[Caribbean Literature]

Polyrhythm and the Caribbean: Language

General Introduction

The influence of colonial history turns up, as in so many other cases in the Caribbean, in any examination of the linguistic diversity of the region. How else but through the efforts of Imperialists could four different European languages -- English, Spanish, French, and Dutch -- still exist in a relatively small region? This web, however, concerns itself almost entirely with the English-speaking Caribbean. Shouldn't that mean that there is only one language encountered? Granted, accents might vary, but isn't standard English the only language we need to concern ourselves with?

I held similar expectations prior to my studies in Barbados. But I quickly learned that, far from a unified English language (one that could not be said to exist in any country, as the recent notion of Ebonics suggests), in the Caribbean "English" breaks down into a variety of different subsets. The people of most islands, in addition to being familiar with "standard" English, also speak a form of dialect or "nation-language", with varying degrees of relation to English. Some, as in Jamaica or Barbados, would prove fairly comprehensible to an English speaker from North America or England. But in a country like St. Lucia, the local patois would be nearly impossible for a French speaker (to whom the language might be more familiar), let alone an English speaker, to understand. Indeed, this yet again exemplifies polyrhythm in the Caribbean, as the diverse roots of Caribbean English, and the diverse modern-day forms of it, bump against one another and infuse the literature of the region with a cross-rhythmic, loose, harmony.

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