French Creole/Patois is the second most spoken language in the Caribbean after Spanish, with over 13 million in 10 territories in the region and throughout the diaspora (English and English Creole following in third place). It also has the greatest number of speakers in CARICOM and is the most important regional language of France, with over 3 million speakers.

One of these ten Caribbean territories is Trinidad, whose flora, fauna, folklore, food and festivals are still linguistically influenced by French Creole. Never officially French, but greatly impacted by French and French Creole speakers since 1783, Trinidad produced two important pioneering scholars in the scientific study of the French Creole language: John Jacob Thomas in 1869 and Lawrence D. Carrington in 1968 and onwards.

Thomas, Trinidad’s 19th-century public intellectual, produced the very first grammar of the language of any variety of French Creole anywhere in the world. He was Trinidad’s first linguist. Almost one hundred years later, Carrington’s study of the St Lucian variety led to the development of the language there and across the Lesser Antilles, including the creation of a standardised alphabet along with his colleagues in the then Université des Antilles et de la Guyane (now Université des Antilles). This year, Carrington was awarded the Chaconia Medal of the Order of the Trinity (Gold) for language and development, a first for Caribbean and Creole linguistics.

October is International Creole Month and is celebrated wherever there are Creole speakers. The UWI, St Augustine Creole Day was the final of several events across Trinidad. Staff and students of the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics (DMLL) and of the Department of Creative and Festival Arts (DCFA) came together under the broad theme of ‘Annou Alé Ansanm’ (AAA) – Moving Forward Together, with the Cocoa Research Centre supporting with their traditional cocoa tea.

The highlight of the UWI event was the armchair discussion with specially invited speakers focusing on John Jacob Thomas and his now 150-year-old The Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar. Professor Emerita Bridget Brereton contextualised the work of John Jacob Thomas, while Professor Emeritus Lawrence Carrington traced the modern development of the language, and Professor Ian Robertson discussed the importance of The UWI, St Augustine in the recognition of Creole Day and Month in Trinidad.

The Departments celebrated the French Creole/Patois language and culture in film, song, song games, theatre, storytelling and dance. Trinidadian communities represented were Arima (Cristo Adonis in storytelling), Paramin (Cassandra Joseph and her three films), and Talparo (Talparo RC School in song). St Lucia was represented by PhD Linguistics candidate and MC Ronald Francis and by Dr Travis Weekes, whose students performed a translated excerpt of a Derek Walcott play. Martinique was represented by Nicole Taylor, Youri Velasques and Dylan Sahabdool, all teachers of French in the DMLL working with their students, and Guadeloupe was represented by a dance student performing to music by Kassav’.

Future UWI Creole Day events will be even bigger and better and the departments encourage everyone to dig even deeper into our Patois past, for better self-understanding and as a move towards greater Caribbean unity.

Dr Jo-Anne Ferreira is Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics and President of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics (SCL).