Dictionary of Saba English to preserve island’s dialect

On Saba, a “lee chip” refers to a little morsel of something. The Language and Life Project’s brand new publication, A Lee Chip: A Dictionary and Study of Saban English, provides quite a large morsel of Saba’s language, history and culture.

The dictionary, written by Saba native Theodore “Teddy” aka “Ted” Johnson documents and describes more than 2,500 local words and phrases; A Lee Chip not only celebrates the local vocabulary that makes Saba unique, it also helps ensure the preservation of many words which may have otherwise been lost to history.

Teddy Johnson2

“This book and the dictionary in particular are meant to preserve the language as a written source of reference for Saba English. Moreover, I sincerely hope that this will instil more pride in its usage locally and beyond,” according to the author, who began this project in 1998.

Johnson, born in Saba in January 1975, completed a double Master’s degree in law in Leiden, the Netherlands. After working in the Netherlands in the civil law notary field, he re turned to the Caribbean and is currently working as a civil law notary in Aruba, where he lives with his wife and three children. This is his first book published.

The contributors to this project are countless, with close to 100 Sabans interviewed in the process, as well as multiple linguistic consultants providing input. The project was supervised by Professor Dr. Walt Wolfram, head of the Language and Life project at North Carolina State University.

“The first dialect dictionary of Saba is a monumental cultural achievement,” said Dr. Wolfram. “You can hear the unique voice of Sabans in the local expressions that celebrate the grand cultural traditions of the island. A linguistic, historical and cultural landmark.”

The book includes an in-depth study on the pronunciation and grammar of Saba English, by PhD student at NC State University Caroline Myrick, whose master’s thesis analysed Saba English. Of Saba lineage, Myrick was born in the United States in 1988. She received her Master’s from NC State. This is her third book project with the Language and Life project, a programme that researches, documents and “celebrates” language differences.

“I began researching Saba with the intention of giving back to the community. After countless residents have volunteered their time and resources to help my research, I’m honoured to be able to repay the community with such a special and important book,” Myrick said.

More than a dictionary, A Lee Chip is time capsule for the history and traditional culture of Saba. “It would be optimal” Johnson writes, “if this book became a discussion piece resulting in the recording of even more unique words and sayings, which are in danger of disappearing.”

Johnson added that he hopes the book will also be an inspiration for preserving the local English dialects used in St. Eustatius and St. Maarten, which also contain many unique words and phrases that need to be preserved before it is too late. The book will be available for purchase in local bookstores in Saba and
St. Maarten from mid-April.

The Daily Herald.

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