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Distinguishing Characteristics of the anglophone West Indies?

Distinguishing Characteristics of the anglophone West Indies?

Old Jan 8th, 2001, 10:14 AM
Daniel Williams
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Distinguishing Characteristics of the anglophone West Indies?

OK you Caribbean experts...

I just took my first trip to anywhere in the West Indies this past holiday to Nassau, the Bahamas and truly enjoyed myself, trying the distinctive cuisine (from conch soup to smudder grouper), relaxing at our hotel (Orange Hill Beach Inn) and jitneying into downtown and exploring the distinctive architecture there. The trip was enjoying not only only a relaxation level, but also on an educational level.

I could certainly see that Bahamian culture was quite different from mainland North American culture especially in terms of speech patterns and way of life. It made me wonder if each anglophone West Indian island has its own speech pattern...to my untrained ear, if an Antiguan introduced himself and said he was from the Bahamas, I probably would not disbelieve him. My ear however can readily distinguish Canadian from American or Irish from British. However, what I want to know IS can the trained ear distinguish a Bahamian from an Antiguan from a Grenadan from a Jamaican from a Caymanite from a British Virgin Islander From a St. Kitts & Nevis person from a Tobagan from a St. Lucian from a St. Vincent person from a Turks & Caicos person, etc...?

I also was curious how national identity plays itself out. Do people have a strong feeling of belonging to the country as a whole with common cultural institutions or is there more of a sense of belonging as someone from the West Indies or possibly more a sense of simply belonging to the individual island one lives on? The Bahamas for example is an archipelago of some 700 islands after all, with places as different as urban New Providence and faraway Inagua.

I know the Bahamas has Junkanoo, goombay, rake 'n scrape music and some other aspects that (I believe) culturally separate it from other islands. Is this true for the other islands as well?

Just wanting to share...DAN

Old Jan 8th, 2001, 10:58 AM
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What great questions, Daniel!
While there is a common culture throughout all the islands,each island has it's own uniqueness also. I have lived in the west indies for 25 years and my husband is west indian. He can tell immediately which island someone is from. Some islands such as Trinidad and Jamaica have really different accents, but others are more subtle.
We live on an island of 36 sq. miles and my husband can tell by listening to speech patterns what side of the island the person is from.
West Indians are proud of being west indian, or as they now say ,Caribbean people,and feel a kinship with all othe west indians. They are,however, even prouder of being from a particular island. A West Indian will identify himself as an Antiguan or a Bajan or a St. Maartener before he will say he is West Indian.
Each island has a variation on a theme in terms of music,cuisine,language,etc.
that is why it is important to understand that if you visit the Caribbean, you will have a different experience on each island.
Old Jan 8th, 2001, 03:10 PM
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I am from Antigua and I can tell the accent of all of the English speaking islands from St. Thomas South to Trinidad and then Guyana also. Even the country where I am from, Antigua And Barbuda, has different accents in each of the islands.
Old Jan 8th, 2001, 03:56 PM
Daniel Williams
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Hi again.

Thanks for your input Barbara and Eli.
I suspected that there would be variations in accents; these must be rather pronounced considering that Eli and Barbara's husband can distinguish each islander from one another. I imagine each island has its own UNIQUE expressions beyond accent too, such as the Bahamian words "spillygatin'", "boonggy" and "potcake", to name a few.

That's interesting too Barbara that you feel there is a sense of commonness as having a Caribbean identity (is this more within anglophone islands or including Dutch, French and Hispanic islands, i'd be interested to know?). My use of the word "West Indies" was to include the Bahamas, Bermuda and Turks & Caicos (islands technically not in the Caribbean) with the Caribbean islands.

Old Jan 8th, 2001, 09:51 PM
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Daniel, that was a great question and yes once you get to know the islands, you can sometimes tell where a person is from by inflection and pronounciation.

I once had a very interesting experience here in New York. I live very close to the Empire State Building and often ask tourists if they need help or direction if they look lost, to my shock the couple said yes in a dialect from Spanish Wells, a "very distinctive" accent. In shock I said oh you are from Spanish Wells, and they were just as shocked to know that someone from New York had been there and knew their accent, of course we went off to dinner and exchanged stories.

Just goes to show the world really is getter smaller and smaller and smaller.......
Old Jan 9th, 2001, 03:08 AM
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I find it funny that you can't perceive the notion of the different accents! After all, we can here the drawl of a southerner versus the twang of a New Yorker or to paark your caarr in Haarvard Yaard.It's the same thing. Don't you think that a person from England hears all Americans the same as well as all Americans hear the English the same. This just happens in just about everywhere you go.
Here in the Virgin Islands, with three major isalnds, each has his own accent that we can tell apart easily. Then we also have quite a melting pot here from the other islands so it really gets good.
I have friends that think that all who speak like this are from here and I find it funny that they can't distinguish one from another. So they have come to say West Indian, when reffering to anyone speaking in such a way as to not step on anyones toes. Because each individual is proud of which island they hail from and don't like to get it confused, so we settle for the term , a West Indian.
Then there are those who get upset, especially around here, when someone say you local people are so .....
Immediate natives say, you must have encountered someone who is not from here!
I am 4th generation Virgin Islander and you would be surprised that people ask me where I am from when I speak and when I say, here, they are shocked because they haven't heard anyone around here speak like me, I tell them, it's because the majority of the people that they have come into contact with are from the other islands! We VIers are in the minority and are an endangered species!
Please don't tell an Bahamian or Bermudian that you have lumped them into the West Indian catagory, they will correct you! I think they believe it's beneath them. Pity!
Old Jan 9th, 2001, 07:11 AM
Daniel Williams
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You know, I think it's all a matter of exposure. I may not YET be able to parse the different accents of the islands, but that may change. I still can't distinguish the difference (I'm ashamed to admit and my friends say they're vastly different) between an Australian and Kiwi accent. But you know, things can change. Before I moved to Baltimore a year and a half ago I wouldn't have recognized the Baltimore accent if it hit me over the head. Now the accent seems so obvious; I recognize a long-time (particularly pronounced in the working class) Baltimorean instantly!

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