The first national language of T&T was Patois. This is a fact that not many people in T&T know now but one that Patois researcher, documentalist and teacher, Nnamdi Hodge hopes they will eventually learn and accept. “Many people believe our first language here was Spanish. We tend to focus only on our Spanish heritage when in fact our first national language was actually the Patois. The books show that we were initially a Spanish country first and then English, while completely ignoring the whole French and French Creole part of culture,” Hodge said.
But how did Patois become spoken here? While the country was under the Spanish rule, it remained undeveloped until the late 18th century. To solve this problem, the King of Spain published the Cedula of Population in 1783, edict opening the country to immigration from. Most of the settlers were French, and French influence became dominant. Patois began being spoken here and in the mid-19th century, Patois became the lingua franca.
Patois was the first language of proverbs, calypso, folk tales, and riddles. And that is one thing Hodge wants people to know.
Patois was a language, it a misconception people tend to have he said. “Some people think it is broken French. That it is not a language. That it is just a broken inferior form of French,” Hodge said. These and many other misconceptions Hodge said he hopes to see corrected.
And he is hoping that October 28, International Creole Day, will be a starting point for that conversation. “World Creole Day for me it means our creole culture here actually finally being accepted. It is a chance for us to showcase our Patois language and culture here,” he said. “Our beautiful culture that has been here for 100s of years but not being known outside of T&T.”
To help cement the legacy of Patois and keep it alive, Hodge hopes it will be added to the education system.
“It can be formalised by having it as part of the curriculum in school, either as a subject by itself or part of the social studies curriculum,” he said.
“Only when it is in school will people take it seriously.” Hodge said Patois is still being spoken informally but when it is formalised in school he believes people will take it more seriously and it will get a wider reach and wider acceptance. Apart from Paramin, Hodge has heard Patois speakers in areas such as Tabaquite and Lopinot. As small as Trinidad is there are some Patois variations, and Paramin is not the only community that has Patois roots.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the thrust to push Patois in two ways. Over the weekend the annual Tout Bagay Patois’ annual concert Sé Yon Bagay Patois! (It’s a Patois Thing!) was held online. With it being held online Hodge said more eyes were on the even that they would usually have gotten.
“People would not go physically but now that we have it online and reaching the T&T diaspora and the general French Creole diaspora Mauritius Louisiana, French Caribbean Canada,” he said. However, the pandemic and its fatal effects on the elderly population has affected Hodge and other researchers being able to speak to informants to research and document the language. Most of the native speakers are older that 70 years. Hodge hopes T&T will one day celebrate Patois and Creole culture on a national scale because of the impact it had here. “Our original culture and language was patois so we should be celebrating here on a national level,” he said.
In an attempt to help teach Patois and make it more visible, they have also utilised the services of social media influencer Stephon Felmine, the “Trini Alphabet Guy.” Felmine has started by teaching the word afòs which is an expression to show intensity.
Earlier this year, Patois teacher Michelle Mora-Foderingham contacted him and proposed the idea of a patois (French Creole) video series.
One of the highlights of this year’s celebration is the plan to pay tribute to the late Carlton “Papa George” Matthews a popular folk-song write from Morne Diablo. Hodge has been working with Dr Jo-Anne Ferreira of the UWI for over a decade on preserving Patois through recordings, documentation and publications. They have also done a ton of exchanges with other Kwéyòl speaking communities such as Gulria and Macuro in Eastern Venezuela.
Patois speaker and cultural enthusiast Mora-Foderingham is from Guanapo and has been instrumental in teaching young people Patois in Talparo, and initiated a Patois mass at Talparo RC for some years now.
This is similar to what Paramin does on Carnival Sunday. Patois in T&T lives on, but is struggling to survive. On Facebook the Trinidadian Patois Speakers has more than 21,000 followers to date.
“Preservin Patois (French-lexicon Creole) is about language and life. We don’t just want our Patois revival movement to lead to developing a cultural or linguistic museum (which is a good thing for the past and future), but to revive its life today, make it living and alive in the 21st century. Nostalgia is not enough—we must be proactive,” it states.
“Interest in Patois can even help revive interest in French, Patois being so much easier and faster to learn for Trinbagonians. French is being unfortunately kicked out of our secondary school system, not just here, but overseas.
“The national focus on Spanish does not and should not exclude other languages, because bilingualism is the beginning of multilingualism. And, internationally speaking, that is far more normal than monolingualism—and is better socially and linguistically. Once an individual learns more than one language, the third and fourth and fifth (etc) come more easily. Tan-an wivé pou mété langaj-nou doubout ankò! Patwa ka viv toujou! The time has come to put our language back on its feet! Patois is still alive!”