A Phonological Description of Trinidadian English

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A standard variety of Trinidadian English (TrE) is spoken in the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, a country of approximately 1.3 million people, and wherever Trinidadian (and Tobagonian) speakers of English have emigrated. This is a standard variety of English and not a variety of Creole English or English Creole. It may also be referred to as a Trinidadian variety of standard English. The country comprises two islands in the Caribbean, with Trinidad located seven miles off the north-east coast of Venezuela in South America, and Tobago located twenty-one miles north-east of Trinidad. There are relatively few studies or analyses of the phonology of standard varieties of Caribbean English in general (see Allsopp 2003 and Roberts 2007 for references to Caribbean English phonology and Irvine 2004 for a treatment of Jamaican English phonology), and fewer still of Trinidadian English in particular (see Winford 1978 and 1979 and Wilson 2007, Youssef 2004a and 2004b, and also references in Warner 1967 and Winer 1993 and 2009). Tom McArthur’s 1987 circle of World Standard English (WSE), reproduced in Crystal 2003, includes Caribbean Standard English—naming some of its national varieties—among the ‘various regional or national standards, either established or becoming established (‘standardizing’)’ (Crystal 2003:111, cf. Allsopp 2003), whether or not there is or was an official movement towards standardisation. Youssef also pays specific attention to Trinbagonian (Trinidadian and Tobagonian) standard English, a ‘long-established indigenous variety of Standard English’ (2004b: 42). The term standard is used here in accordance with Crystal’s usage (2003: 110–111). According to Crystal, standard English (SE) ‘is the variety of English which carries most prestige within a country’ and ‘we may define the Standard English of an English-speaking country as a minority variety (identified chiefly by its phonology, vocabulary, and to a much lesser extent grammar, and orthography) which carries the most prestige and is most widely understood’ by other speakers of English, standard and non-standard (2003: 110). TrE, as one variety of standard Caribbean English, fits into this definition, possessing the common core of WSE, and differing from other Caribbean and non-Caribbean varieties of standard English only in minor features of phonology (especially prosody), with little or no grammatical or orthographic distinctiveness of its own, and ‘a great deal of lexical distinctiveness’ (Crystal 2003: 111), as evidenced by the recent publication of a dictionary comprising over 12,200 entries (Winer 2009). Political independence only came to most of the Commonwealth Caribbean from the 1960s (as is the case for many so-called Third Diaspora or Outer Circle countries, to use Kachru’s term). Political independence, however, has never been necessarily concomitant with linguistic and literary independence. English has been spoken natively in the Caribbean since the early to mid-17th century. In Trinidad, TrE has been natively spoken and written in Trinidad since the early 19th century, for over two hundred years, although the actual numbers and relative percentages of these native speakers are not known.
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