Public Radio International interviews the novelist M. NourbeSe Philip, and Dohra Ahmad, author of Rotten English, on literatures in the vernacular. Also at the website, you listen to readings of David Copperfield in Jamaican patois, Spanglish, Hawaiian pidgin, Trinadadian and Tobgan vernacular, and standard English. (image Credit: id-iom):
There are probably as many terms for different kinds of English vernacular as there are vernaculars themselves: pidgin, patois, slang, creole dialect and so on.
But while we usually think of the vernaculars as oral versions of the English language, they're making their way into the written word as well.
“There's a really interesting paradox going on, where you're taking something that's constantly changing — and that people don't expect to see written down — and you're making it codified and setting it down for a wider audience,” says Dohra Ahmad, editor of an anthology of vernacular literature called “Rotten English.”
M. NourbeSe Philip, one of the authors included in the anthology, speaks and writes Trinidadian Creole but points out that the process of getting the language on the page is much the same as writing in Standard English.
“You can’t write it exactly as the person speaks it,” she says. “You have to put it through a certain process that conveys the impression that it is being said in the dialect.”
She writes both in dialect and in standard English, with her characters switching back and forth between the Englishes.
“As people from the Caribbean, we inhabit a spectrum of language, and you actually hear it when you go into the cultures,” Philp says. “You can hear somebody code-switching. You might start off saying something in Standard English and midway switch into the dialect or the vernacular.”