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Media Monitor: French tongues, Spanish villages and stress for radio and TV presenters

Watson Duke, would-be prime minister of Tobago, held a news conference recently. Not for the first time with this high-profile personality from the sister isle, things did not exactly go swimmingly.

I say ‘sister isle’ but for how much longer, I wonder. Trinidad and Tobago remains one country but that’s just for now. That could change at the drop of a hat or, if Duke has his way, at the toss of a coin.

Photo: PDP political leader Watson Duke.

Anyway, the PDP political leader boasted that he is ‘good with words’. A sentence or two later, he was talking about his people not being prepared to surrender to Trinidadian ‘auto-CRA-cy’.

And yes, he did put the stress on the second-last syllable. 

January 6 made clear that democracy has been under stress in the US. It is, however, debatable whether the stress on au-TOC-racy has moved as a result. 

Maybe it’s just a Tobago thing. 

I haven’t read Dr Winford James’ The languages of Tobago. I just heard the late Winston ‘Shadow’ Bailey’s ‘I funny wuss’ line and first noted that the speech habits of the denizens of Crusoe’s Isle differed somewhat from those of us who live in the big-sister—twin-island republic my foot!—isle. 

No Trinidadian, I think, says ‘I funny wuss’ unless (s)he’s quoting Shadow. And we call ourselves Tri-ni-DAD-ians and call people from Tobago To-ba-GO-nians. But in common with PNM Tobago Political Leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine, Duke calls people from his country, oops, his island To-BA-gonians. 

Photo: Tobago Heritage Dance Performers strut their stuff at the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet during the 2015 Legends Football tournament.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Political leadership, I suppose, is a very stressful thing. 

Back to Shadow. In Pay de devil, he pronounces Les Coteaux LEK-KEY-TOE, unintentionally reminding us that Napoléon Bonaparte’s compatriots have not left too much of a mark on the landscape in Crusoe’s Isle. Only Lambeau, L’Anse Fourmi and Parlatuvier besides come readily to my mind. 

Not so in Trinidad. French is everywhere. In fact, they have had so much influence on the way Trinis speak (‘It making hot, oui!’), that, like them, we often don’t put our tongues between our teeth to pronounce ‘th’. 

Our brothers and sisters raised in the little-sister isle seem to always do.

Compare Duke’s ringing ‘tlee’ with Daren Ganga, say, calling the cricket score at 333 for 3. Or to take a recent example from this week’s Super50 Cup semi-final between Red Force and Jamaica Scorpions, describing Lendl Simmons’ huge six that landed beyond the Coolidge swimming pool as a ‘rootless strike’. 

Check Trinidad: Basseterre, Biche, Blanchisseuse, Bourg Mulatresse, Carenage, the Croisée, the jokey Embacadere—the French word actually has an R before the C—Grande Rivière, La Lune, Laventille, Lopinot, Matelot, Morvant, Petit Valley, Petit Bourg, Pointe-à-Pierre, Usine St Madeleine.

Photo: Trinbago Knight riders batsman Lendl Simmons celebrates during their CPL final triumph over the St Lucia Zouks at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba on 10 September.
Looking on is Zouks bowler Kesrick Williams.
(Copyright Randy Brooks/CPL T20 via Getty Images)

And La Romain or, to go with the updated version, La Romaine. Once you start conceding that fidelity to the original language takes primacy over age-old local practice, you clearly have no argument against converting Sangre Chiquito into Sangre Chiquita. 

And where will it end? The French vallée being feminine jardin masculine, will Petit Valley have to become Petite Valley and Tobago’s Belle Garden Beau Garden?

What about the hybrid San Francique? Do we make that San Francisco or Saint(e) Francique?

If I raise it here, it is to deal obliquely with a Facebook response to my last Media Monitor column. A professional journalist claimed it’s okay to pronounce the Crédit in Crédit Suisse à l’anglaise. And she wanted to know if on air she should say La-van-TILL or La-van-TEA, Sip-PA-ria or Sip-a-REE-a.

To those two, I add Aranjuez or Aranguez, El So-cor-ro or El See-cor-ro? 

To the first part, my response is in the interrogative: really? On what grounds? Because it happens to look like an English word? 

Photo: Officer Crabtree in Allo Allo was, hilariously, not nearly as good at French as he thought.

So is it okay for i95.5fm’s Don Lee to pronounce Real Madrid à l’anglaise, as is his wont, that is REEL MADRID? 

Is it okay for people to pronounce Francesca Hawkins’ Italian first name ‘FRANCE-SESCA’ because there is no written H? Or is it okay to call the German car a Vokes-WAGON and the French cars PEE-JHU and REE-NALT?

To the second query, I respond with a story. Before joining the staff, one of my non-Trinidadian former colleagues had lived for almost three years near UWI in Tunapuna. One day she told us precisely where. In Pasea. But she pronounced it à l’espagnole: PA-SAY-A. 

We laughed. But, if you know Spanish, it’s a perfectly understandable mistake. Nobody had ever told her that area was called PA-JHAY so she went with what she saw. 

That’s why my advice to the journalist is to choose one and stick with it. But it cannot be on an individual basis.

Photo: Comedian Will Ferrell as Rob Burgundy in Anchorman.

Basic training for ALL voice and vision personnel who might one day hit the airways should include the pronunciation of Debe, La Brea, Manzanilla, Marabella, Maracas, Matura, Maturita, Palo Seco, Rancho Quemado, Rio Claro, San Fernando, San Juan, Santa Cruz, Santa Flora, Santa Margarita, Santa Rosa, Toco, Valencia. Et al.

And, of course, all the French and Spanish and other names already mentioned. As a basic minimum. There would have to be a Frequently Found Foreign Names list as well.

We all know what would happen if one of these days i95.5fm’s Don Lee were handed the following text:

Today, the last day of the January transfer window, is Marnus Labuschagne’s birthday.

The big football news is that Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea are both set to leave their Mancunian clubs. 

Despite the rumours swirling around recently, neither is going to the rival Liverpudlian club. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed that De Gea is going to Barca while Pep Guardiola revealed that, at the request of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gundogan is bound for Real Madrid.

Photo: Australia batsman Marnus Labuschagne (pronounced LAH BOO SHANE).

Lee would make a mess! Only 84 words but on a really good day, he might make only six mistakes; on a normal day, twice that. 

Without training and standardisation, would he really be to blame?

Worse, what might happen on the weekend? Though sport is not his forte, Dominic Kalipersad, a real pro, might cope. 

But what of the ladies who sometimes find themselves required to read the weekend sports news? 

I shudder to think.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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3 comments

  1. These media monitor articles are so difficult and somewhat incoherent to read.

    • Earl Best

      I am tempted to say that I imagine that the gun you think is to your head is merely imaginary.

      But I think I will let Bob Marley say it for me instead: Me throw me corn, me nah call no fowl…

  2. Would anyone believe that the actress who played rene’s wife on ‘Allo Allo’ was jamaican?

    ..