chapter  18
16 Pages

West Indian Englishes: An introduction to literature written in selected varieties

ByHazel Simmons-McDonald

In recent years, I have heard the term ‘Caribbeans’ used in some contexts to refer to the peoples of the region. This would rarely be used by Caribbean people to refer to themselves, although the term ‘Caribbean’ is accepted in the context of wider reference to the people from Anglophone, Francophone and Hispanophone countries in this region. One is more likely to say ‘I am from the Caribbean’ or ‘I am from the West Indies/I am West Indian’ rather than I am a Caribbean/we are Caribbeans. The term ‘West Indies’ is used generally to refer to all the countries of the region, but Roberts notes that the term ‘does not always refer to the very same islands or territories’, and there is some uncertainty as to whether some specific islands ‘are included under that designation’ (Roberts 1988: 1). Within the Anglophone countries of the West Indies distinguishable varieties of English

are used. Differences in accent between a Trinidadian, a Barbadian and a Jamaican can be easily identified because of the differing phonological and supra-segmental features that mark the English varieties spoken in these countries. West Indian English, or Caribbean English, is broadly used to refer to the English spoken in the region. It is included among varieties of ‘international’ or ‘World’ English used across the globe, such as Australian, Canadian and British English, and is mutually intelligible with them, although there are differences in features such as accent and vocabulary. These varieties are considered dialects of English, and, within a given country, there is further variation based on geographical and other factors. As Roberts (1988: 16) puts it, ‘West Indian English … shares features with all other dialects of English but at the same time has features found only in the West Indies.’ In Allsopp’s words, ‘Caribbean English is a collection of sub-varieties of English distributed … over a large number of non-contiguous territories’ (1996: xli). While dialects of English are not homogeneous, there are accepted norms for gram-

maticality and correctness in their use for international discourse. Similarly, West Indian English is not homogeneous, as there are variations in countries in the region in which the language is spoken. Thus one can refer to Jamaican (Standard) English, St. Lucian

and so on. The differences are less marked in the areas of grammaticality and correctness of usage than in lexicon, phonology and supra-segmental features. One might contend that if this is so, why use the term ‘Englishes’ at all? This ques-

tion raises the issue as to whether one might extend the designation ‘English’ to other sub-varieties of English spoken in the West Indies. Some authors, for example Ashcroft et al. (1989: 8), make a distinction between ‘standard’ English, which they use to refer to the ‘British English’ that was spread throughout the Empire, and ‘english’ spelt with a lower case e, to refer to what they perceive the language to have become in postcolonial countries. They argue thus:

Though British imperialism resulted in the spread of a language, English, across the globe, the english of Jamaicans is not the english of Canadians, Maoris, or Kenyans. We need to distinguish what is proposed as a standard code, English (the language of the erstwhile imperial centre), and the linguistic code, english, which has been transformed and subverted into several distinctive varieties throughout the world.