This recording is an example of a Jamaican accent and a speaker of Caribbean English.
Joseph talks with an instantly recognisable Jamaican accent. First of all, listen to the way he pronounces the <th> sounds in words in the following two lists:
- thing, anything, things, everything, with and thirty
- that, than, they’re, the, there, they, then, these and them
In the first case he uses a <t> sound and in the second a <d> sound. But he occasionally uses a more mainstream pronunciation, such as in the statement when I look around and see the houses, everything was in one and on the words thought and together. This demonstrates perfectly how individual speakers fluctuate naturally between features of local or popular speech and more prestigious forms. Fascinatingly, Joseph even transfers a <th> sound to the word trees – a phenomenon known as hypercorrection. Hypercorrection occurs when a speaker consciously tries to avoid using ‘stigmatised’ features, but assigns a ‘prestigious’ pronunciation to an inappropriate word. This typically occurs in British English, for instance, when speakers consciously seeking to avoid dropping an <h> insert one erroneously, and so produce oft-caricatured pronunciations such as honest with the <h> intact.
Secondly, listen to the way Joseph pronounces words in the following two lists:
- around, detached and accept
- houses, home, how, helping, having and thirty-five-and-a-half
In the first group Joseph omits the final consonant of each word – in each case a <t> sound. Caribbean speakers often simplify words that end with a combination of a consonant followed by <t> or <d> by deleting the final sound. In this way last becomes ‘las’, in fact becomes ‘in fak’, left becomes ‘lef’, slept becomes ‘slep’, twist becomes ‘twis’, hand becomes ‘han’, old become ‘ol’ and send becomes ‘sen’ and so on. This was once also true of a number of native British dialects, particularly those in the South West of England.
In the second group, Joseph omits the initial <h> sound, something that is also common in many parts of England and Wales. H-dropping first provoked comment in the 18th century and is extremely stigmatised in England, where it is studiously avoided by the middle classes. Nonetheless it is a feature of popular speech across the whole of England (apart from Tyneside and Northumberland) and Wales and, intriguingly, the Caribbean, whereas speakers in Scotland and Ireland, and indeed in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa retain their <h>’s.
The whole rhythm of Caribbean speech is distinctive, due to different intonation patterns and the different stress placement within a statement. Listen carefully to the way the highlighted syllables in the following words are pronounced by Joseph with a much stronger vowel than is usual in most British English accents: individual, automatically, comfortable and arrival. Similarly, he places much greater stress, and consequently uses a comparatively strong vowel sound, on grammatical function words that in British English would remain unstressed, such as in the phrases great deal of land; after a few days; in the process; took an interview and they took the trams off. This is a very subtle feature, but contributes to the notion that Caribbean English has a very musical quality or a characteristic ‘lilt’.
We might not describe Joseph as a speaker of broad Jamaican patois, but he does use a number of grammatical constructions that are typical of that variety of English. He omits past tense markers on a number of verbs, such as when I look around and see the houses; when I arrive in England and when I look and see the houses, I thought they were factories; you just accept what you seen here; I work on that job for a few months; my relative, they were involve in this community association business; when Sheffield Transport start to recruit and I start working as a conductor. He also omits the definite and indefinite article in the statements we have _ great deal of land, in _ couple of days and for _ couple of weeks and uses nouns unmarked for plurality in the statements all sort of things; my relative, they were involve in this community association business and I was one of the first black person. The omission of the auxiliary verb ‘to be’ in the statement I thought they were factories because everything _ all together is also distinctively Jamaican. Such constructions are typical of creole languages, but we should avoid assuming that Standard English is in any way more sophisticated than Jamaican English. The meaning is, after all, absolutely clear from context in all of the above cases and Jamaican patois is in fact just as rule-governed as Standard English.
About the speaker
Joseph Douglas (b. Jamaica; male, retired bus driver)