Date: Sat, 15 Mar 1997 22:36:06 -0500
From: "Christopher R. Coolidge" ccoolidg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]ZOO.UVM.EDU
Subject: Re: RE Re: dey teef meh quats dem
On Sat, 15 Mar 1997, Grant Barrett wrote:
Ditra Henry said, in response to my "new subscriber requirements" asking for a translation of
"Dey teef meh quats dem":
First of all, are you sure the word is quats (kwats) and not kwati?
And the translation would be in American English ( somebody stole my last
little thing). The word kwati is in a old Jamaican Folk song however mi
nuh nua i naim.
The way I learned it from Crucians, the translation would be "They stole my quarters." I never
actually heard anybody use this sentence, but put it together out of phrases and words I picked
up. The kids hanging around the Scale House near King and Church Streets in Christianstead
would sometimes ask for "quats" so they could go play video games at the Pizza Hut.
I understand now, having done a bit of poking around here in NYC, "teef" as a verb is common
across many Caribbean islands to mean "stole." The most interesting Crucian usage, to me, is the
word "dem" which often appears after plurals, even if the plural is already indicated, such as in
"deh potholes dem", although I infrequently did hear "dem" used after a singular noun to indicate
its plurality. I'm still kind of fooling around looking this stuff up, besides being an dilettante
dialectician, so I have no idea how widespread this is across the region.
I spent six months down there a year ago and found it to be a dialectical gold mine. A large
part of the population comes from down-island or Puerto Rico, so you get a weird amalgam of
accents and variations. You've never really been stymied until you've been given directions by a
St. Lucian taxi driver (part of the problem is the loud country music).
At some point I want to go back and transcribe the Crucian Spanish. It is, if possible, even
more corrupt and free-wheeling than Puerto Rican Spanish, when compared to textbook Spanish.
I spent two weeks in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands a couple of
years ago. I've never been to St Croix, but the dialect is impenetrable
enough to outsiders that the locals effectively speak two languages;
Carribean accented standard English to the tourists, and their own
dialect when talking among themselves about what they really think of the
tourists. :-) I tried listening in on a conversation between a group of
kids, and all I understood was the word "bike," and only because one of
them was holding one.
Even in normal conversation with the locals it took me a while to
realise that the "sentamos" they were referring to wasn't some obscure
island religious ceremony but the neighboring island St Thomas.