Strictly Facts: A Guide to Caribbean History and Culture

Language as Liberation: The History of French-based Antillean Kwéyòl with Soir Smith

April 17, 2024 Alexandria Miller Episode 81
Language as Liberation: The History of French-based Antillean Kwéyòl with Soir Smith
Strictly Facts: A Guide to Caribbean History and Culture
More Info
Strictly Facts: A Guide to Caribbean History and Culture
Language as Liberation: The History of French-based Antillean Kwéyòl with Soir Smith
Apr 17, 2024 Episode 81
Alexandria Miller

Send us a text message and tell us your thoughts.

Join us as we journey through the linguistic heritage of Saint Lucia with Soir Smith, a passionate St. Lucian Kwéyòl advocate, guiding us through the colorful landscape of French-based creole languages that flourish across the Caribbean. These tongues, far from just a derivative of French, are rich embodiments of culture, history, and identity. We unravel these histories woven from the threads of African, European, and Indigenous Caribbean peoples, challenging the notion that Creole is merely "broken French." Together, we celebrate the unique complexities of these languages, reflecting resilience in the face of colonization.

Our exploration deepens as we traverse the grammar and verb usage of St. Lucian Creole, uncovering how it is distinguished from its French roots. We dissect the verb 'to be,' marvel at the absence of silent letters, and ponder the historical weight carried by speaking Creole. Smith shares her journey, weaving personal tales and the profound motivation behind her mission to author a book on St. Lucian Creole. This episode isn't just a discussion; it's an homage to a language that represents freedom and unyielding ancestral bonds throughs linguistic liberation

As a passionate advocate for language and culture, Soir Smith has dedicated her life to preserving and promoting the rich heritage of Saint Lucian kwéyòl. With a deep love for writing, Smith has recently accomplished a significant milestone by completing her first book, a comprehensive guide to learning the language of Saint Lucian kwéyòl. An Introduction to Kwéyòl Sent Lisi serves as a testament to her commitment to preserving the essence of St. Lucian cultural identity. By providing a comprehensive guide, Smith aims to empower individuals to embrace and celebrate their unique linguistic heritage. Smith also actively engages with the community by offering kwéyòl lessons and advocating for the recognition and appreciation of kwéyòl in various spheres, including education, arts, and social initiatives. She remains steadfast in her mission to ensure that the language and culture of Saint Lucian kwéyòl along with the other Antillean French based creoles continue to flourish, enriching the lives of present and future generations. Follow Soir

Support the Show.

Connect with Strictly Facts - Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | YouTube

Looking to read more about the topics covered in this episode? Subscribe to the newsletter at www.strictlyfactspod.com to get the Strictly Facts Syllabus to your email!

Want to Support Strictly Facts?

  • Rate the Show
  • Leave a review on your favorite podcast platform
  • Share this episode with someone who loves Caribbean history and culture
  • Send us a DM or voice note to have your thoughts featured on an upcoming episode
  • Share the episode on social media and tag us
  • Donate to help us continue empowering listeners with Caribbean history and education

Produced by Breadfruit Media

Strictly Facts: A Guide to Caribbean History and +
Become a supporter of the show!
Starting at $3/month
Support
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a text message and tell us your thoughts.

Join us as we journey through the linguistic heritage of Saint Lucia with Soir Smith, a passionate St. Lucian Kwéyòl advocate, guiding us through the colorful landscape of French-based creole languages that flourish across the Caribbean. These tongues, far from just a derivative of French, are rich embodiments of culture, history, and identity. We unravel these histories woven from the threads of African, European, and Indigenous Caribbean peoples, challenging the notion that Creole is merely "broken French." Together, we celebrate the unique complexities of these languages, reflecting resilience in the face of colonization.

Our exploration deepens as we traverse the grammar and verb usage of St. Lucian Creole, uncovering how it is distinguished from its French roots. We dissect the verb 'to be,' marvel at the absence of silent letters, and ponder the historical weight carried by speaking Creole. Smith shares her journey, weaving personal tales and the profound motivation behind her mission to author a book on St. Lucian Creole. This episode isn't just a discussion; it's an homage to a language that represents freedom and unyielding ancestral bonds throughs linguistic liberation

As a passionate advocate for language and culture, Soir Smith has dedicated her life to preserving and promoting the rich heritage of Saint Lucian kwéyòl. With a deep love for writing, Smith has recently accomplished a significant milestone by completing her first book, a comprehensive guide to learning the language of Saint Lucian kwéyòl. An Introduction to Kwéyòl Sent Lisi serves as a testament to her commitment to preserving the essence of St. Lucian cultural identity. By providing a comprehensive guide, Smith aims to empower individuals to embrace and celebrate their unique linguistic heritage. Smith also actively engages with the community by offering kwéyòl lessons and advocating for the recognition and appreciation of kwéyòl in various spheres, including education, arts, and social initiatives. She remains steadfast in her mission to ensure that the language and culture of Saint Lucian kwéyòl along with the other Antillean French based creoles continue to flourish, enriching the lives of present and future generations. Follow Soir

Support the Show.

Connect with Strictly Facts - Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | YouTube

Looking to read more about the topics covered in this episode? Subscribe to the newsletter at www.strictlyfactspod.com to get the Strictly Facts Syllabus to your email!

Want to Support Strictly Facts?

  • Rate the Show
  • Leave a review on your favorite podcast platform
  • Share this episode with someone who loves Caribbean history and culture
  • Send us a DM or voice note to have your thoughts featured on an upcoming episode
  • Share the episode on social media and tag us
  • Donate to help us continue empowering listeners with Caribbean history and education

Produced by Breadfruit Media

Speaker 1:

Welcome to Strictly Facts, a guide to Caribbean history and culture, hosted by me, alexandria Miller. Strictly Facts teaches the history, politics and activism of the Caribbean and connects these themes to contemporary music and popular culture. Hello, hello everyone. Como Saba, I hope you're doing well. Welcome back to another episode of Strictly Facts, a guide to Caribbean history and culture.

Speaker 1:

I don't know if you noticed, but I, you know, dived a little bit into some of my language skills, as fraught as they may be for various other languages, but really wanting to you know, say, how are you guys doing in French? Because that is sort of, in a sense, the topic of our conversation today. We've discussed several languages throughout. You know various episodes, but the one that we will be focusing on today, not really exactly French, but many of the French-based creoles that have developed beautifully throughout the region and so oftentimes we think of, you know, maybe, haiti as being a prime example, but there are several others throughout the region, whether they are through various nations or departments of France or, you know, in a sense, meaning to an extent still under French colonial rule, but it gets a little bit murky depending on. You know where we're talking about. But all of that to say, you know, as we've discussed several times, language is fluid and ever evolving. How we express ourselves is really a sign of resistance and resilience, as we've, you know, created new and beautiful languages throughout.

Speaker 1:

You know some of the potentially most dire times in our history, and this is no different for parts of the region like Guadeloupe, like Martinique, like Dominica, like St Lucia. You know, the list can definitely go on and on. And so joining me for this episode today is Creole teacher TikTok, extraordinaire author, and you know many other things. I will allow her to introduce herself, but is Suar Smith. So thank you so much for joining me today for this episode. Do let everybody know a little bit about yourself, your connection to the region and what inspired your passion for Caribbean languages like Creole.

Speaker 2:

Thank, you so much and I'm so happy to be here. My name is Suar Smith and I am St Lucian Smith and I am St Lucian. I have been teaching Creole for over a year now and it's just something that I've been really passionate about my culture, my history, my heritage and just getting back to my roots and being able to give back to my country those wanting to learn and those wanting to just continue what they already know. I had a fervent desire to impart the knowledge of Creole, recognizing that there was a profound necessity for its dissemination, so realizing that our language embodies our heritage and serving as the very essence of our ancestral lineage and culture identity. Now, for me, although there are limited resources when it comes to St Lucia and Creole, or Dominican Creole and so on, I perceived it as an opportunity to contribute towards its preservation and elevate its status as a legitimate language. Elevates its status as a legitimate language because it is distinct from being, you know, erroneous by perceived as a mere broken French, as a lot of us would say.

Speaker 1:

I think that's a great point because, and it's one that you know is echoed, definitely, throughout the region, right, when we're even thinking about some of the Anglophone Caribbean languages, what you know some have called national languages, like Jamaican, patois, etc. Right, it's always described, as you know, broken English or whatever. You know, in preparation for this episode, there was a quote by a former governor. So this, you know, stems back from like the 19th century. So, clearly, the governor of St Lucia, who was French born and you know, through the ebbs and flows of slavery and colonization, ends up in St Lucia and becomes governor. But he wrote extensively about St Lucia and the region and, to this point of, you know, broken French, just terrible position on what he sees as the development of Creole. And so he writes in short, it is the French language stripped of its manly, dignified ornaments and traversed for the accommodation of children and toothless old women. And so this is a quote by former governor of St Lucia, henry Breen, dating back to like the 1800s at some point, and I'll add it in for many of our listeners who want to, you know, for many of our listeners who want to, you know, read further along of his, you know, very colorful but definitely, you know, racist and diminutive way of portraying, especially for somebody who you know goes on to become a governor.

Speaker 1:

I'm not sure if he was governor at the time of writing this, but, yeah, this is, you know, one thing that I definitely wanted us to point out in this conversation, because it's something that has mirrored throughout the rest of you know, the region and even the world, when we think of you know, languages throughout the continent of Africa, throughout Asia, these histories of colonization. One thing that I definitely want to start us off on in this discussion is thinking about the formations of Creole. Right, oftentimes people put it very blanketly and say, you know, oh, it's just a combination of, like French and maybe English, and you know African indigenous languages, etc. Which I mean you know. If we just need a one-sentence summary, definitely is, but could you really speak to, from the perspective of St Lucia in particular, how the growth of Creole evolved?

Speaker 2:

Okay, so, basically, the origins of Creole in St Lucia. It is a blend of African, european, indigenous Caribbean languages. It's intricately linked to French and British colonial rule and a product of historical encounters between the African enslaved people on the island at the time, indigenous Caribbean on the island at the time, Indigenous Caribbean, the French colonizers and then later the British. It does, however, bear the imprints of colonial oppression and resistance embodying this blend that have endured and thrived amidst the colonial rule. We all know this time in history, the forcing of Africans to the Caribbean, specifically St Lucia, the French Caribbean, during the transatlantic slave trade.

Speaker 2:

This was a dark chapter in history, marked by unimaginable suffering and exploitation. Right so they were forcibly uprooted from their homelands and transported across the atlantic ocean. For what? To toil on plantations under brutal conditions and therefore, you know, with them having to be able to communicate with each other because they spoke different languages. It's not just one main language or one specific place. They were taken from in Africa and due to this, you know, the indigenous people had their own languages as well. The colonizers had their languages, and so in order for everybody to be able to communicate this Creole which wasn't called a Creole back then, but this dialect was formed you know this Pidgin language and then over time, it evolved, after generations, into what we now call the Creole.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for situating us in that history and really taking to account I think you know it's so much of the region but, as you definitely mentioned, there are several places that had several different colonial bodies, you know, influencing the region. So for those like you know more familiar with, like maybe, jamaican history, spain was our earliest colonizer right and then the British came in, but, as you're noting, for St Lucia, it was French and then the British right. I definitely do want to give our listeners a breadth of understanding of you know these Antillean Creoles. They may be more you know, for instance, familiar with Haitian Creole, but could you speak to how St Lucian Creole is similar or differs from some of the others, whether that be in Haiti or Guadeloupe, dominica, wherever?

Speaker 2:

Okay, yes, so the French-based Creoles exhibit variations across different territories. Now, despite sharing a common lexifier, which is French, historical influences state the evolution of those Creole languages, leading to a distinct regional dialect and linguistic characteristics. So, for instance, let's say that an island that was once colonized by Spain, they may incorporate Spanish influences into their French-based Creole, while another island, with a different colonial history, may lack such influences, thus having a different variation of the Creole itself. Now St Lucian Creole resembles that of Dominicas or Martinique Haitian Creole itself. Now St Lucia in Creole resembles that of Dominica's or Martinique Haitian Creole as well. They may have a lot of similarities, but when it comes to St Lucia in Creole, it is mostly closer to that of Martinique and Dominica. Sometimes what we do have is probably certain words that we have in the Creole in St Lucia it would change here and there because different accents, right, and different colonial rules on the island, so that changes a lot. This is what makes the Creole different in different parts of the Caribbean.

Speaker 1:

I think that is a great way of framing it, especially because you know we're sometimes fall through the trap of being like we're all the Caribbean, but you know, we obviously have our own nuances.

Speaker 1:

One thing that I think is really powerful about your presence on social media is that you know you'll get with somebody from Haiti, or you know from Martinique, and do a sort of crossover and say, you know, I would say this word like this in St Lucia, and then they do their version in Haiti or you know wherever it is. So I will definitely be sure to add links to your social media. Oh, thank you, of course, in the show notes for our listeners to check out. Another thing that I think is really particular in thinking about these Antillean Creoles is, while in some parts, especially of like the Anglophone Caribbean and I talked about this in a previous episode there is, like you know, yui here in Jamaica has created a writing system for Patois, but it's not necessarily like widely recognized or used popularly throughout the region or the diaspora right, whereas you guys, more so, have a like formalized writing system.

Speaker 1:

And so could you speak to its development a little bit and share some examples of how the structure differs from French especially?

Speaker 2:

So, yeah, the language. It has been mainly an oral-based language until about the 1900s, more specifically 1980s, thereabout, more specifically 1980s, thereabout um. The alphabets actually emerged from two creole orthography workshops that were held in saint lucia, one in january 1981 and the other in september 1982. I believe the writing system has been developed through. It was the efforts of individual researchers from UWE, actually, and the Université Antille de la Guyane, amitay Fouetide-Crayol from Dominica and the group d'études de recherche en espace crayolophone, and that group was specifically from Martinique and Guadeloupe. So they all decided to come together and they created what we now have as the Crayola writing system, which consists of 32 alphabets, so a little more than the English, what we're normally used to right. And the structure differs from French in both grammar and vocabulary. For example, we can take verb conjugation. In Creole it is much more simpler than French. In French, the verbs we could look at the verb to be, for example, and in the present tense it has multiple forms like je suis, tu es, il est, nous sommes, vous êtes, ils sont Notice how all of these things changes. However, in Creole, to be is just simply say S-E, with an acute accent on the E, and it remains the same for all the subjects, so sometimes it can be omitted. In Creole, for example, if the verb is followed by an adjective like, we could take um the sentence they are hungry, right, and it would be your thing in creole, right, but in french it would be. So. We can also use like the marker to to represent the present tense as being ca in solutions-Louisian Creole, right, so I could be like I am eating, and this in Creole is moi ca manger, and I'm speaking in the present continuous tense moi ca manger, right, so am here, is our marker which is called ca, is our marker which is called K, and in French I am eating, is je suis en train de manger. So Creole, it's like it's a, it's shorter, so it's much more simple.

Speaker 2:

We could also take a look at pronouns and how it differentiates from French. For example, we would say for you, we would use the word ou or zot, and in French they would use tu or vous. And that's just for St Lucian, creole, also for Martinique, creole, dominica. But, however, in some other Creoles they would use vous as well, but they would drop the s. In french the voo is spelled v-o-u-s, but in the creoles, where, uh, they keep the voo, they would just drop the s. So how you hear it is how you spell it in creole, and that's what makes a difference. We don't have silent letters and these types of things. Like it is, it's not. It doesn't really exist. Right, there are certain rules, certain exceptions around there, but it doesn't really exist as much as in French and so on thank you for sharing that.

Speaker 1:

I think it helps to, like replicate what we know about our history too, right. Right, as you said, there are ways that St Lucian Creole, for instance, differs from French by having certain letters or not having certain letters, right, and I think, when we think about these Creoles as developing as oral languages, right out of a history of people who, you know, very purposefully, weren't taught to read and taught to write, you know, being able to create a language in itself, but do one that can combine people from various parts of the world as a way of communication. But you know, there are things that are definitely going to differ as a result. Yes, I agree, you highlighted some of your various multilingual skills, right, so definitely thank you for doing that. But I think, you know, even in my own experiences growing up and being told, you know where it's okay to speak Patois, right, I can do it at home, with my family, et cetera, right, but don't necessarily like go to school and do that.

Speaker 1:

And I think that in a large part was, you know, due to, like, my mom's own experiences migrating to the US and you know, growing up in Jamaica, coming to the US and having a very I wouldn't even say heavy, it's just, you know, it was her accent, it was how she spoke um as a child, and then, um, the way that she was made to feel in school because of that accent, etc.

Speaker 1:

Right, even I will, it goes off into a whole tangent. But like they put my mom in like ESOL classes, right, or in English, ell, so English learning language classes, right, as if Jamaicans are not speaking English. But anyway, all that to say what has been your experiences growing up as a multilingual speaker, especially, you know, given this impact of colonization and and so, for those who may not know also, you are recent author of a book published on Amazon, which I definitely will link for our listeners. It's entitled An Introduction to Quail Sent Lisi, and so do let us know what has been that experience for you as a multilingual speaker and what motivated you to also write your book.

Speaker 2:

So, to be honest, the ability to navigate and communicate in multiple languages has provided me with a deeper understanding of the cultural nuances and historical influences that shape Creole right, and the impact of colonization, which is very much evident. So we have, like expressions, cuisine, food, greetings and so on, being able to speak French and English. I'm noticing, you know, how we say certain things and certain things that we do, why we do it, and so on, and a a lot of those times it does lead back to colonization. Basically, who colonized us? And so on. Right, so there's the pro part of it, but also there's the con part of it, where sometimes I've heard that why am I so proud to speak Creole, you know, and that I shouldn't be speaking it because it's the language of the colonizers. So there are people who think this way, or that it grew out of, you know, colonialism, which is bad. So therefore, creole is bad and I shouldn't be speaking it, you know. And so it's this mentality that we still have, unfortunately, but then in my head I'm like that's exactly why I should be speaking it. There is so much power in speaking the language formed by my ancestors, who bled to get this little freedom that we have today for us. So I'm looking at it like why could I not hold on to that and preserve and cherish this? It's absurd and disappointing to think otherwise.

Speaker 2:

So, basically, as for my book, I figured that because I give Creole classes, I should have a tangible version to the online classes. That would help people, because I'm taking into account that sometimes people would not always be able to be available Right, and so if they have a guide or something that they could hold in their hands and to always be able to look back at this specific thing, then that would be able to help them look back at this specific thing. Then that would be able to help them. And there are different learners in this world, so maybe sometimes someone doesn't want to have a class, they don't want to see some people, they they don't want to do this online thing, and you know different reasons. So if having the book could be of aid to them, then why not? And it's a way to preserve the language as well.

Speaker 1:

For sure. I am definitely a proponent of any ways that we can preserve what are, you know, born to Caribbean, born people in other parts of the world US, canada, england, wherever really right, because we are all over the world is another way for those to maybe connect with the language and really, you know, study it in a sense, to get that deeper understanding that might not otherwise be available to them. Exactly, I love my next question because I'm always looking for ways for us to understand our histories as they show up in popular culture. I think it is a powerful way for us to see ourselves visualized, and you know that can really be done by anybody, right? Anybody can make a song or make a social media post, as we know, right? And so what are some of your favorite examples, really, of how you've seen St Lucian quail show up in popular culture?

Speaker 2:

That is such a great question and for me it's for sure the music. There is definitely something about hearing music being sung in Creole that just does something to me. You know we have theater and drama, different playwrights and groups incorporating the Creole dialogues in, you know, in literature, film and television, festivals or events in Creole and so on. But it has to be the music for me. It has to be the music for me. And, um, one of my favorite Saint Lucian singers his name is Arthur Allen and you should check him out sometimes. You know he has music in Creole and I absolutely love it. Even if he incorporates just a few lines, one word, whatever it, he just has that amazing voice, beautiful, like it's just it's amazing. And so when he sings, and he sings in Creole, I'm just like wow, you know, and not just him, but there's a lot more people singing in Creole and it's just something that reaches me a lot more on a different level, on a deeper level.

Speaker 1:

I myself will definitely check out Arthur Allen, but I will also make sure to include it on our Strictly Facts syllabus for all of our listeners who definitely want to check out his music as well.

Speaker 1:

Final question that I think is very particular to the sort of situation in St Lucia and possibly other parts of the French Caribbean as well, and so it's evolved. You know it's not necessarily the same throughout and hasn't been the same throughout, but there are times in our history, as we've outlined right, where, you know, french is looked at as the more favorable from like a national perspective, as opposed to Creole. Right. There is an interesting landscape though in St Lucia where, while Creole isn't an official language, it's, you know, used in parliament, in education, right, some of those like more federally housed um avenues. That's not necessarily the same throughout all of the caribbean um, certainly, you know, speaking from the jamaican angle, for instance, like patwa is not, you know that's not how most schools are are teaching children? Right, it's in right, a quote unquote, and I say that very with quotes. Right, standard English perspective, right.

Speaker 1:

Yeah so what are your hopes for the future growth of Coyote, given this, you know, ability of like the governments to start capturing its importance through certain things like education. Um, how do you hope to see it really expand from here?

Speaker 2:

that by far, is my favorite question. And um, creole is just not getting the recognition that it should be given. Right, and my vision for Creole is to elevate its status to that of an official language in St Usha and the other Creole-speaking nations. I'm really advocating for its inclusion in the curriculum as a language of study. What I envision is dedicated Creole classes on the islands, not just for speaking, but many of us don't know how to write Creole, so if we're able to do this, it could foster a culture of learning and participation, particularly during like significant events, like you know, our Independence Day and national celebrations and so on.

Speaker 2:

Really, my aspiration is for Creole to be acknowledged and respected as a legitimate language. It's deserving of recognition for its cultural and historical significance. I basically aim for individuals to recognize the empowerment that comes from embracing their language and their heritage. Positioned in Creole on par with widely spoken colonial languages, like we said earlier, french, english, spanish, portuguese, german and so on we're taking these languages where it's really the main languages for us and we have our very own language. That's just at the bottom and it shouldn't be this way. So I'm hoping that, you know, in the future we're able to change that.

Speaker 1:

That was beautifully said, you know. I think that's a perfect point to end on right. That was beautifully said, you know, I think that's a perfect point to end on right.

Speaker 1:

Empower us and who we are in our languages, so that you know they're not looked at as a lesser version of these colonial languages. I want to thank you so much for joining me for this episode, for sharing your wisdom and expertise with us. I will definitely be sure to include not only your social media handles for our listeners, who you know maybe want to check out a little bit more about Creole, whether that be in St Lucia or other parts of the French Caribbean, as well as your book, an Introduction to Creole, saint Lysi as well. So thank you so much for joining me. Thank you to our listeners for tuning in. We really hope you enjoyed this episode Little more. Thanks for tuning in to Strictly Facts. Visit strictlyfactspodcastcom for more information from each episode. Follow us at Strictly Facts Pod on Instagram and Facebook and at Strictly Facts PD on Twitter.

Caribbean Creole
Exploring St. Lucian Creole Language

Podcasts we love