Jo-Anne Sharon Ferreira

(University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus)


I. Overview of the sociolinguistic history of Trinidad & Tobago


The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago forms part of the English-official Caribbean and is situated just 6km off the east coast of Venezuela.  The country comprises two main islands, which were formally united in 1889: Trinidad to the south which is the larger of the two, and Tobago to the north.  Its usual classification as an anglophone or English-official country, however, belies the reality of its complex sociolinguistic make-up, and its multilinguistic past. 

According to the eleventh edition of the Ethnologue, Trinidad & Tobago is recognised and classified as a multilingual country, with English and Lesser Antillean Creole English as the main languages, and with Bhojpuri, Creole French and Spanish being spoken to varying degrees and by varying numbers of speakers (Grimes 78).  Although the percentages of speakers of the last three languages are comparatively small, they nevertheless form important ethno-cultural pockets even today.  As a result of the multilingual and multicultural history of the country, Trinidadian and Tobagonian English has been heavily coloured by contact with each of these groups as well as others.

The following tables illustrate the racial and ethnic make-up of late twentieth century Trinidad and Tobago, and the origins of the society’s multi-ethnic composition will be discussed below.

Table 1

Population Distribution of Trinidad and Tobago in 1960


ETHNIC GROUP                            NUMBER OF PER SONS IN GROUP                                       PERCENTAGE OF GROUP TO POPULATION

African                                                               358,590                                             43.31%                                        

Amerindian/Carib                                                    301                                                 .04%                                        

Caucasian                                                            15,718                                               1.90%                                        

Chinese                                                                  8,361                                               1.01%                                        

Indian                                                                 301,945                                             36.47%                                        

Mixed                                                                  134,750                                             16.27%                                        

Portuguese                                                            2,416                                                 .29%                                        

Syrian/Lebanese                                                   1,591                                                 .19%                                        

Other                                                                       3,985                                                  .48%                                       

Not Stated                                                                 300                                                  .04%                                       

TOTAL                                                               827,957                                             100.00%                                      


Source:  Population Census 1960.


Table 2

Population Distribution of Trinidad and Tobago in 1990


ETHNIC GROUP                                           NUMBER OF PERSONS IN GROUP                 PERCENTAGE OF GROUP TO POPULATION

African                                                               445,444                                             39.59%

Caucasian                                                             7,254                                                  .65%

Chinese                                                                 4,314                                                  .38%

Indian                                                                 453,069                                             40.27%

Mixed                                                                  207,558                                             18.45%

Syrian/Lebanese                                                      934                                                 .08%

Other                                                                       1,724                                                 .15%

Not Stated                                                              4,831                                                 .43%

TOTAL                                                           1,125,128                                             100.00%


Source: 1990 Population and Housing Census

In 1498, the arrival of the Spanish in Trinidad signalled the beginning of the end for the indigenous Caribs and Arawaks.  The overwhelming majority of Amerindians were either annihilated or assimilated into Spanish Trinidad society.  As a result, the only linguistic reminders of the existence of these groups are seen in over 200 toponyms of Amerindian origin, and in the names of some flora, fauna and cultural items in Trinidad today, all of which were preserved through early contact with the Spanish (see Baksh-Soodeen 1994).

The Spanish were the rulers of Trinidad for almost three hundred years, but their language never dominated the island’s population.  By the nineteenth century, long after their rule was over, one writer noted that the Spanish language was relegated to being spoken “in certain districts and villages, in which the people are almost entirely of Spanish descent” (Gamble 39), which holds somewhat true even up to the present.  Although it was a language that had been in Trinidad hundreds of years before the arrival of many other languages, it never came to be a language of widespread influence, as French creole later did, due to historical factors.

In 1797, Trinidad was seized from the Spanish for the British crown.  Spain, however, only formally ceded Trinidad to Great Britain under the Treaty of Amiens in 1801-02, so for at least four years both powers considered the island to be under their jurisdiction.  The lingua franca at the time of British conquest was not Spanish, but French creole, which had been introduced into the island only fourteen years before the arrival of the British.  This complex sociolinguistic scenario in Trinidad of the late eighteenth century was largely the result of Roume de St. Laurent’s successful (second) “Cedula de Población”.  This decree heralded the introduction of French and French creole-speaking immigrants in significant numbers into Spanish Trinidad, beginning in 1783.  The population under Spanish rule reached only 1,400 people, but burgeoned to 28,000 people by 1797, of whom 20,000 were French creole-speaking enslaved Africans.  As Borde put it, “Trinidad at that time seemed like a French colony which Spain had recently acquired” (2: 301).

After the arrival of the French and their African slaves in Spanish Trinidad, Spanish remained the language of government, of archival records and of the law courts, but French quickly became the language of commerce and society (Borde 2: 302).  This scenario persisted even after the take-over by the British.  Although the island was conquered by the latter, it continued to be socially and culturally dominated by French and French creole speakers for a long time after.  Interestingly, Spanish laws stayed in effect for several years into British rule.  Because of the dominance and widespread use of French creole by the overwhelming majority of the population, the English language itself only began to gain ground at the beginning of the twentieth century, almost one hundred years after British conquest.

Despite British rule, French and French creole occupied positions of prominence and dominance respectively up to the late nineteenth century.  French creole had long become “the medium of thought” of the population that was shared by the élite and the masses (Gamble 39) and was the language “spoken most widely, the lower orders scarcely using any other, though they can nearly all of them speak English” (Gamble 29).  That language persisted in that rôle for over a century after the British had seized Trinidad.  In the last few years of Spanish rule, the French and French creole speakers were under no evident pressure to become Spanish, and were able to retain their cultures and languages.  It is not possible to speculate on what linguistic policies would have prevailed, had Trinidad remained Spanish for much longer.  Trinidad under Spanish rule appeared to have been linguistically tolerant, possibly because of the weakness of Spanish control over the island, but this was decidedly not the case under British domination.

When the British came into power, they challenged the domination of the French at all levels, especially at the level of language and religion.  As language is the chief culture marker for most groups, the French language was targeted and it began to be slowly stripped away from the French Creoles.  Despite ultimate loss of their language, they, however, managed to preserve their identifiably French family names that exerted considerable social prestige, as well as their religion, and an upper class way of life in keeping with their original status as land-owners.  Up to today, the appellation “French Creole” in Trinidad is an élitist term used to refer not to the language, which is referred to as “patois”, but to those individuals of French descent, and the term has recently been extended to include any Trinidadian of any European origin.

Only in 1823, twenty-six years after the British took control, was English made the official language of Trinidad (Holm 350; cf. Gamble 17).  By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the majority of the population seemed scarcely closer to becoming anglophone.  One author writing in 1866 even thought that “the day is far distant ere the many tongues … found in Trinidad will become as one” (Gamble 45).  In 1886, two decades later, Cothonay’s conclusion was quite different.  That author advocated that English was “la langue de l’avenir pour la Trinidad,” and went further to advise all newcomers to Trinidad to learn English, and then Spanish for good measure: “conclusion pratique: vous tous qui désirez venir à la Trinidad, apprenez l’anglais … et l’espagnol par-dessus le marché …” (317).

The year 1846 heralded the development of further linguistic diversification in Trinidad, giving rise to a complex multilingual situation.  Already linguistically cosmopolitan before slavery’s end in 1834 (the year of the abolition of slavery and the beginning of the apprenticeship period), the society diversified even further under waves of immigrants who were welcomed for the sake of the plantation-based economy.  As Brereton put it,


            “Trinidad was among these Caribbean societies [that] were largely shaped in the post-abolition era by the legacy of the slave system and its twin, the plantation mode of production” (“Social Organisation and Class” 33).


The estates necessitated a large productive labour force and the immigration policy was largely an attempt to boost the economy.

Indentured immigrants came in their thousands from India, and in their hundreds from China, Portugal and other European countries, and other islands of the Antilles.  (Immigration from Syria and Lebanon is largely a feature of the twentieth century.)  So varied was the nature of post-emancipation immigration that Gamble concluded in 1866 that “the languages spoken in Trinidad are numerous and diverse” (38).  That author recognised that


            Many distinct peoples go to make up the population of Trinidad.  There are men from all quarters of the globe, and with but little exaggeration, it may be said that, in Trinidad, all the languages of the earth are spoken. (28)


These languages included Amerindian languages such as Carib and Arawak, and from the fifteenth century onward, Spanish, French, Lesser Antillean French creole, English, Caribbean English creole, Yoruba, Ibo, Congo, Urdu, Tamil, Hindi, Bhojpuri, Bengali, Portuguese, Chinese languages (including Hakka), German, Danish, and Italian, inter alia, some of which have survived to varying degrees up to the present.

Because of the economic benefits to be derived by the plantocracy, the immigration policy was an open-door one, and it met with varying degrees of success.  The openness to immigrants, however, was no indication of a tolerant language policy that would ultimately allow the co-existence of other languages, since immigrants were expected to eventually be assimilated into the society.  While the co-existence of several languages was in fact a reality for some time, it was socially difficult to support the notion of the permanent existence of each language group.  This was because of fairly intense, close inter-group contact and because of the position taken by the colonial powers.  In terms of inter-group contact, there were few rigid social boundaries and no insurmountable physical difficulties in terms of the local infrastructure and geography of the land that would prevent contact.  On the contrary, the population was both socially fluid and physically mobile.  Indeed, inter-racial liaisons, official and otherwise, became increasingly common.  From the point of view of the ruling colonial powers of the time, while cultural and ethnic plurality could be tolerated, linguistic fragmentation was clearly another matter.  The outward survival of immigrant languages, including those of groups that posed no economic threats or challenges, was not to be allowed.

Between the 1830s and 1860s, that era of significant non-British immigration that was to permanently change the face of Trinidad, the British government began to develop what Brereton describes as “full-scale policy of ‘Anglicisation’” (“Social Organisation and Class” 37).  Although the multingual population had resorted to French creole as its linguistic bridge for the numerous competing languages, that language ultimately posed little sociolinguistic threat to English, as it was looked down on as ‘broken French,’ and was considered the counterpart of ‘broken English’, or English creole, which was not recognised as a language in its own right.

Through the ‘Anglicisation’ policy, the colonial government sought after the collapse of that bridge and its replacement by that of English.  How active they were in pursuing these policies in the society generally is seen in the establishment of the English-language schools in every ward of the colony.  Under the Education Ordinance of 1851, a system of secular government-controlled Ward schools was established, and “this system of education established in Trinidad after 1838 exercised a powerful influence on social development” (Brereton, A History of Modern Trinidad 122).  These were specific measures put into place for the efficient control of the varied population.  The policy adopted affected the curriculum of the schools and employment in the business sector, in short, socio-economic mobility.  There were, however, “acute language problems since English was the only language of instruction in the Ward schools while the majority of the pupils were patois-speakers” (Brereton 123).  As that historian notes, it was during this period of Anglicisation that Trinidad’s first grammar of Creole French, a “living, flourishing language,” was written by John Jacob Thomas in 1869 (122).

This Anglicisation policy was aimed largely at the French Creole élite, the social and economic rivals of the less numerous British expatriates and British Creoles, and was designed to combat the pervasive influence of the French Creoles in every sphere of life.  As Wood notes, “from the beginning of British rule, the free classes were divided by religion and language” (1).  Charles Warner, the Attorney-General in Trinidad from 1844 to 1870, was in great measure responsible for promoting English at the expense of French, and for deepening this division.  Described as “the most influential Attorney-General in the history of Trinidad” (Wood 37), “the dictator of Trinidad,” “the evil genius of Anglicization,” and “the evil genius of the country” by some (Wood 181), Warner was the man behind the Anglicisation policy.  According to Campbell, “the consuming passion of his long career was to give an English identity to a colony which was a mosaic of non-English cultural elements…” (“Charles Warner” 55).  In 1845, Warner declared in the Legislative Council that “English rights and privileges should only be given to those who would take the trouble to learn English and to bring up their children in an English way” (Wood 181).

Warner was instrumental in the setting up of the Queen’s Collegiate School, later Queen’s Royal College, in 1857.  This prestigious school for boys used English as the medium of instruction.  In order to combat the growing dominance of the British, and their values, religion and language, its French and Catholic rival, St. Mary’s College, was established in 1863.  Up to 1870, the language of instruction in that school, as well as its female counterpart, St. Joseph’s Convent, was French (Brereton 125).

The Anglicisation policy was to take effect only in the early twentieth century, the dominant French creole reluctantly giving way to English and Creole English.  Before that happened, Gamble described the place of French creole or “patois,” as it is locally called, as


            the language which the African and the Coolie, and the stranger in general, learns first, and of course, for the simple reason that he hears it most frequently spoken.  Its vituperative epithets are numerous and forcible; and … the best known, because the most frequently in use. (39)


By 1923, within a century, French creole was finally displaced as the lingua franca, long after Warner’s reign.  The majority of the population now spoke English and/or English creole (EC).  Brereton notes that the acquisition of English as the first language of the children of the French creoles in the early 1900s was a “major landmark in the assimilation of the French Creole élite” (122).  Unlike their parents, these English-educated children were not taught French at home, and French was used to exclude the children from adult discussions.  Other language groups in Trinidad also went through this process of assimilation at the same time that their languages went through the process of attrition, or vice-versa.

Warner’s policy was all-embracing in its reality and affected all speakers of other languages, including Spanish speakers as well.  The Spanish language remained mostly an in-group marker learned by children, although it was spoken by some clerks in Port-of-Spain dry goods stores where continental customers made their purchases (Gamble 39).  Many among that group also spoke French creole since that language was learned by adult non-native speakers as the lingua franca.  Most 19th century immigrants were probably obliged to learn French creole rather than English at first.  When the Portuguese came, for example, they came into contact with English, English creole, French creole, and Spanish. Whether or not Spanish speakers were themselves marginalised in British Trinidad, even their language appeared to have the victory over that new immigrant language.  This was because of the long-standing presence of Spanish speakers and the apparent issue of one-way intelligibility between the two languages (some Portuguese speakers could understand Spanish but not necessarily vice-versa, Gamble 40).  No immigrant language was expected to survive in the face of French creole, the prevailing lingua franca of the 1800s, English, the language of prestige, and even Spanish, a marginalised but language of long-standing tradition.

In sum, the linguistic policy of a British regime was one of the chief factors militating against against the continuing use of other languages in Trinidad, and the prolonged contact among the varying ethnic groups resulted in the weakening and ultimate collapse of traditional boundaries among these groups.  In the late nineteenth century, the British did their best, and finally succeeded, in their sustained efforts to quench French as a rival language to English in the school system and otherwise.  Languages such as the ‘patois’, or the French-lexicon creole, though beginning its slide underground, still persisted towards the end of the nineteenth century.  English creole, although neither officially nor unofficially recognised, was gaining ground.  (This may well have suited the government: if the masses had a good command of English, this might have enabled them to have greater possibilities of social mobility and/or dominance.)  Although it was a reality in the complexity of daily linguistic exchanges, English creole hardly figured in discussions of educational and linguistic policy makers, largely because of its low social status as a heavily stigmatised variety of English.  Only recently has it been recognised as a linguistic system in its own right, worthy of study and docmentation, and the following section goes on to discuss some salient linguistic features of TEC as studied by diverse linguists.

II. Linguistic characteristics of the English Creole


Trinidadian and Tobagonian English (or Trinbagonian English) is one of the many varieties of (non-rhotic) Standard English around the world.  As a national variety of Standard English, it is mutually intelligible with other varieties of English and differs from other such dialects only in certain phonetic differences, and in some lexical items “often relating to its fauna and flora, or to its folk and religious customs” (Crystal 345).  In other words, “the standard English of Trinidad and Tobago (TE), like other standard international varieties, has some distinctive features, mostly in pronunciation and lexicon” (Winer 3).  Although it differs little from other dialects in its morpho-syntax and the large majority of its lexicon, accent and vocabulary therefore clearly distinguish Trinbagonian English from other varietes of Standard English in the region and the rest of the English-speaking world.

It must be noted that the TE accent, in particular, acts as one of the chief identifying symbols or markers of the country, making citizens of Trinidad and Tobago immediately recognisable to each other outside the country.  Accent functions as the nation’s linguistic flag-bearer or as one of the country’s badges of national identity, in much the same way that a language often serves to bind an ethnic or national group together while separating it from the outside world.  Rather interestingly, the similarity between the accents of Welsh English and Trinbagonian English has often been noted by nationals of both countries (see also Solomon 1994), although there is no historic connection between the two varieties of English.

Like other varieties of English, TE consists of both formal and informal English, and the latter may contain elements of both Standard English and non-Standard English.  The vernacular of the country, however, is not English but Trinbagonian, which is a Caribbean creole language otherwise known as Trinidadian and Tobagonian English creole or TEC.  Most linguists agree that the vernacular of the country is a dialect of English-based or English-lexicon creole and therefore a separate language from English, some even suggesting that it is a relexification of the country’s French-lexicon creole (Solomon 1994 ).  Others such as Hancock, however, see the vernacular as a non-Standard variety of English and therefore as regional dialect of English.  Although the TEC or the national vernacular is the mother tongue of the majority of the population, it must be noted that TE is the mother tongue of a relatively small minority.

The term “creoles” or “creole languages” is used to refer to languages that are typified by “the process in which they were formed, rather than solely by linguistic characteristics” (Winer 4).  In other words, these terms are historical designations, not linguistic ones, and refer to the unusual circumstances in which the languages were created, unusual in the sense that they often involved sudden and dramatic contact between two or more groups speaking two or more unrelated languages.  Such cultural conflict or contact ultimately gave rise to a new language in an unusually short space of time.

In the Caribbean, for example, the formation of creole languages depended on the ratio of one segment of the population to another and the social power of these segments in relation to one another (see Mintz 1971).  In this situation, the minority group (comprising speakers of a Western European language) was the one who held power, and the majority group comprised speakers of several different languages (languages of West Africa, many of which were not mutually intelligible).  The latter were cast together as one and came to be viewed as one group by the power group.  The minority language was therefore the one that was imposed on the majority multilingual group.  Some understanding of the minority language was therefore fundamental for communication with the minority power group, as well as for intra-group communication among the majority group.

Caribbean English-lexicon creoles were themselves often formed within at least two or three generations, a unique history unlike that of many other non-creole languages, including that of the lexically related Standard English.  Although the latter is a language that also bears the lexical fruit of sudden cultural contact or clash, it developed over a period of hundreds of years and over several generations and was able to preserve distinctly recognisable English (Germanic) morpho-syntax, although it permanently adopted a great deal of Latinate lexicon.  While the lexicon of Caribbean English-‘based’ creoles has most of its origins in Modern English (hence the use of ‘English-based’ or ‘English-lexicon’), West African languages have “clearly influenced the lexicon, and more controversially, the grammar and phonology of the resulting creole” (Winer 4).  It is also interesting to note that modern Caribbean English-lexicon creoles preserve dialectal and regional features of Early Modern English (standard and non-standard) in lexicon, phonology and some morphology, some of which are no longer in use in modern Standard English.

In this overview, Trinbagonian or TEC will be treated as a Caribbean English-lexicon creole language.  In the same way that TE forms part of a wider grouping known collectively as International Standard English, Trinbagonian (as a Caribbean creole language) may be considered to be a dialect of a wider grouping known as Caribbean English-based creole.  Trinbagonian is similar to other members of this wider group of regional creole languages in its origins and development and in both its historic and modern morpho-syntactic structure.  Again, however, Trinbagonian differs from other such languages in its phonology and lexicon, both of which help to distinguish it as a national variety. 

TEC is considered here to be separate from TE and other Englishes in its morpho-syntax, but similar at the level of lexicon, since English is the source of the bulk of its everyday vocabulary; hence the term “Trinbagonian English creole” or “Caribbean English-lexicon creole”.  (See the Appendix for Trinbagonian words originating from languages other than English.)  Within TEC, there are two main linguistic varieties, which are not always mutually intelligible, and these are Trinidadian (TrC) and Tobagonian (TbC), using Winer’s designations.

The continuum theory has been used to explain the relationship between TE and TEC.  An understanding of this relationship is important because of the seeming closeness of the two languages which interact almost constantly on a daily basis, at both the written and spoken levels, and sometimes even appear to overlap.  This theory posits that a sociolinguistic continuum exists in Trinidad and Tobago, and looks at TE as the social “acrolect”, at one end of the continuum, and TEC as the social “basilect”, at the other end of the pole, with “mesolectal” varieties in between.  However, as noted earlier, TEC consists of TrC and TbC.  The former may be considered to consist of mostly mesolectal varieties, while the latter consists of both mesolectal and basilectal varieties, and is considered to be more distinct from English, the lexifying language.

Applying the continuum theory to language in Trinidad and Tobago, TE is the “acrolect”, TrC/TbC is the “mesolect” and TbC is the “basilect”.  Originally, the terms were sociolinguistic designations, intended to denote the social position of the speakers of such varieties.  Hence those who spoke the acrolect usually belonged to the most socially privileged group while those who spoke the basilect belonged to the least privileged group.  The terms appear to have lost their sociolinguistic overtones, with “basilect” for example now referring to the creole language, while “acrolect” has come to be associated with the standard official language of the country.

It is often said that a basilect exists in Tobago, but not in Trinidad.  Tobagonian has, in fact, been compared to Jamaican (see James 1974).  Trinidad, on the other hand, no longer has a basilect, though it once did, according to Winer 1993.  Modern Trinidadian may be said to be a heavily decreolised variety, with only a few vestiges of the old basilect.  Here it is useful to note that Tobago’s population is at least 90% of West African origin, despite the fact that five colonial powers fought over this island and it changed hands 21 times, and unlike Tobago, Trinidad changed hands only twice and was ruled by only two colonial powers.  The language history of the latter is far more diversified, since immigrants from nearly every continent went in their numbers to that island.  This may help to account for Tobago’s ability in preserving the historic basilectal varieties, while immigration of speakers of a variety of languages (including creole languages) to Trinidad partly accounts for the decreolisation of the latter’s creole language.  Factors such as ethnic, class and geographc diversity are also known to characterise the TrC varieties, perhaps more than the TbC varieties, but both are clearly multidialectal in nature.


Phonetics and phonology

Following is a brief discussion of some of the more salient features of the phonology of TEC.

TEC consonants are the same as those of TE, with the exception of the interdental fricatives.  While these fricatives are known to and sometimes used by TEC speakers, especially in hypercorrective forms, the language is characterised by the use of /t/ and /d/ in words of English origin that use // and //, such as ‘thigh’ and ‘that’ which are pronounced /tai/ and /dat/, the former also being the pronunciation of ‘tie’.

Other salient features include the practical non-existence of consonant clusters in word-final position, a morpho-phonological feature.  These include the final /t/ in the ‘st’ and ‘kt’ clusters of English, for example, /bEs/ ‘best’ and /wk/ ‘walked’, the final /d/ in the ‘nd’ of English, such as /an/ ‘and’ and the non-use of /s/ in plural forms where English uses the /s/.

The nasal /n/ is velarised after the back vowel //, in words such as /d/, and the velar plosive is often palatalised, such as /gjadn/ ‘garden’ and /gjet/ ‘gate’.

With regard to vowels, TEC has more lengthened monophthongs (or pure vowels) and fewer dipthongs in comparison to Interational Standard English.  A phonetic vowel chart for TEC may be set forth as follows:


                       Front     Mid     Back     

Close              I                       u U       

Close-mid       e e                     o o        

Open-mid       E                                    

Open                           a                    


The dipthongs of TEC include // as in /b/ ‘boy’, /a/ as in /ba/ ‘buy’ and /au/ as in /haus/ ‘house’.  In TEC, the following lengthened monophthongs exist: correspond to dipthongs in several other, but not all, English dialects as in /e/ as in /bet/ ‘bait’ and /o/ as in /bot/ ‘boat’.  They correspond to the dipthongs /ei/ and /ou/ in several other, but not all, dialects of Standard English.  In both sequences, the second vowel is considered to be sufficiently close to the first and is seldom used in TEC, and absence of it (or use of a lengthened first vowel) does not hinder comprehension.  In all the dipthongs of TEC, however, the second element is crucial, and the dipthongs form part of the phonological repertoire of this creole, as well as its lexically related TE.


            The following is a summary of the verb paradigm for the active verb ‘to eat’ (based on Winer 1993:21):

Present Habitual          I does eat
Present Progressive  I eating [itn]
Perfective    I eat

Past Perfective  

I did eat
Past Habitual   I used to eat [juztu]
Past Progressive    I was eating [itn]
Completive           I done eat
prospective  Future     I going and eat [gon]
remote   Future going and eat [gon]


            According to Winer, “an idealized depiction of contemporary tense and aspect oppositions in TEC could be made as follows (based on Winford 1992:7)”:


Imperfective                                                                          Completive          Perfective

Present             Past               Habitual            Progr.                                          “Past”/

Habitual            Habitual         Durative                                                              Non-past



doz                   useto             doz/useto         V-in (ing)            don                  zero

(does)              (used to)                               be+Vdur          (done)






Relative Past                                                     Future


                                                                        Prospective      Remote


did                                                                   goin to/an        go/will

                                                                        (going to)

O Lugar e o Futuro do Crioulo na Sociedade trinidad-tobagense*


            In Trinidad & Tobago today, attitudes towards TEC range from affectionate pride to outright rejection, while attitudes towards to TE range from pride to indifference.  While Tobagonians recognise that Tobagonian (TbC) is separate and distinct from English, Trinidadians have more ambiguous feelings and opinions about Trinidadian (TrC).  Most Trinbagonians in general tend to want to discuss the rich and varied lexicon of TEC, since it is a reflection of the cosmopolitan history and present make-up of the country, and this they often do with great pride.  They are less able to identify TEC’s morpho-syntactic features and often do not know what belongs to TE and what belongs to TEC.  Although most readily acknowledge that differences do exist between TE and TEC, not all see the latter as a separate “language”. Many in fact consider it a dialect of English, as opposed to a dialect of Caribbean Creole English, and an inferior dialect of English at that.  This attitude harks back to the days of British colonisation, and is a result of constant negative comparisons with TE and other varieties of Standard English.

            “Bidialectal education”, especially in the primary schools, has been discussed and promoted at varying levels, from the Faculty of Humanities and Education of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, to the Ministry of Education, to the man on the street.  (The term is used as opposed to “bilingual education” since, as noted above, TEC is not considered by the majority of Trinbagonians to be separate language from TE, in particular the mesolectal varieties.)  Some individuals have attempted to use this approach naturally, while others have rejected it altogether.

            The fact remains that TEC and TE will continue to co-exist for a long time to come.  The two language systems continue to fascinate the linguist as well as the layman, and discussions, whether at home or in the conference hall, are usually heated and animated.  The country’s rich literary history, both oral and written, shows extensive and natural use of the dynamic interplay (or codeswitching) between TEC and TE by their native speakers.  Other languages, especially Spanish, French creole and Bhojpuri, have left their indelible mark on the language(s) and people of Trinidad and Tobago (this is so above all in the domain of lexicon and family names), and both TEC and TE will long remain the hallmark of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.





Trinidad and Tobago.  Population Census 1960.  Vol. 3.  Port-of-Spain: Central Statistical Office, 1963.


---.  1990 Population and Housing Census.  Port-of-Spain: Central Statistical Office, 1990.


Other Works


Alleyne, Mervyn.  Comparative Afro-American.  Ann Arbor, MI: Karoma Publishers Inc., 1980.


Allsopp, Richard, ed.  Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage. With a French and Spanish Supplement ed. by Jeannette Allsopp.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.


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Borde, Pierre-Gustave-Louis.  The History of the Island of Trinidad under the Spanish Government.  2 vols.  Paris: Maisonneuve et Cie, 1876, 1883. Trans. James Alva Bain (Vol. 1), and A.S. Mavrogordato (Vol. 2).  Port-of-Spain: Paria Publishing Company Ltd., 1982.


Brathwaite, Lloyd.  “Social Stratification in Trinidad: A Preliminary Analysis.”  Social and Economic Studies.  Reprint.  Kingston: Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1975.


Bratt Paulston, Christina.  Linguistic Minorities in Multilingual Settings: Implications for Language Policies.  Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1994.


Brereton, Bridget.  History of Modern Trinidad 1783-1962. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1981.


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Winford, Donald.  “The Syntax of fi complements in Caribbean English Creole.”  Language  61.3 (1984): 588-624.


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Yelvington, Kevin A., ed.  Trinidad Ethnicity.  Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.


Some examples of non-English influences on the lexicon of Trinidadian

in everyday usage





Dame Lorraine                                     a Carnival character

dimanche gras                                                   o domingo antes do Carnaval

jab-jab (diable)                                                ‘diabo’ (Carnival character)

jouvert (jour ouvert)                                        a madrugada do 2ª feira do Carnaval

pierrot grenade                                     a Carnival character



lajablesse (la diablesse)                                    ‘diaba’ (a folklore character)

mamaglo (mama de l’eau)                               ‘mãe d’água’ (a folklore character)

papa bois                                                         ‘guardião da floresta’ (a folklore character)



Flora e Fauna

pommerac (pomme des Malaccas)                 

pommecythere (pomme de cythère)                 ‘kajamanga’

shado beni (chardon bénit)                              ‘cilantro’

zandoli (anoli)                                                  ‘lagarto’

zaboca (avocat)                                               ‘abacate’

and the common names of several mangoes



bazodee (abasourdi)                                        ‘aturdido’

bosi-back (bossu)                                            ‘corcunda’

commess (commerce)                                      ‘confusão’

doux-doux                                                        ‘amor’ (apelido)

fête                                                                   ‘festa’

maco (from the French for mackerel)               ‘fofocar’

macommere (?)                                                ‘madrinha’

maman poule                                                    ‘maricas’

mauvais langue (mauvaise langue)                   ‘falar mal de alguém’/ ‘fofocas’

picong (piquant)                                              ‘mordaz’

poteau d’église                                     ‘paroquiano regular’

tout bagai (tous les bagages?)              ‘tudo’

tout moun (tout le monde)                                ‘todo o mundo’

zanj (ange)                                                       ‘anjo’



aguinaldo                                                          ‘canção de Natal’

parang (parranda)                                           ‘canção de Natal’/ ‘festa’

parrandero                                                       ‘cantor de parang’

shac-shac                                                         ‘maracas’ (um instrumento)



arepa                                                                um salgado

boyo (bollo)                                                     um salgado

chicarron                                                          pele do porco frito

pastelle (pastel / hallaca)                                 uma prata de Natal

poncha crema                                                   uma bebida a base de leite e rum (Natal)

sancoche (sancocho)                                        uma sopa


Flora and Fauna

balangene (berengena)                                     ‘beringela’

caimet                                                              uma fruta

carite                                                                um peixe

cascadura (casca(ra) dura)                              um peixe

gavilan                                                              um pássaro

macajuel (macaurel)                                        uma cobra

mauby (mobi)                                                   uma árvore

morocoy (morrocoyo)                                      ‘tartaruga’

wabeen (guabine)                                            um peixe



alpagat (alpargata)                                          ‘sandália’

burrokeet (burriquito)                                      ‘burro’(a Carnival character)

douen (duende)                                                ‘anão’ (a folklore character)

francomen (francamente)                                 seriously speaking

jefe                                                                   ‘chefe’

koskel (cosquillas)                                           brightly coloured and unmatching

laniappe (la ñapa)                                            ‘extra’

maga (magro)                                                  ‘magro’

maljo (mal de ojo)                                           evil eye

mamaguy (mamar gallo)                                  ‘sacanear alguém’

panyol (español)                                              ‘espanhol’

peon                                                                 ‘camponês’/ ‘fã’

trabesau (atravesado)                                      ‘mestiço’




alu                                                                    ‘batata’

baigan                                                              ‘beringela’

barra                                                                ‘tipo de pão frito’

bhaji                                                                 ‘espinafre’

bodi                                                                 ‘vagem’

channa                                                              ‘grão de bico’



dhal                                                                  ‘ervilhas secas’

dhalpuri                                                            ‘tipo de pão de Índia’

dosti                                                                 ‘tipo de pão de Índia’

kachouri                                                           um salgado

khurma                                                 um doce

paratha                                                             ‘tipo de pão de Índia’

polouri                                                              um salgado

roti                                                                   ‘pão de Índia’

sada                                                                 ‘tipo de pão de Índia’



jhandi                                                               ‘bandeira de oração’

mandir                                                              ‘templo’

puja                                                                  ‘orações hindus’



dhoti                                                                 for men

sari                                                                   for women



neemakaram                                                     ‘traidor’



accra    (akara)                                                ‘pastel de bacalhua’

bassa-bassa                                                      ‘confusão’




pow                                                                 um salgado

whe-whe                                                          um jogo de apostas




calvinadage (carne vinha d’alhos)                   ‘carne em vinha d’alhos’




kibbee                                                              ‘kibe’

Trinidadian in Portuguese = trinidadiano, trinitino, trinidense, trinitário

Tobagonian = tobagense, tobagino

Trinbagonian = trinbagense ?