Monday, February 7, 2011


A guest asked yesterday: "What is the language the locals speak? It isn't really Spanish; we haven't been able to identify it."

The locals speak English, of course, and while such a question may seem a bit laughable, it is understandable, as the variety of English spoken by BVIslanders is usually a heavily-accented Caribbean patois that can be very difficult for speakers of American English or "the Queen's English" to understand at first. Often times, when I listen too hard, it is easy to believe that the locals are speaking a different language, as the rhythm, cadence, syntax and diction are all quite different from the way I speak.

Comprehension is compounded even further by the presence in the BVI of many immigrants from other Caribbean islands, each of which have similar, but distinct styles of speaking -- so much so that folks from one island sometimes have difficulty understanding those from another island.

There are no generalizations to be made about which island patois are easiest to understand, as it truly varies from individual to individual. HB has commented that his co-workers from St. Lucia and Guyana are the most intelligible to him, while I have the most trouble understanding my co-workers from the same places.

As with all language differences, the friction points come when joking or using sarcasm. The maintenance guys at work like to use plays on words that are completely culturally unfamiliar to me, and I know they get frustrated when I ask them to repeat their jokes three or four times. It's always a good day when I can pick up a punchline the first time around.

1 comment:

  1. I guess you are saying I will need a translator yet again!


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