Nassau, Bahamas – Two College of The Bahamas English professors will be among the linguistic experts featured in a special Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary entitled “Talking Black In America” that explores the evolution of African American speech and factors that have influenced it.
Walt Wolfram, a professor at North Carolina State University, recently interviewed Assistant Professor Dr. Chanti Seymour and Associate Professor Mrs. Anne Lawlor, faculty in the School of English Studies, for the television production.
A part of the narrative involves the development of speech in the Caribbean.
“It’s assumed that the language situation in The Bahamas for blacks did not start of as a creole because there were so many whites in The Bahamas at the time,” Dr. Seymour explained.
“Once the Loyalists came with their slaves and left their slaves and once more and more liberated Africans came to The Bahamas we got a more creole-like language. A creole language is a mixed language, one that consists of at least two different languages coming together. In our case it would be English and various African languages.”
The production team was also eager to find out how the United States of America has influenced Bahamian language, particularly because of the proximity of the two countries. Dr. Seymour proffered that despite this, Bahamian creole has been maintained, although some persons have practiced what she called “style shifting”, where they mimic American speech presumably to be better understood.
Mrs. Lawlor asserted that it is extremely important for research to be conducted on speech in The Bahamas.
“Research is very important to understanding who we are today and to understanding our culture because when I talk about the fact that these restructured systems that occurred in The Bahamas, when you had contact between English dialect speakers from England, the colonizers and the West African slaves, people say ‘that is ridiculous. What is African about our language?’” she said.
“Well it’s a tricky question because the words in these creole systems are typically words taken from the colonial languages. So, yes, our words are English, but they are superimposed on aspects of grammar that can only be referenced by looking at some of the West African systems.”
In addition to conducting research work in New Providence, the PBS production team also travelled to Cat Island to gather information.
Professor Wolfram is operating as the Principal Investigator for “Talking Black in America” portrayed as a documentary and outreach programme of the National Science Foundation.
The documentary has not yet been released.