendants around the world). Some Indo-West Indians use the term Creole to refer to persons of African descent. Creole as a term for people refers to their ethnic origins. In most territories, the term is not used as a cover term for speakers of creole languages (so "Creoles" are not normally people who speak a creole, except in Belize and some other places, cf. one article which erroneously referred to "The Creole community of Trinidad and Tobago"). The feature that is common to these two usages ("French Creoles" and a Creole as "someone of African descent") is the etymon "born in the 'New' World" (supposedly originally from Portuguese).

A. No, 'bad' English (or French or Dutch or Portuguese) does not equal 'good' Creole, and vice-versa. Try asking a non-native speaker to communicate effectively in Creole. Nor is it 'broken' English. People can speak a foreign language 'brokenly', but cannot speak their mother tongue 'brokenly' since nobody has a 'broken' brain. People speak their mother tongue fluently. (Note that semilingualism is a controversial topic.) To speak of someone speaking only a 'broken' language and no other suggests linguistic (and other) incompetence or ignorance or brain damage on the part of the creole language speaker.

Further, creoles are also associated with low socio-economic status. Whereas relatively less money and power might put some limits on an individual's educational opportunities and advancement, and access to the language of education and power, socio-economic status is not an indicator of intelligence or lack thereof. Language attitudes are important. If they are not corrected, non-creole speakers (or even creole speakers) might look down on creoles and their speakers as poor and unintelligent. Money (and therefore power of varying types) 'talks', and makes some languages look better than others.

While English-lexified creoles and English do share a great deal of vocabulary, making English-lexicon creole languages lexically dependent on English (from both a historical and modern-day perspective), they are actually semantically and grammatically independent of each other (to quote Ian Robertson, Islands-in-Between Conference, St. Lucia 2002). This means that they have their own structures, systems and accents, and fulfil or can fulfil all the functions that any language does. Creoles have normally occupied informal contexts, but can occupy any context, once they are allowed to, once the need arises, and once proper language planning and development are in place. Papiamentu and Haitian are 'creole' languages, co-existing with 'non-creole' languages, namely Dutch and French, respectively, and they are increasingly used in a variety of formal domains.

Consider the history of the English language, for example. Once the language of both kings and peasants, it faced serious status issues in the eleventh century, after the Norman Conquest (it was viewed negatively by the conquerors) and again during the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, during the Renaissance (it was viewed negatively by English speakers themselves). English was often negatively compared to Latin and French (even up to recently), and some felt that English did not have the expressive power of French, or the scientific authority of Latin. As David Crystal put it, some (during the Renaissance) felt that English was "not an appropriate vehicle for the expression of the new learning…. It was a language fit for the street, not for the library" (Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language 2003: 60). Now English is the world's lingua franca (and has 'borrowed' or appropriated heavily from both Latin and French, inter alia), and is used in all spheres of communication. It's all about power, position and money (not necessarily in that order). Since creoles have not usually been the language of rulers and conquerors, they and their speakers also face negative attitudes and low social (socio-economic) status, but they are not bound to their history, and things can change and are changing for the good of their speakers.

Some think that creoles are 'just' a mixture of other languages. By that criterion, English is also 'just' a creole. English derives a huge percentage of its vocabulary from Latin and French (which is a Latin/Romance language), and has contributions from many others. Negative attitudes towards creole languages have come about because of their speakers' socially turbulent history. Their more recent development causes some to see them as Johnny-come-lately languages, and as somehow less respectable that the older languages that gave them their vocabulary. Their lack of respectability has more to do with the lower socio-economic status of their speakers, and the fact that these languages are now coming into their own as written languages, many only recently gaining standard orthographies, dictionaries, and other forms of standardisation and codification.



A. Any language can be written, and creoles are languages, or speech varieties. Several creole languages have their own standardised writing systems. Languages are, in fact, primarily oral — no one is born with a pen in their hands (or mouths!), just a tongue with which to use his/her mother tongue.

A. Check out our Links page for more information on courses on Caribbean creoles, research groups and more. (For more on the world's other creole languages, see the
A. GEREC in Martinique offers courses in French Creole.

The UWI campuses of Mona (Jamaica) and St. Augustine (T&T) both offer French-Lexicon Creole in their Linguistics degree programmes (course code — L280, taught mainly by créolophones to mainly non-créolophone students). Mona offers mainly Guadeloupean Creole, and St. Augustine offers mainly St. Lucian Creole, since it is linguistically closer to Trinidadian French Creole (Patois or Twinidadyen) which is still spoken by mainly elderly people in certain mostly rural villages. Many issues are explored in these courses, including standardisation and the accompanying process of codification. St. Lucian French Creole orthography has been informally adopted for Trinidadian, which was the first Atlantic French Creole-speaking territory to produce a grammar of the language (John Jacob Thomas, 1869).

With the exception of Jamaican Creole, English-lexicon creoles are not formally taught in the English-speaking Caribbean. Jamaican Creole was taught to Peace Corps volunteers in Jamaica, and is to be taught in Puerto Rico at the Universidad de Puerto Rico.

Papiamentu is taught in the ABC islands. See (Fundashon pa Planifikashon di Idioma).

A. Why would anyone want to learn any language that is not their own? Regular and frequent (actual or anticipated) contact with speakers of other languages, as well as a strong motivation and desire, are important factors in learning a second language. Motivation can stem from perceived economic opportunities (although many people do not see creole languages as providers of lucrative opportunities for economic advancement), or simply an interest in society, culture and history. Bilingualism is actually the norm for most citizens of the world, except perhaps in the non-indigenous Americas (countries such as Belize, Curaçao and Suriname, inter ali, are exceptions). Being or becoming bilingual is important for communication (nurturing a healthy respect for others), and for personal development, including at the neurolinguistic and social levels. See SIL's Linguistic Creed.
A. One might have asked this in the days of the Greek and Roman Empires — why didn't everyone learn Greek or Latin? Yes, in all societies, it may be important to master the language of power in order to function in spheres of education, government and so on. But mastering another language and culture does not require the abandonment of one's mother tongue and culture. There is richness in diversity, and languages are tied up with culture, history and society. To abandon a language is very often to abandon a culture and a society.
A. Some work is going on in Curaçao, San Andrés (Colombia), and Jamaica. With the exception of Jamaica and Haiti, and in very general terms, the territories which possess a creole language with no lexical relationship to their official language (e.g. Papiamentu in the Dutch-official Netherlands Antilles, Islander Creole English in Spanish-official San Andrés, and Creole French (Kwéyòl or Patois) in English-official St. Lucia) are making more progress in the educational arena than in territories where the creole language and the official language share the bulk of vocubulary (e.g., Creole French and French in the French Caribbean, and Creole English and English in the English-official Caribbean).

For a good overview of the linguistic rights of individuals and communities, see the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, especially Section II, Articles 23 to 30. The Declaration is downloadable here as a pdf file.

A. Most of the written material produced in the Caribbean (novels, poetry, news, theses and dissertations, official government documents, etc.) is produced in the official languages of the respective territories, for historical and social reasons. Many novels include some writing in creole languages, but none has been written solely in a creole, or translated completely into a creole language, with the exception of Papiamentu and Haitian. To some extent, this reflects the sociolinguistic situation and make-up of the region.

More and more literature is being produced in some Caribbean creoles. This includes the Bible, which has been or is being translated into several Caribbean languages, at least the New Testament. There are both written projects and oral Scripture projects in progress (see the Hosanna project re: the latter).

For St. Lucian Creole, see the Folk Research Centre. An Tjè Nou in St. Lucia also publishes a variety of materials. See also the St. Lucian Creole website.

For Haitian, see Emmanuel Védrine's annotated bibliography.

Several materials have been produced in Papiamentu. See (Fundashon pa Planifikashon di Idioma).

A. Check out our Links page for a Sranan dictionary, sample Jamaican texts, etc.
A. For music in French-lexicon Creole, see Dominica's World Creole Music Festival. Of interest is the official website of the Government of St. Lucia with the Kwéyòl Radio News Edition. There are audio recordings of the works of Louise Bennet (Jamaica) and Paul Keens-Douglas (T&T) in the creoles of those countries. See also the Jesus Film Project for online viewing of the film in Aukan, Haitian, Papiamentu, Saramaccan, Sranan Tongo, and Garífuna (Black Carib), Surinamese Javanese and Caribbean Hindi/Sarnami Hindoestani (Bhojpuri). The latter three are not creoles but Caribbean languages. The language called Western Caribbean "Creole" English listed here is mostly Jamaican ('standard') English, with some Creole speech.



A. For EFL, check out the programmes at  UWI, St. Augustine , and at UWI, Cave Hill.

The three campuses of the UAG, serving the French Caribbean, offer FLE (Français Langue Etrangère).

A. Many territories have their own own indigenous sign languages. Of the world's 130 deaf sign languages, Jamaica alone has 2 (read  SIL's sociolinguistic report), Trinidad & Tobago has 1 (see  Braithwaite et al's article), Cuba - 1, Dominican Republic - 1, Haiti - 1, Venezuela - 1, Costa Rica - 1, Panama - 1, and several more. Many other English-speaking territories also use American Sign Language (ASL) or British Sign Language (BSL). See Parks' and Williams' paper,  Sociolinguistic Profiles of Twenty-four Deaf Communities (2011).
A. There are many research projects being carried out at both the individual and institutional levels. See UWI, St. Augustine's research foci, for example. (More to come.)

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