The Pride and Prejudice of St. Lucian CreoleShana Jones November 22, 2018
Originally written for Mélange Travel & Lifestyle Magazine. Re-printed with permission.
Bonjou. Non mwen se Val. Mwen sorte de St. Licie. Ké mon non ou? The words roll off her tongue like the sparkling waterfalls cascading among glistening rocks in a secluded corner of her beloved countryside. Her name is Valencha Charles and she comes from Grace, a small village in St. Lucia’s southern district of Vieux Fort. Like many others from rural parts of the island, she grew up speaking (alongside English) Creole, a language developed during slavery and passed down through the generations. A mix of mostly French and African languages, it is the lifeblood of locals often characterized by animated discourse and inflection.
Val recently shared with me her experience of speaking Creole:
SJ: Tell me about your experience speaking Creole.
VC: I always loved speaking Creole. I learned it at the age of 5 or 6 and grew up speaking it. It has become a part of me. There’s a certain “juice” to it: certain things come out better in Creole.
SJ: Were you encouraged to speak it?
VC: We were not encouraged to speak it. I learned on my own. My daughter knows it but I don’t let her speak it. We would speak it with our friends but my mother would speak to me in English. It sounds better speaking to children in English.
SJ: When/where is it spoken?
VC: Only with your friends. Some people think it sounds harsh. It’s spoken in certain places. At work and in public places, you speak English. You may speak one [Creole] word; then you go back to English.
SJ: Is it stigmatized?
VC: Usually people who aren’t educated speak it a lot more. At some places, it’s prohibited to speak Creole in the customer’s presence.
SJ: Some people only speak Creole. How are they treated by English-speaking St. Lucians?
VC: Some would call them “country bookie”. They think you’re ignorant and look down on you.
SJ: Do you speak only Creole at home or mix it with English?
VC: I speak it at home. My stepfather and I don’t speak to my daughter in Creole; only in English. Occasionally if I get mad, I’ll say something in Creole.
SJ: Why don’t you speak to your daughter in Creole or encourage her to speak it?
VC: I think it affects the way you write and speak English. [I fear] the negative stereotypes she will face if she’s heard speaking it.
SJ: Is Creole written?
VC: No. Never. Yes, if I’m joking with my brother or cousins. It’s not professional to send an e-mail in Creole. It sounds funny.
SJ: Is zouk or any other music type sung only in Creole? How is it received?
VC: Some [zouk] is sung in Creole, but it is more sung in French. Some soca and calypso songs are sung in Creole only. They are very popular. We’ve had some Calypso kings who have won [competitions] with songs in Creole.
SJ: Have you ever spoken with someone from Dominica in Creole? The two Creoles are almost the same.
VC: Most definitely. It [Dominican Creole] is slightly different. The accent is different and some words are different. I can also understand Haitian Creole.
SJ: What do you think about the efforts to increase awareness of Creole?
VC: I think it’s a good idea, a good initiative. I believe everyone will welcome it. I think they’re [society] beginning to embrace it.
SJ: This has been a most interesting conversation. Thanks Val!
VC: You’re welcome Shana! Any time!
We went on to discuss Creole Heritage Month (October), a celebration of traditional St. Lucian culture. Jounen Kwéyòl, the highlight of the month, takes place on the last Sunday in 4 different communities every year. On this day, community streets burst alive in a frenzy of Creole food, games, folklore, music, and traditional madras dress. I’ve already planned to meet Val for next year’s festival!
The somewhat bittersweet relationship Val has with her language strikes me, but it’s not unlike that experienced elsewhere in the Caribbean. I remain hopeful that St. Lucians will one day embrace Creole as the vibrant symbol of history that it is and celebrate it freely, regardless of where or when it’s spoken.culture, language