Friday 19 March 2010

simplifying double affricates

The island of Montserrat, where I have spent the last three weeks (pictures), has the usual anglophone Caribbean spectrum of varieties ranging from a creole (which can be pretty impenetrable to those not familiar with it) up to the local variety of Standard English.

The syntax of Caribbean English Creole includes a vivid method of topicalization by fronting and repeating. You can do this not only with noun phrases but also with verb phrases:
a kɪl i mi a kɪl i (is kill him I PROG kill him) ‘I’m going to KILL him!’

Less dramatically, here’s a neighbour telling us about ongoing building works further down our road:
a ˈkaŋkriːt dem a ˈkjaːs doŋ ˈdeə
which means ‘they’re casting concrete down there’ and like the first example demonstrates two distinct uses of a, first as the topicalizer particle at the beginning (‘it’s concrete that they're casting’) and then as the progressive particle with the verb (a kja:s = (are) casting). Notice the combination of Standard English technical language (casting concrete) with Caribbean grammar and phonetics.

In the local pronunciation of Standard English one striking feature is the reduction of affricate sequences. In most varieties of English an affricate is preserved as such when followed by another affricate: we say each chair with -tʃtʃ- and orange juice with -dʒdʒ-. But in Montserrat and are reduced to unexploded t and d respectively when followed by another affricate. Not only do we get -ttʃ- in each chair and -ddʒ- in orange juice, we also get -ttr- in each trip and -ddr- in a large drop.
For months I was trying to puzzle out a radio jingle played on the local radio station, Radio ZJB, to advertise the Bank of Montserrat,
But for iːt transaction
You will get swift action…

— until suddenly I realized that what they were singing was for each transaction.


  1. Really interesting!

    I'm not really sure, but I think one can hear oran juice in colloquial BrE too, without a delay, though. *Ea chair would be different. In case I don't just imagine this, the reason might be that the plosive part of dʒ is more and more optional, while tʃ is more stable.

  2. ...and then there are people who, for some reasons, insist to transcribe Italian caccia as /katStSa/, when the first c sounds just like the t in that chair (except no glottal reinforcement nor stuff like that) and nothing like the ch in much cheaper.

  3. Presumably it is only in double affricate sequences that the simplification occurs and in, say, "each tip" the fricative release of the affricate is preserved.

  4. It seems to me that the fronted material is acting as focus, not topic. What's the stress and intonation pattern involved?

  5. a ˈkɪl i mi a \kɪl i
    i.e. both "kill" accented, the second one nuclear.

  6. John W, your translation ‘it’s concrete that they're casting’ for a ˈkaŋkriːt dem a ˈkjaːs doŋ ˈdeə certainly seems to indicate that seems to you too that the fronted material is acting as focus there. How does that pan out stress&intonation-wise?

    Does the Creole band of the anglophone Caribbean spectrum not perhaps have a stronger tendency to sentence-final stress, so that the nuclear stress cannot have the same function as in e.g. BrE, and you get this fronting instead? That might mean that by analogy with your concrete example the killing would be more akin to the killing in "It's killing me you are!"!

  7. To me the bit about "each trip" and "large drop" suggests that the initial consonants of "trip" and "drop" are identified with /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ rather than /t/ and /d/ (which is also my perception of my own British accent).

  8. Does the local variety of Standard English resemble other Caribbean varieties aside from the reduction of affricate sequences? Just curious.

  9. Does the local variety of Standard English resemble other Caribbean varieties?

  10. Sorry about repeating my comment. It didn't appear immediately so I got frustrated and posted again.

  11. It's pretty similar to the creole of nearby Antigua. I don't know enough about that of St Kitts to judge. There are obvious differences compared with Jamaican Creole (e.g. the pronoun [i] = JC [ɪm]).
    I wrote about M'rat creole here:


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