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Caribbean Poetry:

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Culture: Language

Bajan dialect, like much of the rest of the island's culture, consists of an amalgamation between European English and African languages.  Some consider it to be broken English or a dialect, but it truly is a work of its own. 

A section in the Insight Guides discusses the language:

Local poet Bruce St John defends the language against those who say that it is limited:

We' language limit?
Who language en limit?
Evah language
Like a big pot o' Bajan soup:
Pice o' yam, piece o' potato,
T'ree dumplin', two eddoe,
One beet, two carrot,
Piece o' pig-tail, piece o' beef
Pinch o' salt, dus' o' pepper,
An' doan' fuget okra
To add to de flavour.
Boil up, cook up, eat up
An' yuh still wan' rice...

Crash course:  Let's use this poem as crash course in Bajan.  Line 1 translated is, "Is our language limited?"  In Bajan, unlike in English, one form of a pronoun may be used as subject, object and posessive:  "we know"; "tell we"; "it is we book."

Bajan does not invert the subject and verb when forming this type of question; the sentence looks like a statement, but by raising your voice at the end, a listener will know that you have asked a question.

Verbs, even if used as adjectives, have no participle endings such as -ed, so you hear:  "it finish," "it cook."

In line 2, "en" means "is not," and "who" is used instead of "whose."

The numbers "two" nad "t'ree" make plurality obvious in lines 6 and 7, so no final "s" is needed.  This feature is not as widespread in Barbados as in the other islands, so you will still hear "four steps" as well as "four step."

Note that from any powdered substance, you can get "a dust" (line 9), which means a small portion.

Line 12 gives a brief insight into the subtle differences between Bajan and English:  "boil up" means "bring to the boil," but you can also hear "boil down" used when referring to the practice of allowing most of the liquid to boil out of your sauces or sous [sic], giving them a thick consistency.   "Cook up" means "cook all of the items together."

The Bajan does not pronounce the endings of most words which end in two consonants.  This is shown in line 6 -- "dumplin'," line 10 -- "an'" and line 13 -- "wan'." [. . .]

Expression of present time also differs in both languages.   Whereas speakers of English would say:  "the dancer casts strange shadows as he moves to the pulse of the drum," the Bajan speaker would say:  "De dancer t'rowing strange shadows all de time he moving to de pulse o' de drum."   This is because the Bajan speaker usually speaks of present action as ongoing activity, while the English use what is called the "simple present tense." [. . .]

Bajans seldom use the word "very."  Instead of saying, "It's a very pretty morning," a Bajan would say, "De mornin' pretty, pretty, pretty!"  A speeding car might inspire a description such as "de car went 'long fast, fast, fast," or "de car went long real f-a-s-t," spoken with great emphasis on the word "fast" (Wilder 251-252).



Certain words and expressions have a very specific local meaning.   For example:

ignorant:  to be mean or very agressive
gone cross / pushing bread cart:   to be pregnant
to be malicious:  inquisitive or nosy
sea-bath: swimming
liming:  hanging around  (i.e., You limin' or buyin'? would mean inset3.gif (833 bytes)"Are you here to buy something or just to hang out [like a inset3.gif (833 bytes)lime on a tree]?")
The sea en' got no back door:  Once you get into something,
inset3.gif (833 bytes)you can't always get back out.
Trouble don' set up like rain
:  You can't always see trouble inset3.gif (833 bytes)coming
If greedy wait, hot will cool:  Wait patiently and you'll get what inset3.gif (833 bytes)you want.
Tek time en' laziness:  Much can be achieved by taking one's inset3.gif (833 bytes)time.
Pretty-pretty things does fool li'l children:  Superficial things inset3.gif (833 bytes)impress superficial and naive people.
Wha' sweet in goat mouth does burn in he bam bam:  What inset3.gif (833 bytes)seems sweet and good can have very negative, painful inset3.gif (833 bytes)consequences.

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