Thursday, 20 December 2012

he nar get none

It’s some time since I last discussed Montserratian Creole English (see 21 Nov 2006 here) in this blog.

But yesterday a news report on the web caught my eye. Under the headline Premier Meade Says Montserrat Is Blessed and 'He Nar Get None' we read

During the statement, whilst talking about sand mining, the Premier sought to take a dig at Montserrat born calypsonian De Bear, for his 2012 hit song entitled 'All Ah Dem Ah Get' by stating that contrary to insinuations in the very popular song, Meade stated, "me nar get none."

The point of interest here is the spelling nar for the Creole word pronounced naː. This is a function/structure/grammar word/particle used in certain Caribbean creoles (certainly Jamaican and Montserratian, at any rate) but not in standard English. Its meaning is a combination of negation and progressive aspect, ‘not …-ing’. The calypsonian’s claim aːl a dem a ɡet could be paraphrased in standard English as ‘they are all getting’, i.e. ‘they’re all on the take’, and the premier’s riposte as ‘I’m not getting any’. Here’s the relevant entry in the Dictionary of Jamaican English.

Notice that the DJE spells it naa, in accordance with the phonemic spelling system devised by Fred Cassidy for Jamaican Creole and now recommended by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies as a ‘standard writing system for Jamaica’. You also sometimes see the spelling nah. (In JC, but not MC, the progressive aspect is also used to refer to habitual action: nah gwan a Jamaica ‘don’t go on in Jamaica’.) But Jamaicans never spell it nar (the spelling used in yesterday’s report from Montserrat), and for a very good reason: in JC this particle does not rhyme with car, far, tar etc, which in JC retain their historical r in pronunciation (kjaːr, faːr, taːr).

Montserratian Creole, however, is non-rhotic. There naː rhymes exactly with faː and so on, making it common sense to spell it in the same way, with an r.

If you’d like to hear what Montserratian standard English sounds like, try this. For Montserratian (semi-)Creole the best I can offer you is this clip of De Bear, who was born and grew up in Montserrat; but he doesn’t happen to say naː at any point in this calypso.


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, Jamaican often does this, e.g. /kja:n/ for "can".

  2. I once attend an International Conference on Pausology — an unlikely event in itself, and it was even more unlikely for me to be there. Still, as Eccles said, everybody has to be somewhere.

    I don't remember the subjects of any of the papers, apart from the one on catastrophe theory. As there were no mathematicians in the audience, you can imagine what the popular verdict was on the paper.

    What I do remember is the way John Laver represented his data in writing. Aware that many of the audience would struggle with IPA transcription, he used imitative spellings with ar for PALM and or for THOUGHT. I don't think the largely German audience were bothered, but the Americans were somewhat bemused. Then one of them remembered a study of some Native American language of New York State which was temporarily derailed when a seventeenth century (or thereabouts) account of the local 'Indians' was discovered with a glossary. The words were full of R's where they would be phonologically impossible in present day languages of the region. Finally the penny dropped that the old document was written by a non-rhotic speaker.

    I think most non-rhotic Brits instinctively use ar and or to imitate those vowels — plus er for commA — until trained to do otherwise.

  3. /kj/ and /gj/ are traits of very old versions of Southern American, too, whether cyar or gyirls. I sometimes include them when reading Poe out loud.