A Sociolinguistic Analysis of the French Creole Language Situation in Dominica

Bachelor Thesis, 1982

53 Pages, Grade: A





A Historical Background to the Language Situation in Dominica

The Linguistic Situation in Dominica

The Creole Heritage
Customs of the Past
A Glossary of French and Creole Terms that Have Been Retained in Dominica
Riddles, Proverbs and Idioms

Language and Society
Attitudes Toward the French Creole in Dominica
The Use of Creole in the Media
Creole in the Arts

Language and Standardization
Variation and Admixture of Dominican Creole and English
Problems of Standardization
Efforts at Standardization





I wish to extend sincere gratitude to my lecturers, Mr. Anthony Lewis and Dr. Bernadette Farquhar for their guidance throughout this work. I also wish to thank Ms. Pearle Christian of the Cultural Division of the Ministry of Education, Health,Youth, Sports and Culture in Dominica and Mr. Felix. Henderson, Chairman of the Standing Committee for Creole Studies (SCCS) for providing posters, handouts and other valuable information. Finally, I must thank all those who made themselves available for interviews and discussion.


This paper presents an analysis of the French Creole language situation in Dominica from a largely sociolinguistic standpoint. It is hoped that it will become a valuable addition to the limited data on Caribbean Creoles and Dominican French-Creole, in particular. There exists in Dominica, a rather complex linguistic situation consisting of a continuum of English-based creoles and a French-based creole all of which exist alongside the official language, Standard English. While the English-based creoles remain the language of the masses, the French Creole is considered to be the cultural language of Dominica. Data for this paper was obtained, to a limited extent, from research; there being very little documented information on the French Creole spoken in Dominica. For the most part, information was obtained from personal interaction with creole speakers, personal experience and to a lesser extent, from interviews with Government officials involved in the movement to preserve and promote the French Creole. Valuable information was also obtained from elderly relatives and family friends in the form of riddles, proverbs, anecdotes and much of the material which makes up the glossary. This paper will show that the French Creole has survived periods of criticism and obscurity. However, it has now gained a fair degree of acceptance and is steadily increasing in prominence.


The study of Creole languages has become a major area of interest in Linguistics. These forms of speech, for a long time considered unnatural, did not become the subject of serious study until the second half of this century.

There exists in the Caribbean a multiplicity of dialects and creoles which are often identified in terms of the European languages from which their vocabularies are derived. There are the English-based Creoles, the Dutch-based Creoles, the Ibero-Romance-based Creoles and the French-based Creoles. The latter constitutes, by far, the largest group in the Caribbean. There are approximately 4,500,000[1] speakers of French Creole in the Caribbean alone. All varieties of this Creole are mutually intelligible with each other so that speakers from opposite ends of the Caribbean - from Louisiana in the North to French Guiana in the South can converse with each other with a minimum of misunderstanding.

Caribbean French-based Creoles fall into four dialectal subgroups: Louisiana, Haiti, the Lesser Antilles and French Guiana. Within the Lesser Antilles, two further subgroupings are possible: those spoken in islands which have political affiliation with France (Martinique and Guadeloupe and her dependencies) and those which have political affiliation with Britain (Dominica and St Lucia).

Caribbean Creoles may be compartmentalized according to their socio-linguistic development. Papiamentu in the Netherlands Antilles, Sranan in Surinam, and Haitian in Haiti are all undergoing different degrees of standardization and all have attained semi-official status. Papiamentu now has the highest prestige among Caribbean Creoles, followed by Sranan and Haitian in the same order. The movement towards standardization has only recently been launched in St. Lucia and Dominica and although much work has not yet been done, the Creoles there are already enjoying more prestige by virtue of their improved status and expanded functions. In the other islands not much attention is being paid to the languages as far as standardization is concerned and indeed, in certain areas such as Jamaica, the Creole is now in the process of decreolization.

Despite their different lexical bases Caribbean Creoles show many structural similarities. Recent linguistic research tends to look at them from an African rather than a European point of view, proposing an African origin for all Caribbean Creoles. While Creoles may differ from territory to territory they also share common features and it is these features that linguists have spent a lot of time examining. It is because of these common features that these languages are labelled collectively as Caribbean Creoles.[2]

In this work, I am concerned primarily with the French Creole in Dominica and bearing in mind the fact just mentioned, that all Caribbean Creoles are related regardless of lexical base, I undertake an analysis of the French Creole language situation in Dominica using the approach which is generally used for the study of Caribbean Creoles; that is, from a sociological, historical as well as linguistic viewpoint.

The study of Linguistics at the University of the West Indies was what first brought to my awareness the complexity of the linguistic situation in the Caribbean. I came to see the situation in my home country, Dominica, as a somewhat ‘special’ case not only because of the existence of the French Creole alongside different varieties of English, but also because it was the one I believed I understood best. The UC300 (Caribbean Studies Project) course therefore, provided for me, the right opportunity to undertake a study of the situation in Dominica; an idea which I had previously toyed with only tentatively.

At university, I have been struck by the number and the extent of the misconceptions held by outsiders about the language situation in Dominica. Some people seemed completely unaware of the existence of anything but the official language, Standard English and the French Creole which, to them, represented the language of the masses. Among those who were aware of the existence of non-standard varieties of English, there were many who believed that the French Creole was the mass language and that the situation was similar to that which existed in Haiti (a purely diglossic situation). On the other extreme, there were people who were quite unaware of the existence of the French Creole in Dominica. It is hoped that this paper may serve to clear up some of these misconceptions and at the same time prove useful to anyone who is interested in the French Creole spoken in Dominica.

In this work I have tried to be as accurate as possible in the presentation of data. However, in some cases, it has been necessary to evaluate the diverse responses and attitudes which have come out of interviews and research and to form my own conclusions. I have also been somewhat free in my statistical representations, so that such areas may be debatable.

The most extensive work on Dominican French Creole was done by Douglas Taylor in his work Languages of The West Indies. Since then a small number of pamphlets and articles have been written, but the amount of documented material on the language situation in Dominica is still very limited.

The orthography which I have used is by no means standard, or for that matter, consistent. Like other writers in the past, I have tried as far as possible to write the language ‘by ear’. In certain sections I have attempted to use the orthography which was recently proposed by the Standing Committee on Creole Studies in Dominica. Wherever this latter is used, it will be indicated. Therefore, unless otherwise specified, all other representations should be taken as my own attempts at a writing form.

The main chapters have been divided into sub-chapters wherever necessary, for clarity and to facilitate reading. Where a literal translation of songs would obscure meaning, a synopsis is given. In the case of riddles, proverbs and idioms, the translations given are by no means literal. An understanding of proverbs, riddles and idioms in any language necessitates and understanding of the culture to which they are attached. I have therefore, endeavored to approximate as far as possible the acceptable English equivalents.

As far as the section on attitudes to the Creole is concerned, it is important for readers to bear in mind the socio-political history of the country given in Chapter 1. I wish to emphasize the fact that the white population in Dominica has always been a minority group so that a European (English) culture was never strenuously imposed. The fact that they are a minority would probably account for the negligible amount of resistance to the revitalization of Dominican Creole. Of course, one must consider too, that the middle class (which is significantly large) is composed, for the most part, of nationals; that is, people who were born and bred in Dominica and as such have affiliations with the French Creole culture.

Finally, I have, in some areas, made free use of the term creole. However, this should pose no problems to the reader once he has grasped the fact that all varieties of English, besides the standard, are referred to as dialects. The term creole therefore, is used to refer specifically to the French Creole.

A Historical Background to the Language Situation in Dominica

Dominica lies at the northern end of the windward chain of the Lesser Antilles between the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. The island is approximately two hundred and ninety-five (295) square miles in area and has a population of approximately eighty thousand people. The history of Dominica is one of change. As the English and the French sought to establish colonial supremacy in the New World, possession of the island alternated between those two nations for a long period of its history. The first Dominicans, however, were the Carib Indians.

As a result of the hostility of the native Indians, Dominica remained for a long time, a neutral island. However, the French had begun, as early as the 17th century to establish trade and friendly relations with the Caribs and these relations have continued into modern times; no longer with the Caribs only, but with a much wider section of the population.

By the 1720’s the French had scattered themselves throughout the island as planters, merchants and missionaries so that when the British acquired the island in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, they were already quite firmly established there. The island was eventually recaptured by the French in 1778 and then restored to Britain once again in 1783 by the Treaty of Versailles. Between those years the French culture, language and religion had made a lasting impact on the island thus making it almost impossible to hinder development of a French culture in Dominica even when the English had come to stay.

In addition, French influence made itself felt from outside the region as well. French revolutionary disorders in France and in the Caribbean possessions of France led to the introduction of a new population element in Dominica and other neighboring British colonies. The first influx of French royalists seeking refuge in the neighboring British territories came in 1792, and in the summer of 1793 some six thousand refugees landed in Dominica from Martinique. In the ensuing years there were so many Frenchmen on the island that the situation represented a threat to the government.

By 1794 the slave population of Dominica was about thirty thousand. Most of the slaves had belonged to French masters during the period of French possession of the island. Consequently, even after they were bought over by British proprietors, they retained their French customs, language and religion.

By the close of the 18th century, English was established as the official language in Dominica. However, while it was used on the official level, it was never so strenuously imposed as to cause a total discontinuance of French. Of course, attempts were made by the government to spread the use of English in public as well as private domains. The Mico School instituted by the British in the latter part of the 18th century was designed to spread the use of the English language and Protestantism. All teaching was done in English, but this only resulted in the use of English in the classroom while French was reserved for the playground. Likewise, Roman Catholicism prevailed and this has remained to this day, the predominant religion in Dominica. Apart from a very small number of local priests and nuns, all other priests and nuns who have presided over the churches and schools in Dominica over the past years are of French origin; having come, for the most part, from Belgium or France.

Finally, under the influence of English, that is; because of the use of English as the official language, there has been, over the years, varying degrees of change in the attitudes towards Creole and the extent to which it is used. Nonetheless, English has never superseded French Creole as a cultural language. Thus, to this day Creole has remained the primary vehicle of cultural expression.

The Linguistic Situation in Dominica

Dominica is an example of the linguistic complexity of the Caribbean region. There exists in the islands a number of varieties of speech all of which are very much alive in the specific regions or domains in which they are used.

Within the linguistic repertoire of Dominica, four distinct language varieties may be identified. These are: Standard English, French Creole, and two varieties of non-standard English. To avoid confusion in the ensuing discussion we shall refer to these varieties of English as Dominican Dialect and Leeward Islands Dialect respectively. The linguistic situation in Dominica is therefore bilingual and to a certain extent also diglossic.

Standard English is the official language of Dominica and therefore the language used in administration, judicature and external relations, as well as the medium of education at all levels. While approximately twenty percent of the population are speakers of Standard English (they are able to sustain conversations in that language in formal contexts), only about seven percent are monolinguals of it. This means that Standard English is the mother tongue (first language acquired and the one used in the home) of relatively few.[3]

Dominican Dialect is the language of the masses; that is, the mother tongue of the vast majority of the population. It can be shown by comparison, to be closer in structure to Standard English than many of the other English-based dialects of the Caribbean. This may be partly accounted for by the socio-political history of the island discussed in the first chapter; bearing in mind the fact that the dialect exists alongside a French Creole which has great vitality in the linguistic repertoire of the island.

The Leeward Islands dialect, so called because it was brought to Dominica by immigrants of the Leeward Islands of Monserrat, Antigua and St. Kitts, is spoken only in a few areas in the north-eastern side of the island, namely; the villages of Marigot, Wesley and Woodford Hill.

The three varieties of English spoken in Dominica differ in some aspects of morphology, phonology and lexicon. To illustrate this point clearly, to illustrate as well, the differences that exist between Dominican Dialect and Leeward Islands Dialect in relation to the degree of divergence from Standard English and also to highlight certain distinctions which make it possible to categorize each variety as a distinct form, let us examine the following sentences:

1. Standard English: / I do not think he is too small to sit on the sofa/
2. Dominica Dialect: / ai do fink hi tu smol tu sidong on di sofa/
3. Leeward Islands dialect: / mi na tink i tu sumal fu sidan pan di sofa/

Finally, and most important for the purpose of this paper is the French Creole, known locally as Patois. Dominican French Creole is mutually intelligible with the other French Creoles of the Caribbean; however, it bears a closer similarity to those of the Lesser Antilles than to that of other areas such as Haiti or Louisiana. A comparison of the following three sentences should serve to elucidate this point.

1. Haitian Creole: Mwe ape chanté – I am singing
2. Dominica Creole: Mwe ka chanté – I am singing
3. St. Lucia Creole: Mwe ka chanté – I am singing

In the past, French Creole was the mother tongue of the vast majority of the rural population of Dominica. Today, about 75 percent of the population speaks Creole. Although Dominican Dialect has replaced the French Creole as the mother tongue of the masses, Creole has remained the language with which most Dominicans identify. In some cases, where Creole is no longer the mother tongue (especially in rural areas), it is acquired at a very early stage in the language learning process of children. In Dominica, as in most of the Caribbean, if not throughout the entire region, Creole is the repository of folk culture. Therefore, for full participation in the total life of the country, knowledge of the French Creole is necessary.

Dominican Creole may be divided into an almost indefinite number of local varieties. There are regional varieties as well as others which have resulted from these regional varieties. By the latter, I mean that there exists a sort of continuum ranging from the pure Creole spoken by the older generations to the many intermediate varieties which show varying degrees of interference from English. These intermediate varieties are spoken mostly by the younger generations and those from urban areas (there are in fact two towns, Portsmouth and Roseau) tend to speak a more anglicized variety that those from rural areas. With regard to the regional varieties, there are differences on the levels of phonology, morphology, syntax and lexicon as will be shown subsequently. These differences are due to several factors.

Firstly, physical geography is an important factor in the spread of linguistic features both within and between territories. It therefore accounts in a significant way for the linguistic variation in Dominica. Natural barriers to communication such as rugged mountains and inadequate road networks have inhibited linguistic spread within the island. Inadequate road networks pose a problem to intra-island communication even today. In the past therefore, it has been considerably easier for certain villages to communicate with the neighboring islands than with other villages or with the capital, Roseau. This is because the people could travel and were, in fact, accustomed to travel to the neighboring islands by fishing boats or open canoes whereas movement from one village to the next and even worse, to the main town, Roseau, necessitated a long arduous journey on foot through rugged mountain terrain. Up to the late 1960s the only way to get to the capital Roseau from the second town, Portsmouth was by travelling about fifty-five miles through the interior on slow trucks or by sea on launches (small boats) via the north-western coast. These factors fostered the maintenance of an overseas trade with the neighboring French islands which had been established by the Caribs hundreds of years ago.

Secondly, since villages found it more convenient to maintain trade with the areas closest to them, different villages traded with different islands so that all villages were not exposed to the same variety of Creole. Even today, inhabitants of Cottage, Penville and Salibya, to name a few, still find it easier to travel to Guadeloupe, Les Saintes, Marie-Galante or Martinique to do their shopping than to make the arduous journey to Roseau for that purpose. They can do so in their own boats and at their own convenience. Not only commerce, but also friendly relations are maintained between Dominica and the neighboring French islands. People go off on pleasure trips in the evening and return in the early morning or they go off for week-ends. As a result, in some villages the people speak a variety of Creole which is closer in similarity to that of the island with which they trade and socialize than to the pure or rather original Dominican Creole. We see then, that the very factors which inhibited the spread of linguistic features internally fostered external contact and promoted regional variation in Dominica. Let us now examine some aspects of regional variation. From my observation, these do not appear to be restricted to any particular geographical area or to any age group.


1. Zwézo

Zozio - Bird

2. Poumyé

Pwèmyé - First


3. Ѐvè

Avè - With


4. Assi - On / On top of


5. Émé

Ѐmé - Like / Love


1. Bagay - Thing


2. Assi / assou - On / On top of


3. Ѐvè / avè/ avek - With


4. Pasé - Than


5. Moun - People



1. Mwè k’ay - I’m going

Mwè k’allé


2. Jamé - Never


3. Sa’w - Yours

Sa ou

4. D’lo - Water


5. Livyè - River



1. Yo di kosa sé sa yo - They say that it is theirs

Yo di sé sa yo

2. Mwè tan di qui i vini - I heard that she came

Mwè tan i vini

3. Lè ou ké fini ou ké di mwè - When you are finished you will let me know

Lè ou fini ou kè di mwè

3. Poutchi ou fè mwè sa? - Why did you do this to me?

Poutchi coz ou fè mwè sa?

4. Couman mwè pé sa benyé si i pa ni glo? - How can I bathe if there is no water?

Couma mwè sa benyé si i pa ni glo?

With recent technological advances and with changing social norms and behavior in Dominican society, Dominican Creole has had to renew itself in order to adequately meet the communication needs of its users. This has resulted in a somewhat haphazard borrowing of lexical items from English and from other French Creoles. This borrowing from English has further affected the purity of the language in that not only have English Words been incorporated into it, but Creole words have been actually replaced by English lexicon.

Indeed, the linguistic situation in Dominica is fairly fluid. Language poses no real barrier to social interaction or to social progress. There are very few monolinguals of any variety. A fairly large percentage of the population is multidialectal, but the majority of Dominicans are at least bilingual.

The Creole Heritage

Customs of the Past

In dealing with this section, I would like to stress the fact that this look into culture is designed to bring out the use of the French Creole in that domain not only in the past, but also in present day Dominican culture.

History tells us about the first French settlements in Dominica. As the settlers were mostly peasants from rural areas in the French colonies and France, they were used to providing their own entertainment and it is to them that we owe the accordion music, the lancer, quadrille, bèlè and mazurka; local dances some of which have survived to this day.

To the influence of French parish priests, a French bishop, Monseigneur Veques and the nuns who were in charge of the orphanage of the Faithful Virgin in Roseau, we owe many of the sprightly old carols, the ‘Cantiques de Noel’ (Christmas carols) which used to be sung at ‘Seveillons’[4] after midnight mass at most homes in the island up to the early part of this century. Among the older generation of the working classes, the custom of singing ‘Cantiques’ (hymns) continued longer, probably because they were already too accustomed to the old ways and also because many of them could not read or understand the English carols which began to be the style in the 1920s.

Some of the songs sung at carnival up to the close of the 1960s were also creole songs drawn from contemporary events. These songs were called ‘Chanté Mas’ (carnival road songs) and they were sung on the streets by a ‘chantrelle’ (lead chorister of the carnival band) and his chorus to the beat of ‘lapeau cabritt’ (goat skin) drums and the music of harmonicas. These ‘Chanté Mas’ were very personal. Long standing feuds could arise and have in fact arisen out of them. Sometimes local events such as hurricanes, fires, village scandals, political events or even the personal successes or misfortunes of well-known individuals were commemorated by these songs. There is a popular medley which is sung at carnival time, during Independence celebrations and other similar festivities today. It depicts the lively nature of the Dominican people and their ability to make the best out of their present circumstances. Only the refrain of this medley will be given here; the part which most appropriately illustrates the points which I have just been discussing:


Si nous mort, nous mort

Si nous mort, nous mort l’ané sa la

Si nous mort, nous mort l’ané sa la

L’ané sa la sé dernier l’ané nous

Si nous mort, nous mort

Si nous mort, nous mort l’ané sa la[5]

Essentially, the song is urging revelers to enjoy themselves as if this festive season were their last one.

Most of the well-known Anancy stories brought to the West Indies by our African ancestors have or used to have their Creole equivalents in Dominican culture. There have been innovations and additions, but the basic features of the Anancy stories remained distinct in the ‘Contes’ (Creole stories) of ‘Compère Lapin’ (Brer Rabbit) and ‘Compère Tigre’ (Brer Tiger). The ‘Conte’ has remained up to today, a very important element of folk culture. Indeed, the ‘Conte’ is one of the most interesting features of Independence celebrations and is featured not only at cultural shows, but on Creole radio programmes thereby giving almost everybody, even the old and the sick, the pleasure of enjoying it.

The old creole dances, bèlè, quadrille, lancer and mazurka formed the life blood of these Dominicans of by-gone days. The women were richly dressed in creole style (brightly colored clothing and a lot of jewelry), while the peasant farmers were transformed into charming country gentlemen in black and white and red. The ‘douillette’ (creole dress) used by women on such occasions has remained, with some alterations, the national costume of Dominican women while the men have maintained, in almost the same form, their white shirts, red cummerbund, black pants, shoes and top hat.

The first truly creole dresses were worn by freed women and slaves on Sundays and feast days in the French colonies. The entire dress was designed to depict the typical French provincial woman. It has undergone a number of changes until it finally evolved into the somewhat less magnificent ‘douillette’ of today. The ‘Tête Cassé’[6], a type of head piece and a very important part of the attire, has also lost some of its magnificence. The skill in tying the knots of the head piece seems to have died out with the older generations. Over the years the ‘Tête Cassé’ has been replaced by the Martinique ‘Tête Trois-Bouttes’[7] at carnival and other patriotic parades and at any cultural activity where the national costume is to be worn.

A Glossary of French and Creole Terms that Have Been Retained in Dominica

The exclusively French and Creole terminology used to describe traditional customs as seen in the previous chapter emphasizes the importance of these languages in Dominica culture. In addition, French names have been retained for people, places and traditional religious celebrations while Creole and French terminology are evident in the names of foods, animals, plants and others which will be listed below. These lists are by no means exhaustive.

Proper Names














Riviere Cyrique

Tete Morne

Morne Jaune

Pond Cassé

Paix Bouche

Vielle Case

Anse de Mai


Traditional Religious Celebrations

La Toussaint - All Saints and all Souls Festival

La Saint Pierre - Feast of Saint Peter (Fishermen’s Festival)

Fête Isidore - Feast of Saint Isidore (Laborers Festival)

Fête Sainte Anne - Feast of Saint Anne

Fête Saint Antoine - Feast of Saint Anthony

Fête La Salette - Feast of the Lady of La Salette

Fête Innocent - Feast of the Holy Innocent

Fête La Marin - Sailors Festival

Fruits and Vegetables

Shapoti - Sapodilla

Shadeck - Shaddock

Cashima - Custard apple

Pomciter - Golden apple

Pomcanel - Sugar apple

Papaye - Pawpaw

Zaman - Almond

Pois dou - Sweet pea

Gwen pain - Breadnut

Shalot - Eschalot


Lambi - Conch

Boudin - Black pudding

Touloulu - A variety of crab

Champillon - Mushroom

Shatou - Octopus

Vian pafimé - Smoked meat

Pwéson salé - Salted and dried fish

Coubouyon - Very savory fish stew

Gato - Type of cake

Sancoche - Savory stew with dried fish/codfish and

coconut cream


Fèye de tè - Thyme

Fèye lavande - Lavender leaves

Zépina - Spinach

Boidèn - Bay leaf

Lanis - Anise (herb used as flavoring)

Zeb gwan - Wild vine used for feeding animals

Zeb amè

Tabac Zombi

Bazélick - Medicinal herbs



Poupoule - Type of louse

Bête wouge - Type of louse

Maigwèn - Type of stinging insect

Léza - Iguana

Cwapo - Frog

Yenyen - Fruit fly

Toutwèl - Turtle Dove

Poule bois - Woodworm (termite)

Formi azèl - Flying ant/winged ant

Vèltè - Earthworm

Household Artefacts

Flambo - Homemade torch

Bouzaye - Another homemade torch

Lampe Viège - Homemade lamp used during prayers

Torchon - Rag used for cleaning or mopping

Tapon - Rag used for wiping the surface of irons

Gueppe - Cloth bag used in brewing ground coffee

Baton lélé - Swizzle stick

Copoteyè - Earthenware jug

Pilon and Manche Pilon - Mortar and Pestle

Balyé Coco/Cocoyé Broom - Broom made from bones of coconut branches

Kinship Terms

Pawèn - Godfather (the term used by the child)

Compè - Godfather (the term used by the parents of the child)

Nenen - Godmother (the term used by the child)

Coumè - Godmother (the term used by the parents of the child)

Feyèl - Godchild

Beau-pè - Father-in-law / Stepfather

Belle-mè - Mother-in-law / Stepmother

Copèn - Friend

Beau nom - A very short man

Ti nom - A boy who acts as an adult / a man who is small in stature

Doudou/Chéwi - Darling

Terms of Abuse

Malfouti - Poorly / in a bad condition

Malcassé - Ill-mannered

Malpwop - Untidy/unclean person

Tèbèh - Very stupid / mentally retarded

Canaye - Loud or loose woman

Cawat/Véward - Wayward man

Sot - Stupid/Foolish

Soutiwè (soutiwez) - One who condones wrong doing

Blagè (blagez) - One who talks too much

Oshan - Impatient / Overzealous

Descriptive Terms For People (Usually Derogatory)

Poto léglise - Devout / devoted church goer

Béké pov - Poor white

Massè - Nun / woman who acts very chaste

Macoumè - Man with homosexual tendencies

Shabèn (shabine) - Extremely light skinned/pale person usually with fair hair

Gens bois/Gens simit - Country bumpkins

Filosofe - One who thinks greatly of his own potential

Malfétè - An evil doer

Wumyal/Soula - Drunkard

Maléwé - Poor/unfortunate person.

Adjectives and Adverbs (widely used in Creole as well as non-standard English

Vaye-qui-vaye - Haphazardly

Contwayé - Annoyed / upset

Bossi - Hunch backed

Cambwé - Bow legged

En véwité - Honestly

Méchanceté - Wicked / unkind

Jalousie - Envious /jealous

Tourdi - Dizzy / light headed

Forcé/Kwévé - Strained / overburdened

Wipinyé - Sated / Satiated.

Riddles, Proverbs and Idioms

[8] Dominican culture, like that of the other Caribbean countries is rich in folklore. This may take the form of stories, songs, proverbs or idioms. In Dominica, folklore is associated with the creole culture; hence, most of it is passed on in the Creole language. Proverbs passed on snippets of wisdom from generation to generation in the form of advice, warnings and even predictions. Riddles or ‘Tim-Tim’, as they are called, used to be very popular in the homes of Dominicans of past generations. The custom of sharing Tim-Tim indoors on rainy nights or out-of-doors on moonlit nights has continued in rural areas, but it has almost ceased to exist in the towns. The creole culture also abounds in idiomatic and metaphorical expressions which are used as vehicles of scorn, satire, ridicule, pity, and polite insults. The magnitude and significance of Creole riddles, proverbs and idiomatic expression can only be appreciated by people who share the creole culture.

Examples of Riddles (Tim- Tim) - A question is posed and a response is given spontaneously

1. Glo doubout? - Kan!

(Water that is standing? - Cane!)

2. Tablié mama dèyè doy? - Zong!

(Mother’s apron is behind her? - Fingernail!)

3. Glo sispan? - Koko!

(Water which is hanging? - Coconut!)

4. On ti bouko san sec? - Zé!

(A little cask without metal bands? - Egg!)

5. Kaz doubout assou un sel poto? - Pawὸsὸl!

(A house which stands on one pillar? - Umbrella!)

6. Kaz mama plèn tou? - Nish miel!

(Mother’s house is full of holes? - Honeycomb!)

7. On ti bolom plèn kay? - Lamp!

(A little spirit fills a house? - Lamp!)

8. Mama ka babyé nwi kὸ jou? - Lamè!

(Mother is quarrelling all day, all night? - Sea!)

9. On fam adidan kay li tout shivey déwὸ? - Mi !

(A woman is inside her house while all her hair is outside? - Corn!)

10. Mwè voyé on moun fè commission; commission-la wivé avan yo? - Koko!

(I sent someone on an errand; the message returned before them? - Coconut!)

Examples of Proverbs

1. Chien paka fè chat

(Children take after their parents)

2. San épé passé glo

(Blood is thicker than water)

3. Cod bouwo ka cassé cod fami paka cassé

(Family ties remain unbroken)

4. Trop pwésé paka fè jou ouvè

(More haste less speed)

5. Wan Sèvis ka bay mal dos

(Doing a good turn might land you in trouble)

6. Pa ni pain ki pa twouvé fwomaj li

(Every dog has its bone)

7. Sé soulier tou sèl ki sav si ba ni tou

(Only your good friends know your secrets)

8. Mama mangé wézèn dans zanfan glasi

(The sins of the parents are visited unto their children)

9. Canawi paka di shodyè boday nwè

(Remove the beam from your own eye before commenting on the spec in someone else’s eye)

10. Jadèn lwèn gombo gaté

Lost opportunities cannot be regained


1. Plat kὸn koshὸn plansh

(Very thin / sickly looking)

2. Espwa mal papay

(Vain hopes)

3. Sot kon panyé pèsi

(Very stupid)

4. Sal kὸn dan pèy police

(Very dirty)

5. Bon kὸn bèt

(Very good – sarcastically or enthusiastically)

6. Dépi lané kanèl

(A very long time ago)

7. Sacwé gas!

(Scamp! / Rogue! / Oh shucks! / Oh the devil!)

8. Por dyab!

(Poor thing)

9. Mal cwayib!

(Savage, unsociable)

10. Lamor sibit!

(Shocking! – dreadfully or pleasantly)

Language and Society

Attitudes Toward the French Creole in Dominica

In attempting to analyze the attitude towards a language, it is necessary to approach the subject from a diachronic standpoint because attitudes are dynamic and must necessarily be treated as processes. Attitudes towards French Creole in Dominica have undergone a number of revisions before the evolution of the present positive one.

The correlation between language and social advancement is significant in explaining the attitudes towards a language in any society. Therefore, one must always bear in mind the extent to which social norms affect language in the Caribbean when attempting to examine the attitudes towards Caribbean languages.

Attitudes towards French Creole in Dominica have been extremely ambivalent in the past. A very large percentage of the population comprised monolingual Creole speakers. In fact, Creole monolingualism was particularly widespread among the working class and in rural areas. Even among the younger generations today, it is possible to find speakers to whom Creole is the mother tongue, because of situations at home where grandparents and parents speak only Creole within the private domain.

Among the elderly, there has been a great degree of pride in the language, generated by such emotional factors as culture, heritage, and questions of identity. However, with the growth and spread of literacy and the concomitant aspirations towards the more prestigious English language and culture, there developed gradually, a sense of shame towards Creole. A sense of inferiority was inculcated into the minds of Creole speakers. They were told that the language was associated not only with the poor, but with the uneducated, the unambitious and the backward. Consequently, as it became more and more stigmatized, so too were its users.

English was the language of the petite-bourgeoisie which comprised the small group of whites on the island and it was the language towards which the middle class and soon the working class as well, began to aspire. The children of middle class parents were forbidden to speak Creole because it was considered degrading both to themselves and to their parents to do so. They emphasized the need for English and the rejection of Creole for advancement in society and ultimately, in the world. Children were required to demonstrate their skill in manipulating the English language at home and in the playground to prove to their parents and to neighbors too, of course, that they were not wasting their time at school and that they had as much potential as the children of the élite. Eventually, middle class parents began following the example of the élite in sending their children abroad to study, to England especially.

Not surprisingly, working class parents soon followed the example of the middle class by chastising their children for speaking Creole. Monolingual Creole speakers who aspired towards respectability and social advancement began punishing their children for speaking Creole and would point out as examples, children of middle class parents who were making such progress at school as to make their parents proud.

Out of this a peculiar situation arose. The elderly people maintained their Creole among themselves while insisting that their children speak some variety of English. As far as they were concerned they were old and there were no longer any opportunities for them, but for their children the future lay wide open. Children therefore, grew more and more accustomed to speaking some variety of English in the private domains. Within large families the elder children spoke English among themselves and Creole to their parents who also spoke Creole among themselves. As a result, the younger children just acquiring language acquired Creole and English simultaneously. This consequently, marked the decline of Creole monolingualism in Dominica.

The population in the capital consisted of middle class families, merchants and small businessmen and their families. These were almost all speakers of English. Some of these maintained contact with the Creole language through their Creole speaking relatives in the rural districts. Moreover, it was necessary to communicate with Creole monolinguals who did their shopping and other business in the capital or kept up the weekly Saturday market which was of extreme importance to the town dwellers. The businesses depended largely on commerce with these market vendors and on other villagers especially on such occasions as Christmas, Easter or other great traditional festivals. It was therefore in the interest of town dwellers to maintain at least a working knowledge of Creole. Thus, while Creole speakers were never really handicapped by their monolingualism, they could see the need for English in future years and accordingly, they stressed to their children the expediency of learning English while holding on complacently to their Creole, themselves.

Current attitudes towards Creole in Dominica differ to a great extent from those established by the élite some years ago. The media has been instrumental in engendering new and more positive attitudes towards the Creole language. Nevertheless, since the media could not have succeeded on its own one must look to external factors such as the movements in national consciousness which are spreading throughout the Caribbean today for an explanation to this revolution in attitudes. Today in the Caribbean, mass languages are developing at the same rate that movements of national consciousness are developing. Political independence and modern policies in administration also account in a great way for this change which is evident at the mass as well as official levels.

Presently, Dominican Creole has been assigned new status and functions within the society. The rise in national status and lingual credit is indicated by the recent attempts at replacing the pejorative term ‘patois’ by the more respectful and widely acknowledged term, ‘Creole’ or rather ‘Kwéyὸl’.

Despite the fact that Dominican Creole has not been given official status, it is currently used at almost every level. The Prime Minister uses Creole in her addresses to the nation. Sometimes an entire address on a matter of great importance to the nation as a whole may be rendered in Creole after it has been rendered in English. Creole is used at the debate sessions of the House of Assembly and in public addresses by Ministers of Government. Politicians use Creole during electoral campaigns as a means of identifying with the masses and also, most successfully, as a means of gaining the confidence and solidarity of the working class, the members of which have adhered most tenaciously to the language.

Creole is being accepted more and more in the judicature. Very often there are cases which involve illiterates who have only minimal competence in English. In these situations it is important to have someone who can act as an interpreter in instances where the magistrate does not speak Creole as may well be the case if he is a foreigner. There is a well-known local story of a man who brought up a case of predial larceny against his neighbor. Both were illiterate peasants. The defendant was alleged to have stolen a quantity of vegetables from his neighbor’s garden. When asked to state approximately, the quantity of vegetables lost, the plaintiff replied emphatically that he was sure he had never mentioned ‘Approximately’, that the only two people involved in the case were his neighbor and himself and that he could not see what ‘Approximately’ had to do with the matter. The response would have been in Creole, of course. I cannot affirm that there is any truth in the story, but it illustrates as I would like to, the many misunderstandings and confusions that may arise in a situation where one party does not understand the language of another party with which communication is essential.

Socially, Creole has never been more acceptable in Dominica than it is today. There is a feeling of pride in something that is “our own” and Creole has become a very important factor in “Dominicanness”. People who were previously indifferent to the language are now making definite efforts to learn it or at least to master the more commonly used expressions. The Dominican who does not speak Creole finds himself locked out of intimate group activities where stories and jokes are exchanged in that language. He realizes that he is locked out not by any deliberate attempts on the part of his friends to do so, but simply because of his own incapacity to communicate with them in the language with which they identify. To most Dominicans, no story or joke is spicy enough or well told unless it has been highlighted by a few Creole expressions.

It is worth noting at this point, that speakers of the Leeward Islands dialect mentioned earlier, have remained non-speakers of Creole unless they moved out of their villages and assimilated with Creole speakers in other communities. What I wish to emphasize here is the fact that as long as they remain within their villages they never acquire competence in Creole.

Among the older generation there exists a certain complacency; however, some show a marked excitement over the new trend in the attitudes towards the Creole. One old man who attended a seminar held by the Standing Committee on Creole Studies at which plans for the standardization of Dominican Creole were being discussed, expressed his hope that the proposed orthography would not take as much time to materialize as the implementation of the metric system which he had been hearing about for such a long time.

At the micro-societal level, Creole is used as the language of intimacy by a wide cross section of Dominican society. The Bank Manager, Government Minister, Civil Servant, School Teacher; all use Creole in informal speech activity. The upper classes therefore, no longer look down on the language. They only insist that it has its time and place, so that one can safely say that although there may exist some indifference towards revitalization of Dominican Creole, there is certainly very little antagonism or resistance towards the movement.

Creole is used to a fair extent in religion. Local priests and pastors switch from English to Creole during the course of their sermons especially during very emotional situations. The entire service is not, however, conducted in Creole. Some local preachers have commented on the necessity of bringing the gospel to Creole speakers. In 1981, the religious programme La Voix de L’Evangil (The voice of the Gospel) was started on the radio. It is heard every Sunday at 8:45am and is designed to bring the gospel to Creole speakers. The programme has been greatly welcomed not only by Creole monolinguals (who now form a minority group), but also to others to whom the language has sentimental value. There are also hymns written in Creole. The most recent edition of the Roman Catholic hymnal has a section entitled La Messe Creole (The Mass in Creole/Creole Mass) in which there are Creole songs only. There is one particular song, ‘Merci Bon Dieu’, which is sung at almost every traditional religious festival such as La Saint-Pierre and others mentioned above. It is a patriotic song and has (in my opinion) as much significance within the context of religion as the National Anthem has within the political and cultural contexts. This song is a sort of tribute to Dominica and is largely an expression of gratitude to God for bestowing on Dominicans the precious gift that Dominica is to us.

Creole has not yet been introduced into the school curriculum. The idea of using it in this domain, not as the medium of instruction, but at least as a school subject, is at present being considered.

Finally, I wish to make it quite clear that despite the present positive attitudes toward Creole in Dominica and despite the marked elevation in status and extension of functions of the language, it has by no means achieved status as a language yet.

The Use of Creole in the Media

In this section I am dealing with the use of Creole on the radio exclusively since the extent to which Creole is used by the press is negligible.

As earlier stated, the use of Creole in the media was one of the primary steps towards the revitalization of Dominican Creole. Creole was first used by the media in 1977 and from small beginnings, we have today the increasing use of Creole and fairly extensive programmes.

Creole was first used in the media, on the Government Information Service (GIS) programme. It proved very effective, probably the most effective means of communication with peasant farmers who had difficulty in understanding ‘radio English’ and who lived too far away from the capital to obtain advice readily from the Agricultural Division.

The first real Creole programme on the radio, however, was ‘Nous Même’, heard every Saturday from 7.00 p.m. - 8.00 p.m. It was basically an entertainment programme featuring short stories, riddles, jokes and Cadence music. Despite its entertainment form, however, there were very serious motives attached to the programme. It aimed initially at rekindling interest in Creole as a language. Additionally, it was expected to eradicate the shyness of speakers who were still intensely aware of the stigma which was attached to the language and to prompt good Creole speakers to come out and use the language as a medium for sharing jokes, telling stories and in general, communicating informally. The more precise aim, however, was to get people accustomed to hearing Creole on the radio and to enjoy hearing it, thus promoting acceptability of the language. Ultimately, ‘Nous Même’ was a springboard for the promotion in status and the extension in function of Dominican Creole.

The next major step was the transmission of the national news in creole. Like ‘Nous Même’, this programme was immediately very popular among the peasants, the working class and somewhat surprisingly, even among the youth. Among the uneducated there were many people who were interested in world news, sports news, and politics, but were seriously handicapped by their inability to understand the news in English both on the radio and in the newspapers. Formerly, such people had to have the news summarized in Creole by their children or some other person with facility in both English and Creole. Of course, one is always more sure of what one hears oneself than what is reported by someone else. In the case of newspapers, since supply was very limited and since many people could not afford a paper anyway, an entire village sometimes depended on the paper bought by the shopkeeper and which was read aloud in the shop by someone who was able to do so. Sometimes, the person happened to have only limited competence in English; hence, in trying to simplify and explain what he read he sometimes only succeeded in distorting the news and confusing his listeners. So all things considered, the news in Creole was a welcome addition to the radio programme. At First Nouvelle en Patois (News in Creole) was presented in a story-like fashion. It was summarized then transmitted. It has, since then, undergone a number of changes and is now transmitted in acceptable news form.

The use of Creole in the media continued to expand. Creole is now used widely in advertisements, public addresses and other programmes. One of the most educational programmes on radio today is Espéwéans Kwéyὸl. The basic feature of Espéwéans Kwéyὸl is the interview. It is designed to reach almost every sector of the society so that interviews range across all societal classes; from lower working class to upper middle class. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, politicians, farmers, agriculturists, nutritionists, dietitians, nurses, government officials both foreign and local have had and still have the opportunity to communicate with the nation through Espéwéans Kwéyὸl. The contributions that these people have made to the society as a whole are invaluable. Felix Henderson who is in charge of the programme has this to say:

I have spoken to doctors and nurses who have given invaluable health information. Family planning officials, in fact, the Prime Minister and all Ministers of Government have already shared vital information on the Patois programme. I’ve even had the opportunity of speaking to government officials from St. Lucia when they visit Dominica.[9]

The Government Information Service continues to use Creole in its radio programmes. It now has a Creole assistant in its by-weekly programme, Island Wide.

In addition to the daily and weekly programmes, there are also special Creole programmes for occasions such as Christmas. The radio features a special annual Christmas programme which is aimed at bringing the feeling and joy of the season to the old and the sick. Among those are patients at the Princess Margaret Hospital who are interviewed live on aspects of Christmas both traditional and modern. They are able to give their views about the differences in attitudes toward Christmas in their day and at the present time as well as changes in the manner of celebration that have come out of the changes in attitudes. They are also given the opportunity to send out requests, greetings and messages to their family and friends all over the country. The response to this programme is very good. There is also the Sunday morning religious programme La Voix de L’Évangil (The Voice of the Gospel) which was mentioned in an earlier chapter. Additionally, The Peoples Action Theatre, a local drama group, makes use of Creole in its radio serials.

Not only is Creole functional in the media in the form of news, information, and interviews, but most importantly through music. Creole music is used to enhance Creole programmes. Indeed, on Espéwéans Kwéyὸl English music is seldom heard. The Creole programmes feature a wide variety of Creole music; local as well as foreign (from other French Caribbean countries). The latest hits in French Creole music are featured just as widely on Espéwéans Kwéyὸl as those in English are featured on the English programmes.

Creole in the Arts

Throughout the previous chapters there have been hints that Creole is also functional in the arts in Dominica. In my opinion, this was practically inevitable considering the relationship of culture to art. Creole is used in the arts not only at the entertainment level, but also at the national level.

The Coat of Arms, an important national emblem, bears the inscription Après Bondieu C’est La Ter (After God; the Earth). This motto contains two main emphases: Firstly, it stresses the importance of religion in the life of Dominicans and secondly, it stresses the importance of the soil in the island’s economy which is based almost entirely on agriculture.

The creole tradition comes to the fore in a big way during Independence (formerly National Day) festivities in the various competitions such as storytelling (Contes), Patois/Creole song, Creole dance and Riddles (Tim-Tim) among others. These events have the strong participation of inhabitants of rural areas. In recent years there has been a decline in participation among the youth and this is, I believe, largely as a result of the impact of modern music and dances. It is the preoccupation with these modern trends which has caused a fall in interest in traditional dance and music among the youth. Attempts are being made by the Cultural Division to rekindle this dying interest, and these have not, so far, been discouraging.

Local groups such as the Sifflé Montagne Chorale and the Jeune Étoile Chorale have made their contribution to Creole songs and music in Dominica. The well-known Dominican entertainer, Ophelia Marie, known in the French Antilles as ‘La grande dame de chansons des Antilles’, began her singing career by participating in The Patois Song Competition of the National Day festivities. There is also Cadence (Kadans) music which is indigenous to Dominica. The group Exile One under the leadership of Mr. Gordon Henderson is credited with the formation of this new genre of music. It is considered to be a synthesis of black (primarily West Indian) rhythmic patterns. This type of music is not Creole only in terms of rhythm and language, but also because it abounds in aspects of Creole culture such as proverbs, which sometimes serve as vehicles of satire or commentaries on contemporary events.

Many local bands have made a name for themselves in Creole music. Moreover, lack of opportunities for development have led gifted Dominicans to migrate in order to establish themselves or advance in the music industry. Many of the now popular bands have been, at one time or another, based in the neighboring French island of Guadeloupe where they found more avenues to progress than those available in Dominica. From Guadeloupe, they have had opportunities to go further afield; playing Creole music for European audiences in France.

The People’s Action Theatre, the most recognized drama group in the island also makes use of Creole in its theatrical presentations.

The Cultural Division is presently working assiduously at preserving aspects of Creole culture which seem to be dying out. Toward this end, they are working in conjunction with the Standing Committee on Creole Studies.

Language and Standardization

Variation and Admixture of Dominican Creole and English

The linguistic diversity in Dominica has given rise to a situation where no one variety of language can be said to be absolutely separate and distinct in relation to the next; that is, while each can stand on its own as a form of speech, none has remained totally unaffected by the other. In the case of Standard English and Leeward Islands dialect (Cocoy), there has been less interference; those being spoken by a relatively small percentage of the population in contrast to Dominican Creole and Dominican Dialect. The mutual interference of these latter has resulted in other divergent forms, namely, a somewhat anglicized French Creole and a somewhat Creolized English.

Dominican Dialect today is interlaced with Creole expressions such as those shown in the glossary in Chapter 111. In addition to these lexical features there are certain phonological and lexico-semantic features which have been incorporated into the dialect as well. For example, on the lexico-semantic level there are structures such as ‘cover basket’ (basket cover), ‘bottom foot’ (the sole of the feet), and ‘middle back’ (the middle of the back). This structure comes directly from French where, when two nouns are juxtaposed, the first noun qualifies the second (the thing possessed qualifies the possessor). In English it is usual for the second noun to qualify the first whenever nouns are placed in apposition to denote possession. Therefore, the non-standard equivalents would show a reversed structure: ‘basket cover’, ‘foot bottom’, ‘back middle’. On the phonological level it is not uncommon to hear the high back rounded vowel /u/ replaced by the front vowel /i/ as seen in the words /bifé/ (buffet), /biro/ (bureau). French Creole has been affected in a similar fashion by Dominican dialect.

It is said that Dominicans are easily identified outside by the use of the creole words ‘oui’ (affirmative) and ‘non’ (negative) at the end of statements. For example:

Today is my birthday oui - Today is my birthday

I can’t go to work today non - I can’t go to work today

These appendages are also used in question and answer where ‘non’ is appended to the question and ‘oui’ to the response. For example:

You know the Mayor’s daughter non? - Do you know the

Mayor’s daughter?

Yes I know her oui. - Yes I know her.

Even more interesting, one might hear English/Creole compounding such as ‘yes oui’ (yes) or ‘no non’ (no) which conveys a certain degree of emphasis. For example, in response to the question above the response could also have been ‘yes oui’ (certainly) or ‘no non’ (not at all).

Code switching in Dominican speech repertoire has become instinctive behavior rather than conscious action. It may even be regarded as style shifting since it does not always signal a change in the speech situation. Within a single speech situation and indeed within a single sentence speakers move from English to Creole with remarkable facility.

The practice of speaking anglicized varieties of Creole has, to a certain extent, broken down the barriers to group interaction formerly faced by non-fluent Creole speakers. Among the younger generation there are certain Creole terms and expressions which have gone completely out of use as a result of the continuous use of English expressions in their stead. ‘Try’ and ‘best’ are excellent examples of this adaptation of English lexicon as I shall illustrate subsequently.

On Espéwéans Kwéyὸl some of the participants are non-fluent Creole speakers who, whenever they find themselves in difficulties, resort to English. There have been comments to the effect that the acceptance of such mediocre Creole promotes mental laziness in people who could do better, if they were obliged to. Further, it was pointed out that the acceptance of this watered down variety of Creole combined with other factors would contribute to the extinction of pure Creole. That may be so; however, there is the belief that strict insistence on perfection would probably discourage people from participating in the programme and this would, in effect, defeat its entire purpose. Furthermore, some people, in discussing their work, have to use terms which arise out of modern technology and for which there are no Creole equivalents. In such situations the use of English terms is unavoidable. Consequently, in order to attract and encourage participants to the programme certain inadequacies must be overlooked so that one may hear such things as:

“Ebeh Mesdames/Messieurs, “Well ladies and gentlemen,

Sèl advice mwè sa ba zor the only advice I can give

Sé pour exercise en népot plas zor tapé. you is to exercise anywhere

I pé sa en bathroom zor, en toilet zor… convenient; it may be in your

Yon moun pas obligé aller déwor bathroom, your toilet…

pour exercise. Alors You do not have to go

Mwè ka di zor try best zor.” outdoors to exercise.

I urge you to try you best.”[10]

Problems of Standardization

Notwithstanding variation, attempts are being made to standardize Dominican Creole. The movement towards standardization is fairly recent and much has not yet been done. It is therefore impossible to make a critical examination of the problems that actually exist. I shall, however, endeavor to outline some of the general factors that should be considered for standardization and isolate those which may be applicable to the situation in Dominica.

Firstly, there is the question of stabilization and I mention this first in view of the great degree of variation in Dominican Creole which has already been examined. The first step towards the stabilization of any language is the aim for uniformity. Variation should be minimized as far as possible particularly in the areas of phonology and morphology and to a lesser extent lexicon. (I say to a lesser extent, because in lexicon there has to be a certain amount of flexibility). Given the situation which exists in Dominica at present, stabilization would be a mammoth task and it would take years to achieve any reasonable measure of success.

Stabilization inevitably leads to the idea of codification as the idea of stabilization without codification is not feasible. The second consideration then is the need for a writing system; the selection of an alphabet, a workable method of portraying Creole sounds accurately in a written form. In addition, there would be the need for a dictionary and a grammar. There have been some positive steps towards the establishment of an orthography for Dominican Creole. An alphabet has also been proposed and is being considered. It may in all likelihood be retained. The proposed alphabet is phonemic and consequently should serve as an effective solution to any problems of regional variation that may arise or might have arisen in the selection of a code.

After a language has been standardized there may be attempts to elevate its status and expand its functions. Where this happens, a problem of acceptability may result. In Dominica, the changes in the status and functions of Creole have not yet posed any serious questions of acceptability, but one can envisage such problems arising if the functions of Creole are further extended to reach certain areas such as education.

As a fourth consideration, there is the question of feasibility. Complete standardization would require expensive equipment and machinery. Before financing such a project the government would need to consider certain basic questions; namely, how far the language will be useful in education and in any other systems of importance after it has been promoted. If the language is to be used in education, there must be some felt need for literature in it as well as some implied gain to be derived from it. Then there is the vital question of the extent to which the language should be used in education. Should it be taught as a foreign language or should it be used as a medium of instruction and if so at what levels? The use of Creole in education would therefore be a major step in Dominica and it must be reiterated that it is in this domain that problems of acceptability would most likely occur. This is because, despite the fact that Creole is highly favored as an auxiliary language, its use as a medium of instruction would pose grave problems. Certainly, the fact that it is not always acquired simultaneously with English would present great difficulties for students and teachers alike if Creole were to be used as a medium of instruction particularly at the primary levels.

Once standardized, Creole may continue to function as an auxiliary language alongside English, it may attain semi-official status, or it may replace English as the official language. Given the present trend in the Caribbean, it is quite possible that the language may achieve at least semi-official status as have Sranan, Haitian and Papiamentu, but it is very unlikely that Creole will ever replace English as the official language. The importance of English as an international language should not be underestimated. This and the fact that the majority of Dominicans speak English as their first language make the idea of the supplanting of English by Creole far-fetched, if not impossible.

As already stated the movement towards standardization in Dominica is fairly recent, but is would do well to examine its progress.

Efforts at Standardization

The process of standardization of Dominican Creole is in the hands of the Standing Committee on Creole Studies (SCCS). The SCCS has been operative in other areas in the Caribbean, such as St. Lucia, for some time. Dominica became a member of the committee in 1981 and participated in the third international conference held by the committee in St. Lucia in that year. The local branch of the SCCS comprises ten official members. The committee aims at the standardization of the French Creole: to establish an orthography, to have a literature, to eradicate the social stigma attached to the language and to elevate its status and expand its functions.

The local branch of the committee is still young and its achievements are not yet widely evident. It is involved not only with the linguistic aspects of Creole, but also with the cultural aspects and as such it works in conjunction with the Division of Culture. The activities of the SCCS range from recreational to official projects. As recreation, there are soirées[11] to which the public is invited. These consist of games involving the use of the Creole language, songs, stories etc. On the cultural level there have been attempts to revitalize the creole culture by reviving past traditions which have died or are dying out. For example, last year (December 1981), the committee organized a Christmas ‘Séwénal’[12] competition where six groups participated each of which was required to present two songs; one original, one traditional. The response to the competition was fairly good.

As far as education is concerned, nothing official has been done. However, at soirées people are encouraged to speak Creole and they are taught the language (informally) by the more fluent speakers. The question as to whether Creole should form a part of the school curriculum in the future was one of the topics of an Independence Essay Competition. The SCCS has also undertaken the instruction of Peace Corps workers in Creole. Again this has not been organized on a formal basis. Rather, individual members of the committee undertake to teach individuals or small groups of Peace Corps workers. There is no set pattern of instruction either. Instead there is a flexible system which allows each teacher to instruct his pupil(s) in the specific areas of the language which are relevant to the type of work they have to do. Of course, they are free to learn Creole more fully if they so desire and they can attend soirées and other public activities of the committee.

On the official and formal levels, the committee’s officers meet on a regular basis and sometimes there are larger meetings with officials from the committee in St. Lucia. At these meetings they make proposals, discuss projects and formulate plans for the committee. In addition, there has been a seminar and there are workshops which are open to participation by the public.

The SCCS and the Cultural Division have seen the need for a national day of Creole and as such October 30th has been designated ‘Jou Kwéyὸl’ in Dominica. ‘Jou Kwéyὸl’ came into being in 1980, but it was not very successful in that year because it was not well publicized. Last year (1981) attempts were made to bring people to an awareness of the day, by distributing handouts and posters containing information about ‘Jou Kwéyὸl’, all over the island (see overleaf).

A very interesting aspect of the drive towards standardization is the replacement of the term Patois with the term Kwéyὸl. For centuries, Dominican Creole has been known as Patois and the majority of Dominicans still speak of Patois rather than Creole. At present, there are positive attempts at discouraging the use of the term Patois due to the fact that historically, it has had negative connotations (poverty, backwardness, low level of education, etc.) associated with it. The media is the primary agent in this drive and beginning within the radio station itself, any programme whose name had anything to do with the term ‘Patois’, was renamed. For example the present Nouvelle en Creole was once Nouvelle en Patois.

There has also been a small body of literature in Creole. This took the form of proverbs, songs, refrains of poems, parts of short stories and choruses to songs. Many attempts have been made to preserve proverbs by documenting them (granted that the same proverb may be represented in different forms in each work). The SCCS has plans to put out a large publication of proverbs soon.

Since there was no standard Creole orthography, each writer of the language devised his own form. Some wrote partly by ear (as I have done for the greater part of this work where I have had to write the language) some by etymology; that is, using orthography or some, at least, of the orthography of Standard French. As a result it is seldom that two writers would be found using the same system and wherever it occurred it was purely coincidental. In fact, the same writer may use different forms within one piece of work.

As far as a standard orthography is concerned, the local committee was presented by the wider body of the SCCS with an orthography that had been previously presented to the committee in St. Lucia. It comprises an alphabet of thirty-two letters and is phonemic. The choice of a phonemic writing system over a phonetic one has already been discussed. The grave and acute accents used in Standard French are also present in the Creole alphabet; however, they have been given additional functions. In addition to the French use of these accents to effect a distinction between the open ‘e’ /ɛ/ and the closed ‘e’ /e/, they are used to distinguish between open ‘o’ /ɔ/ and closed ‘o’ /o/. Finally, the alphabet consists of some compound symbols; that is, symbols derived from the compounding of two or more others. A distinction must therefore be made between the symbols where they appear independently and where they appear as components of others. An entire copy of the alphabet, as it was presented to the committee, is shown overleaf.


Letter Sound Creole Word

1. a as in “apricot” bwa

2. an as in “angle” without “g” sound anfan

3. b pronounced “bay” bwa

4. ch as in “she” chenn

5. d pronounced “day” doudou

6. dj as in “John ” adjablès

7. é as in “play” pléwé

8. è as in “let” bèt

9. en as in “enter” without hard “n” sound gwennpen

10. f as in English Language fimen

11. g pronounced “gay” gason

12. h pronounced “hay” houp

13. i pronounced like letter “e” in English liv

14. j as in “jalousie” (louvres) janm

15. k as in English language kann

16. l as in English language lalin

17. m as in English language mango

18. n as in “enter” nonm

19. ng nasal sound with “n” and “g” combination (seldom used)

20. o as in “ochro” topi

21. ὸ pronounced “or” abὸlὸ

22. on as in “on” without hard “n” sound avion

23. ou as in “you” touloulou

24. p pronounced “pay” piman

25. r as in English language (seldom used)

26. s as in “say” sak

27. t pronounced “tay” tab

28. tch as in “watch” tchwi

29. v pronounced “vay” vant

30. w “way” wonm

31. y “yeh” yanm

32. z “zay” zo

The letters Q, C, X and U do not form part of the Creole alphabet. However, both C and U are used with another letter as combinations. For example, “ch” “tch” and “ou”.

Accents: acute accent ´, grave accent `.



The linguistic situation in Dominica is not unique. Similar situations occur in other areas of the Caribbean. For example, an almost identical situation exists in St. Lucia where French Creole also exists alongside English, the official language there. In Surinam, Sranan, an English based Creole is the mass language while the official language is Dutch and in the Netherlands Antilles the Iberian based Papiamentu has also maintained vitality alongside the official language Dutch.

In any situation where a Creole exists concurrently with an official language which is not the source language there are only two avenues open to the Creole: extinction as was the case with Negerhollands in the Virgin Islands or survival as a distinct form as is the case with Dominican Creole and the others mentioned above. It is important to note that while apparently similar situations exist in Trinidad and Grenada the essential difference between these two and the others already mentioned is that in Trinidad and Grenada, the French Creole is not a mass language. It is, in fact, almost extinct; being spoken only by very old people and only in a few areas. In addition, Trinidad does not have a history of French colonization thus; the French Creole there has no cultural significance.

As long as Dominican Creole remains the main vehicle for cultural expression and as long as the possession of a culture continues to be important to Dominicans, as it must, there is very little likelihood of it ever being threatened by extinction. Far from that, one can predict at least semi-official status for the language sometime in the future. The fact that similar projects are on the way in St Lucia, Surinam, Haiti and the Netherlands Antilles spells well for Dominican Creole. Moreover, the changes in attitudes towards Creole languages in the Caribbean caused by the movements of national consciousness and the search for identity in the post-independence period are at present great preoccupations with the Caribbean man. These considerations show promise for the life of Caribbean Creole languages.

Finally, I wish to point out that within the Caribbean area, the situation in Dominica is somewhat peculiar. Given the linguistic situation which exists there, it is possible to identify not one, but rather two sets of Creoles: French Creole and English Creole. Some linguists refer to the non-standard varieties of English as dialects while others classify them as Creoles so that Dominica may fall into two Creole language groupings: those where English based Creoles exist and those where French based Creoles exist. However, as far as concepts such as identity, cultural expression and national pride are concerned, the emphasis lies on the French Creole so that an important distinction between Dominica and other areas in the Caribbean is the fact that the cultural language is not actually the mass language. Hence, Dominicans are not as greatly preoccupied with the mass language, Dominican dialect, as they are with the cultural language, the French Creole.


Larger Works

Alleyne, Mervin. 1980. Comparative Afro-American. ‘Creole Language Studies’.

Hynes, Dell H. ed. 1971. Pidginization and Creolization of Language. ‘The study of pidgin and creole languages’, David Decamp, University of Texas.

‘The language situation in Haiti’. Albert Valdiman, Indiana University.

Pamphlets and Articles

Scobie Edward. Dies Dominica. A publication commemorating Discovery Day 1965.

Public Relations Division of the Premier’s Office, Government Headquarters, Roseau. ed. Dies Dominica. A publication commemorating Statehood Day 1967.

Dies Dominica. A publication commemorating Dominica Day 1972. Fifth anniversary edition. ‘Music and Songs of Dominica’, M.A. Caudieron.

Step by Step from Livre to Douillette’, M.A. Caudieron.

Government Printing Division. Dominica 1972. Aspects of Dominican History.

Issued by the Government of Dominica to commemorate the 5th Anniversary of Associated Statehood with Britain, 5th November 1972

Cuthbert Marlene and Pidgeon Michael. Ed 1979. Language and Communication. ‘Linguistic Aspects of Communication in the West Indies’.

Mervyn Alleyne. ‘Communication in the Caribbean. A Linguistic View-point’.

Pauline G. Christie.

Felix Henderson. 1980. Dominican Patois.

Unit of Use of English and Linguistics. Cave Hill Campus. U.W.I. ‘A study of the role of 2nd languages’. Michael A. Stewart.

‘Origin and Development of Caribbean Creoles’.


[1] Willian Stewart – Study of the role of 2nd languages. ed. Frank A. Rice

[2] “Origin and Development of Caribbean Creole Languages.” Prepared by the Unit of Use of English and Linguistics, Cave Hill Campus, U.W.I.

[3] No official survey has ever been done, therefore no statistical data has ever been documented officially.

[4] Seveillons: Family gatherings after midnight mass. Carols would be sung and jokes and stories exchanged over an abundance of food and drink.

[5] Synopsis of medley: It is a sort of defiant chant: Everyone throws off the problems of work and life in general and lives only for the moment. This philosophy is repeated over and over in the refrain: - If we die today it does not matter. Let’s just enjoy ourselves for this may be our final opportunity to do so.

[6] Tête-Cassé: There were different types of headpieces or rather different styles of tying the headpiece depending on the occasion. For example, there would be a simple style for ordinary public holidays and a more elaborate style for festive occasions. In Martinique, up to recently, the number of knots or peaks in the headpiece would denote the marital status of the woman.

[7] Tete Trois-Bouttes. ibid

[8] The proposed orthography by SCCS was used in this section.

[9] Taken from Dominican Patois; an article written by Felix Henderson.

[10] The use of English lexicon -‘try’ and ‘best’ as well as ‘exercise’, ‘advice’ ‘bathroom’ and ‘toilet’- in Creole conversation.

[11] Soirée - An informal meeting which takes the form of entertainment. Here the Soirée has the additional element of language learning added to it. The term comes originally from French and within this context it is and informal evening party rather than a meeting.

[12] Séwénal - This comes from the French ‘Serenade’. Séwénal is performed by a group of entertainers who go from house to house to sing and play musical instruments to their fellow villagers who in turn entertain them with drinks and on occasion, give them small tips. This activity is usually restricted to Christmas and takes different forms in the different countries. As a competition the Séwénal organized by the SCCS took the form of a radio programme.

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A Sociolinguistic Analysis of the French Creole Language Situation in Dominica
University of the West Indies
Caribbean Studies Project (UC300)
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This paper was submitted over 30 years ago; however, I believe that the information is still relevant and important. It will provide valuable background information to present researchers on the subject. I have made slight revisions, but no major changes to the content.
sociolinguistic, analysis, french, creole, language, situation, dominica
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Joyette Fabien (Author), 1982, A Sociolinguistic Analysis of the French Creole Language Situation in Dominica, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/318124


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