Include Saban English at school, says Ted Johnson

To mitigate the threat to Saban English, more attention should be given to this unique island dialect in schools. Author Theodore “Ted” Johnson made this call during the presentation of his book “A Lee Chip, A Dictionary and Study of Saban English” at the Aruba House in The Hague last Friday.

Changing times, outside forces like the global vil­lage and the internet are threatening local creoles and dialects all over in the world and Saban English is no exception, according to Johnson. That, and the fact that many still hold the opinion that a local dialect like Saban English is infe­rior, backwards as opposed to more Standard English.

“I don’t agree. People should be very proud of it. It is part of the identity of the Saban people. Saban Eng­lish is a very special local dialect which merits broad support. I sincerely hope that it will be preserved. It should be used in the schools, give it more status in the educational system. You want the younger generation to appreciate your own language, use it and cherish it.” he said.

In his opinion, rather than tell­ing a child they arc speak­ing `bad English,’ a child should be taught the dif­ference between the dialect and the standard in order to appreciate both. Saban English is an old dialect dating back to the 1650’s. In fact, it is even old­er than the dialects used on some other English islands in the Caribbean. English creoles and dialects on is­lands like St. Vincent, Trini­dad and Tobago, Dominica and St. Lucia started much later, in the late 1700’s.

“Saban English is 120 to 150 years older, which makes it even more special. Yet, Saban English and by extension Dutch Windward Islands English, including the English dialect spoken in San Nicolas have often been overlooked, for exam­ple in the Dictionary of Ca­ribbean English Usage by the late Professor Richard Allsopp of the University of the West Indies,” Johnson told The Daily Herald after his well-attended and much appreciated lecture.

Because villages in Saba were isolated in the past centuries due to the lack of infrastructure, dialects evolved that were specific to the area, explained Sa­ba-born Johnson, a notary by profession who has been residing in Aruba since 2004. Using audio fragments of several Saban residents, Johnson introduced the di­alects from the various vil­lages, such as Hell’s Gate, Windwardside or The Quarter, The Bottom, St. Johns and The Promised Land with descendants of the former village Mary’s Point.

Some examples that came up during Johnson’s pre­sentation; “Here” was pro­nounced as “hea,” “there ” as “dea,” “old” as “ow,” “wild” as “woil” and “but­ter” as “bata.” Then there is the habitual adding of the “s” at the end of words like “they’s all” and “you helps.” And, the A-prefixing, like “There wasn’t much of a’nothing.” “You’s a dyin’ ” and “You was abuilding.” Also, the conjugation of verbs, like “you was,” “you comes,” “these knifes was” and “he sell.”

There are still only a hand­ful of people from the for­mer village Mary’s Point alive who speak that spe­cific dialect. There are also still very few speakers left with the classical St. Johns accent. This makes it all the more important, for the future’s sake, that their sto­ries were audio recorded. The mostly Saban, Wind­ward Islands and Dutch Caribbean audience clearly recognised most of the pro­nunciation of the dialects played during Johnson’s presentation.

There is some overlapping of the English used in St. Maarten and St. Eustatius, explained John­son. Members of the audience had questions about the link and similarities with the English spoken on the other two Dutch Windward Islands, and the English spoken by Windward Is­landers living in Aruba and Curacao, as well as the link with the English of Ireland, the United States and other Caribbean islands like Bar­bados.

Johnson explained that, for example, in Saban English the “K” was pro­nounced more prominently than in St. Maarten where the “R” was swallowed like “Sint Matin” and “Cana­val.” A lively discussion about the use of language evolved and many mem­bers of the audience gave Johnson a big compliment for his presentation. A sec­ond lecture in the month of July is being looked at by the Antillean Network As­sociation VAN.

Saban English has been Johnson’s hobby since 1998. “While I was studying in the Netherlands, some family members who were visiting were using words that I had not heard in a long time. It sparked my curiosity.” The book “A Lee Chip” was born 18 years later, with the help of linguist Caro­line Myrick of the North Carolina State University whose great-grandparents on her mother’s side of the Simmons family hail from Saba, and his mother, Lynne Johnson, who has lived in Saba since the early 1970’s. The book was pre­sented in Saba in June 2016 as well as in Aruba, St. Eu­statius and St. Maarten.

The Daily Herald.

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Book week 2017

One comment

  1. Patricia Dowling

    I, a New Yorker,USA married in to a Saba Family,66 years ago CPT. ALDRICK DOWLING AND HIS WIFE,THELMA HASSELL , DOWLING both from St John’s Saba, recognized the old English influence due to my extensive reading of old English literature. For years Saba people thought I was a ‘bit off’ in my perception. So thank you Mr Johns

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