Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Wednesday, January 01, 2003  

Last evening on the TV6 year-end review, host Sunil Ramdeen spoke of the "bacchanal, to use the local term" in politics in T&T throughout 2002. It may interest Ramdeen to know that bacchanal is not a Trinidadian expression. The word exists in standard English, and the OED definition is "an occasion of wild and drunken revelry" or "a priest, worshipper, or follower of Bacchus, the Greek or Roman god of wine".

What Ramdeen or the writer no doubt had in mind (apart from the Trinidadian meaning of the word, a synonym for scandal and controversy) was the ubiquitous usage of the word here at Carnival. With its harsh vowel sounds, the grating way it is spat out by calypsonians and soca singers (invariably made to rhyme with the word carnival, or rather the other way around) probably shames many into thinking the word an embarassing colloquialism, a legacy perhaps of our dark, disagreeable past and not the Latin derivative that it is.

And so we find ourselves prefacing its usage as Ramdeen did, or excusing its use in writing by enclosing it in reductive quotes, a practice that still extends to so many words, from mas to steups to (inexplicably) wake. (As in, "A 'wake' was held for the deceased.") And our language continues to be seen as illegitimate, a bastard of the mother tongue, and not what it is, ours.

"Listen, one kind of writer, generally the entertainer says, 'I will write in the language of the people however gross or incomprehensible'; another says: 'Nobody else go' understand this, you hear, so le' me write English'; while the third is dedicated to purifying the language of the tribe, and it is he who is jumped on by both sides for pretentiousness or playing white. He is the mulatto of style. The traitor. The assimilator."

- Derek Walcott, from the title essay of his collection, What the Twilight Says

posted by Jonathan | 10:59 AM 0 comments


save boissiere house
Bina Shah
Nicholas Laughlin
Caribbean Free Radio
Global Voices
Jessie Girl
Club Soda and Salt
Caribbean Cricket
Jai Arjun Singh
email me