It is clear that we speak a local standard variety of English in Trinidad and Tobago; let's call it Trinbagonian Standard English (TSE). It is also clear that we also speak a variety of English in addition to the standard variety; let's call it Trinbagonian English Creole (TEC). Indeed, we mix the two so routinely in our speech that it cannot be true to say that we are speaking either one or the other exclusively. It is far more accurate to say that we speak an anglicised Creole or a creolised English, depending on our paths of socialisation, our level of education, our level of motivation and interest, and the level of formality of the social situation we speak in. As a result of this state of affairs and, particularly, the creolisation of our speech, we are not always clear on what is TEC and what is TSE. To compound matters, we will sometimes be producing sentences with TEC grammar, but thinking that their grammar is TSE.
Our problem of not clearly knowing what we speak derives from at least three main interconnected facts. One is that we are not truly conscious of the shaping influence of community, whether current or historical, on how we speak. A second is that we are linguistically insecure, largely as a consequence of the politics of empire-building by others. And the third fact is that the notion of "English'' is not as unambiguous as it once was.
With respect to the first fact, the way we speak today is in large measure a copy of what and how our ancestors spoke in (pre-)slavery in Africa, in slavery in the Caribbean, in pre-indentureship in India, in indentureship in the Caribbean, and in the forging of new societies in the Caribbean over the years. There are Afric and Indic templates in our speech — inescapably. And there are also European templates (English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese), given the influence of these peoples on the construction of our society and culture.
With respect to the second fact, we have not been able to develop our home-grown language in any purposeful way — in particular, to enliterate ourselves in it — as we have come along with the tension of self-doubt and facile, almost automatic acceptance of the superiority of the social artefacts of the other. As a consequence, we doubt the authenticity of some of our words (is it "bati mamzelle'' or "dragon fly'', boy? "bobol'' or "corruption''?) and we are quick to think that certain of our grammatical structures and uses are Standard English when they are not. In respect of the latter observation, we think that when we say, for example, "The fund-raiser would be held at the Centre of Excellence'', we are speaking Standard English fully, for aren't the words all English? And aren't they in keeping with rules of Standard English syntax? But you see, "would'' is used in a non-Standard way — it expresses a future after the moment of speaking, which is a role reserved for "will'' in Standard English.
With respect to the last fact, it is being appreciated more and more that though English started out as the language of the English (why therefore, on this basis, don't we call our language "Trinbagonian''?), the spread of the British empire has seen to it that other peoples appropriated it and have been changing it in their own ways and to their own tastes and natures. So that there is African English and Indian English, and Canadian English, and New Zealand English, and…Caribbean English. British English remains, but it has been reanalysed, expanded, and enriched in vocabulary and structure by different peoples.
We here in Trinidad and Tobago have done, and continue to do, our bit of reanalysis, expansion, and enrichment. It is quite obvious in vocabulary (for example, "bobol'', "commess'', "roti'', "puja'', "bubulups'', "eye-water'', "bodow'', "vup'', "glory cedar'', "jamette''), but it is not so obvious in grammar, as we have seen in respect of "would'' above; the grammatical contributions are harder to discern. In respect of "would'', I suggest that it is a camouflage of that efficient little word "go'', which we use in TEC before main verbs to express future events ("We go hold the fund-raiser at the Centre of Excellence').
What about expressions like "Anybody remembers?'' and "You heard what I said?'' These are non-echo questions in which there is no subject—auxiliary inversion. That is, there is no auxiliary that comes before the subject. There is no auxiliary like "does'' before "anybody'', or like "did'' before "You''. And they are also question structures in which the main verbs — and not auxiliaries, as is the case in Standard English — are inflected for agreement ("remember-s'' instead of 'remember') and tense ("hear-d'' instead of "hear''). Are they Standard English?
No, they are not. Rather, they are examples of creolised English. There is no (stressed) auxiliary in TEC; we do not have anything in it that can do the job of a missing main verb (understood to be there). If you ask a friend, "You does lime by Smokey and Bunty?'', he can't say "A does''; he has to say something like, "Yeah, A does lime there.'' But in Standard English, you have, "Do you hang out at Smokey and Bunty's?''/ "Yes, I do.'', where the auxiliary "do'' comes before the subject "you'' in the question and stands in for the missing verb "hang out'' in the answer to the question. It can only do so because it bears (high) stress.
I propose that a question like "Anybody remembers?'' is an innovation in our English and comes out of the fact that we do not have stressable auxiliaries in our routine TEC and so cannot invert auxiliary and subject.
There are many more areas of grammar in which we creolise English, but let's leave that for other discussions.
• Winford James is a UWI lecturer and political analyst