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.