Monday, February 23, 2009

Finally, a dictionary for Trinis

If you've ever listened to two Trinis carrying on a conversation you could be tempted to ask what language they were speaking.

That was my experience back in the 1960's when I worked at the University of The West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad as a laboratory assistant to Dr Malcolm Cherret, an English researcher in the Zoology department. And it happens every day here in Toronto.

Dr Cherret was studying Bachas, those huge ants that leave a lasting reminder of their anger if you happen to stand in their path or invade their nests. My job included trips to the forests to find Bachac nests, dig them up and take them to the lab to study their habits once they had reconstructed their homes.

On most of these expeditions into rural Trinidad I would have to act as translator for my boss, who was fascinated with local culture but could not speak or understand "our language," which was of course, English.

No way, he would tell me. That's not even close to the Queen's English, the only English that Dr Cherret recognized. But who said it was the Queen's English?

Our contact with the British during our history of colonisation gave us English as our mother tongue but from it we developed a vernacular that is colourful and descriptive, a dialect that only a Trini knows or can master; not even our closest Caribbean cousins understand "we".

There never was any dictionary or anything close to it to help us explain ourselves to non-Trinis.

Now, thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Lise Winer there is a dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad and Tobago. It took her 30 years of painstaking research to compile the 12,000 words in her dictionary, but it's the only work that I know of that will explain the meaning of the word "broughtupcy", for example.

As a doctoral student in the 1970's, Winer found herself in the same predicament as so many of us - how to explain the Trinidad and Tobago words encountered daily.

That's when she started her project, collecting words while reading essays, the newspapers and talking to people.

The dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad and Tobago is aimed at locals and foreigners alike. Dr. Winer says it givers foreign readers a reference source to define the local usage of a word like 'ignorant', and locals now have a place where they could find alternative phrases to express our Creole words.

Dr. Winer is associate professor in the Faculty of Education, McGill University, the author of Badjohns, Bhaaji & Banknote Blue: Essays on the Social History of Language in Trinidad & Tobago, and editor of a series of early Trinidadian novels.

You can buy the dictionary online and get a 20% discount. Visit the website at:
or contact:

Nikki Shaffeeullah, Marketing Assistant - McGill-Queen's University Press (MQUP). Her email is: or you can call or fax her: (514) 398-2914 - fax (514) 398-5443

Editor's note: Cote ci Cote La, which is a collection of Trinidad & Tobago's vernacular, is not considered a dictionary.

1 comment:

meadysmusings said...

But what about the book Cote ci Cote La?

Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai