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Master of Science




From the linguistic point of view, e. dialect is not a language itself, distinct from other languages, nor is a dialect a foreign accent. Neither is it a manner of speaking that necessarily denotes or reveals inferiority of background, education, or intellectual capacity. Dialect is a technical term, not a derogatory term, and is without any emotional connotations or value judgments. It is .

• • • a specific form of a given language, spoken in a certain locality or geographic area, showing sufficient differences from the standard or literary form of that language, as to pronunciation, grammatical construction, and idiomatic usage or words, to be considered a distinct entity ••• (12)

A dialect is a system of speech-signs, confined to oral use and largely orally inherited, which are used by two or more persons to communicate with other, the resultant group being termed a. speech-community. The boundaries of a speech-community may be determined by geographical, 1 social, educational, occupational, or other factors. Thus everyone speaks a dialect, or more likely several dialects, as most persons belong to several speech communities. The enormous variety of dialects among English-speaking persons adds richness, color, imagination, and interest to the language, and at the same time mirrors the background, history, and ways of life of the dialect groups.

In literature, authors have used dialect for a variety of reasons: to indicate social or economic levels, to indicate geographical areas or background, for humorous effects, and so on. However, dialect study is important for many disciplines. Dialect development is not haphazard or random, and the variations that occur reveal patterns or correlations of regional and social factors, the study of which "constitutes one of the links between linguistics and anthropological-sociological analysis." (8, 239) Historical data may be discovered or corroborated from dialect study. The sociologist and the psychologist may utilize the findings of geographic-social analysis in very practical ways. (8,242-243) George Orwell explored the political and philosophical implications of a controlled, authoritarian dialect in his novel, 1984, showing yet another possibility.

This study will be a descriptive discussion of the dialect of a small )\ Caribbean island, Grand Cayman. The dialect is a product of the way of life of the islanders, of their background, and of their isolation until recent years. It is an English dialect, which, because of the long isolation of the island, retains some characteristics that have disappeared or diminished in England and America. Cayman English also shares some features with other West Indian English dialects and a few with non-English West Indian dialects . The particular Grand Cayman speech 3 idioms, although these exist.

Grand Cayman, Cayman Brae, and Little Cayman make up the group known as the Cayman Islands. There are differences among the dialects of the different islands, and even among those of localities and communities on each island, which are easily recognized and identified by Caymanians. However, this study will be confined to the dialect of Grand Cayman, with little if any distinction made between sub-dialects. Geographical subdialect differences were much more apparent a few years ago than they are now, for although the area of Grand Cayman is only about one hundred and sixty square miles, there was little intermingling of the residents of · separated areas until recent years. Some communities could be reached only by boat, and many people never travelled as much as 1 ten miles from their homes during their lifetimes. Now that roads connect the different settlements, as does telephone service, increased communication has obliterated some of the sub-dialect differences.

The description in this thesis will concentrate on contemporary dialect features, principally t hose current within the last twenty-five or thirty years. Little scholarly study has been done on Cayman English. One short article by Edwin Doran, Jr. appeared in American Speech in 1954, listing a few of the characteristics of the Grand Cayman dialect. (3, 82- 85) A few travel articles have appeared through the years, beginning in the 1920's, in magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post and National Geographic. The number of these has increased in the ten years as transportation facilities have made the island more accessible to tourists. Those writers who have visited and written about Grand Cayman almost invariably make some mention of the dialect of the islanders, but the treatment is scanty and superficial, and many times inaccurate. One typical article appearing in 1950 makes this comment:

Dialect and vocal intonations used by Caymanians have puzzled linguists. It's a mixture of American southern drawl and the English slur, with a Scandinavian lilt to end a statement, all combined to fall charmingly on the ears. V' s are pronounced as w' s : "prevailing" or "warying wind" are common examples-used by these sea-faring people, and nautical terms are used unconsciously. (10,39)

This vague and ambiguous observation is of little use to one wishing to study the dialect. One cannot know just what is meant by "southern drawl," "English slur," or "Scandinavian lilt," and "vocal intonations" reveals a misconception about language, for intonations are by definition vocal. Although the pronunciation of ~'s is noted, it seems to be equated with the use of nautical terms. None of the other popular articles which have appeared is any more helpful in the area of dialect.

There is not only a dearth of scholarly works on the Cayman dialect, but also of historical works about the islands. The only history, Notes ~ the History of the Cayman Islands, written by the Commissioner of the Cayman Islands at the time, George S. S. Hirst, was published in 1910. (9) Some significant facts about historical influences on the Grand Cayman dialect can be found here, and tradition, insofar as it can be trusted, indicates some factors. However, the chief purpose of this study is not to trace the history of the Grand Cayman dialect, but to describe it as it is. Wherever possible, influences which have operated on the dialect will be mentioned.

My interest in a study of the Cayman dialect arose initially because of my three years' residence on the island in the 1920 's. I was first thoroughly bewildered and confused by the dialect, then fascinated, and by the time I left the island I yearned to speak as my Caymanian friends spoke. Through the years I have maintained contact with Caymanians through correspondence, visits to the island, and visits of Caymanians in my home. As my interest in language grew, I was increasingly intrigued by the characteristics of the dialect, but my investigations disclosed tha.t little study had ever been made in that area

In August, 1968, I spent two weeks in Grand Cayman for the purpose of refreshing my memory of the islanders' way of speech, end of gathering further information for this thesis. Because of my wide circle of friends and my acceptance as one of them, I did not need to set up artificial situations or to solicit the of informants. I was able to gather al l my information in situations of rural conversation. This gave me quite an advantage, for in linguistic field work, as F. G. Cassidy says,

There can hardly be much question that the best method of collecting facts about living language--in this case dialect speech--is that of direct, personal interview of the speaker by a trained interviewer who knows what is significant, and who can elicit this in a natural way and record it accurately. He will find-out the most in the shortest time. This is particularly true of pronunciation patterns, which can hardly be studied in any other way… If it were possible for… interviewers to work primarily by personal interview, the.t would clearly be the .best. (1 , 9)

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Aarona M. Kohlman



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