Dis wata de col col

• September 30th, 2013 • Posted in All posts, Story-telling

A while ago on the radio I heard a speech by the President of Sierra Leone, announcing the end of civil war.  He began the speech in English:

‘The war is over!’

And then he said the same thing in Krio, the English-based creole which is the country’s lingua franca.

‘Wah done gone!’*

Every part of the English-speaking world has its own version of English, but in most cases these haven’t  diverged from one another so much as to become actual separate languages.   On the contrary, the prestige and utility of Standard English, with its stabilised grammar and spelling, mean that the various regional versions of the language tend to converge towards the standard form rather than flow away from it.   This has happened with the regional dialects of England, and it may well happen in Sierra Leone too.  A standardised official language is like a deep channel dug through a river delta where the waters have broken up into many small streams.

But if the channel silts up, or access to it is lost, then new streams form.  Under the Romans, Latin was a deep channel across a wide swathe of Europe, in many places completely replacing the indigenous languages.  But after the empire broke up, so did the language, splintering into countless Romance tongues, a few which became new national languages.

As the world is at the moment, I guess this sort of divergence is only likely to happen with English in a place  like Sierra Leone, where literacy and exposure to Standard English would have been comparatively low while Krio was evolving.   But it could happen in the future in any part of the English-speaking world, whether as a result of limited exposure to the main English-speaking community, a reduction in the prestige of the parent language, or a need for a separate language for purposes of group identity.  If you listen to Krio being spoken it’s a fascinating glimpse of the kinds of language that would emerge: still recognisable as part of the same family and still partly comprensible, but no more similar to standard English than Romance languages are to one another.

The complete isolation of the people in Dark Eden and their very limited literacy would have undoubtedly have resulted in their language diverging from Standard English.  (Their isolation is obviously far greater than that of Krio-speakers in Sierra Leone.  On the other hand, Standard English was spoken by their forebears, which is not the case with creole languages).

I tried to give a small sense of this divergence with the small variations in grammar and vocabulary that everyone notices in the book.  One of the drivers for this divergence, I thought, would be the  fact that, at the beginning, the population would have consisted of two parents and their children, which I felt would result in simplified childish forms becoming established, without a wider adult world to ‘correct’ them.  (In a similar kind of way, Afrikaans is thought to have evolved a grammar that is radically simpler than that of its parent language, when Dutch settlers found themselves speaking on a daily basis to servants and slaves with only a limited understanding of Dutch.)

Rather pleasingly, I’ve since found that the most obvious distinguishing feature of Eden English is actually present in at least one variant of English found on the planet Earth:

It is common in Guyanese Creole to repeat adjectives for emphasis (as if saying, very or extremely). For example, “Dis wata de col col” translates into “This water is very cold”. “Come now now” translates into “Come right now.”

(Wikipedia entry on Guyanese Creole.)

*This probably isn’t the correct spelling.

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