MOTHERTONGUE AND MASTERTONGUE: Understanding the vernacular of Guyanese Creolese

If you’re unfamiliar with me, I am of Guyanese decent. I know, where in the world is Guyana anyway? Most people take a wild, incorrect guess. Africa? Asia? The conversation ignites with “Tell me!” It is then followed by, “What’s your first language?” Because obviously, I am not currently speaking fluent English to you right now. Being colonized by the United Kingdom in the 1800s, the official language of British Guiana was primarily based on The Queen’s English or what some may refer to as ‘proper English’. Although the first settlers on the shores of Guyana were Dutch, it was an Englishman named Sir Walter Raleigh who rediscovered the mainland in South America. But  if you take a trip to the country right now, it is not proper english that you will hear. The locals speak a form of broken english known as Creoles. The word itself is of french origin and means “a mother tongue formed from the contact of two languages through an earlier pidgin stage” according to The Oxford Dictionary. Because of the diversity of the country, its language has developed into a dialect which comprises of its rich heritage. Frankly, Creolese is a reflection the six ethnic groups that inhabited the country since its establishment. The Native Indians or Amerindians, the British, the Africans who settled as slaves and the East Indians, Portuguese and Chinese who settled as indentured laborers. Creolese, like other types of broken english, has many forms which are dependent on the regions of the country. In the city, Georgetown, which is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the dialect has a crisper sound than in the rural areas where the dialect is spoken with an accent. This accent is dependent on the race of the people that populate the area. For instance, along the coast in a rural area called Mahaica, the population is mostly of East Indian decent. This is responsible for the jargon as well as accent of the dialect in this area. This article  examines in entirety, the Creoles of Guyana.

Consider the following passage:

My name is Kay. I lived in Georgetown for sixteen years. My family has lived in the city for as long as I can remember. But they are from the country. My mother’s family is East Indian and my father’s family is African. I am biracial. Regardless of our race, we are all religious. We went to church since I was little. But I have been to my aunt’s temple because she is Hindu. I have also been to the mosque with my uncle. I like my culture because it is diverse. Most people do not understand when I tell them who I am.

Now consider the translation to Guyanese Creolese:

Ah name Kay. Ah used to live in Gaargetown fuh sixteen years. Muh family used to live in de city fuh as lang as ah cyan rememba [donkey years]. But deh come from country. Muh mudda family is East Indian [coolie] and muh fadda family is African [black]. Ah mixed. Race don matta, all ah we religious. We used to go to church since ah was small  [lil lil]. But I went to me auntie temple before because sha Hindu. I went to de mosque with me uncle to. Ah like me culcha because it diverse. A lat ah [nuff] people don undastand when ah tell them who I is.

Your overall reaction to this is probably, “Interesting”. Most of the words are similar because this is the version of Creolese you hear in the city. If you were to visit the country it would sound more like:

Me name Kay. Me been ah live in Gaargetown fuh sixteen years. Abi been ah live ah city fuh donkey years. But abi come from country. Me mumma family ah coolie an me daadie family ah black. Ah mix. Race nah matta, abi religious. Abi been ah go church since ah was lil lil. But me been ah me antie temple before cause she ah Hindu. Me been ah me uncle mosque to. Me like me culcha cause it diverse. Nuff people don undastan when me tell dem who I is.

Yes, this is the same passage in two different forms. Now that we have established the versions, lets now look at the use of syntax and jagon in Creolese.

The sentence, I lived in Georgetown for sixteen years, is transformed into, Ah used to live in Gaargetown fuh sixteen years and then to Me been ah live in Gaargetown fuh sixteen years. ‘Ah’ replaces the pronoun ‘I’. (Check below for city and country translation) Notice how the past tense of the verb in the sentence is avoided. Instead of simply saying lived Creolese uses used to to refer to a state in the past as opposed to the past tense which states a specific time in the past. Again, the past tense is avoided when we say been ah live. This, along with jargon are primarily what make the structure of Creolese.

List of pronouns and translations

Proper English Creolese (City) Creolese (Country)
I Ah Me
She Sha Sha
He Ee Ee
They/them/we day/dem/we day/dem/abi
It It It

List of jargon

Jargon in Creolese Proper English
Fuh dankey years For a very long time
Coolie Of East Indian descent
Lil lil Young in age or of little quantity
Mumma Mother
Daadie Dad/Daddy
Been ah Used to/ went to
Mix/ dougola Biracial or of more than one race (of ethnicity)
Antie Aunt

List of Guyanese creolese sayings. For more sayings check out http://www.guyana.org/proverbs.html

Saying Meaning
If yuh eye nuh see yuh mouth nah muss talk. You must have first hand experience before you talk

(If your eye has not seen it then you cannot talk)

Pig ask ee mumma why sha mouth suh lang Somethings are only learned from experience

(Pig asked his mother why her mouth was so long)

Wan wan dutty build dam The effort of each makes great things possible

(One one dutty can build a dam)

Dance ah battam watch ah tap Always beware of danger while having fun

(Dance at the bottom but watch at the top)

In most cases ‘er’ is replaced by ‘a’. For instance, remember-rememba, later-lata and father-fadda

It is important too to understand that some expression are feelings rather than words. For instance, stwwww!- is a expression used when one is in disgust or unhappy with a particular situation. It is equivalent to kissing your teeth in Jamaican patois. Another example is the word owww!-this is used to express that you are in a state of physical pain.

I hope this gave you just a little idea of Guyanese creolese. There is a world of other words and syntax to this type of broken english out there for you to discover. We gon talk lata!

Works Cited:

Guyana News and Information 2016. Guyanese Proverbs. Retrieved from http://www.guyana.org/proverbs.html on 07/22/2016

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