This An’ Dat

A Caribbean dialect poem by Paul Keens-Douglas

  • Illustration by Gabriel Woodham

Reprinted from “Twice Upon a Time” by Paul Keens-Douglas (Keensdee Productions, Port of Spain, 1989); with the author’s kind permission.

Ah once met ah English poet, ah West Indian…yu understan’,
one ah dose who always claimin’
how, “We take over de Motherlan”.
We was both waitin’ on taxi,
an’ dis man nearly get me mad,
because jus’ so he start discussin’
culture in Trinidad.
Well, I tell him ah was ah poet,
an’ how ah does use de vernacular.
Well you would ah swear dat I cuss dis man
or insult he granmudder.
Dat man start talkin’ language
like he wukkin’ BBC,
or he head de English Department
at we University.

If yu hear him.

This dialect you fellows talk about,
it really has to go,
you’re all just neo-colonials,
an embarrassment to us who know.
Such a limited language,
if language is the word,
it seems more like garbled English,
the worst I have ever heard.
English is now our language,
it’s no longer the Englishman’s.
Like cricket, we now control it,
do try to understand.
Why should one preserve this dialect?
So frivolous, it’s just a fad,
always changing, no vocab,
It’s simply speaking ‘bad’.
It isn’t even standardised,
it goes each and every way,
some call it’ native language’,
the ‘vernacular’ others say.
What use is speaking dialect
when you have to go abroad?
Or speak at some great conference?
They won’t make out a word.
You chaps mislead the people
by holding up on high
a base part of our culture
that should be quietly left to die.
Think of names like Milton,
Prospero or Caliban,
think of William Shakespeare,
that’s the heights of language, man.
But what’s this ‘dis’, and ‘dat’, and ‘dem’,
unless it’s just for style?
And if it’s just for impact,
it’s hardly worth the while.
Take myself for instance,
I’ve got my Ph.D,
I can tell the world ’bout English
at University.
I’ve got Roget’s Thesaurus,
I’ve got my “Book of Quotes”,
you will never hear me use such words
as ‘wassy’, ‘scrunt’, or ‘jorts’.”

Same time he flag ah taxi,
like is dat he born to do.
‘English’ was more ‘Trini’
dan de likes of me or you.
An’ as we start to drive away,
like sardine in ah pan,
at home wit’ de same dialect
dat he can’t understan’,
laughin’ wit’ passengers,
askin’ for kaiso,
dey offer him ah ‘doubles’,
de man beggin’ for more.
An’ as ah watch dat goin’ on
ah tink of wha’ he say,
an’ others jus’ like him
ah meet from day to day.
Dey run so far from dialect,
yet dey always comin’ back,
like dey always have de feelin’
dat dey mus’ defend de fact.
Dem who crossin’ river
an’ cussin’ river-stone
does end up cryin’ water,
an’ end up all alone.
For when you run from dialect,
is you runnin’ from you.
So de answer is de maxim:
to thine own self be true.
So I don’t worry take dem on.
I jus’ waitin’ to see
when dey find out who dey are
or what dey want to be.
For dialect don’t bother dem,
is dem dat bother it,
because dialect, it livin’ ‘home’,
is dem dat have to fit.

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