Some of you, Dear Readers, will be old enough to remember the song ‘Little Things mean a Lot’ that reached the number one spot on the US Billboard in 1964, so you will know how I feel about little things that seem to be getting ‘littler’ by the day as old age invades my life. But less of that, and let’s get on with the show.
‘The’ is without doubt a little word. Some languages do without it at all, while others either put it before its noun or after it. Swedish for table is ‘bord’ while ‘the table is ‘bordet’ in one word and ‘dog’ is ‘hund’ while ‘the dog’ is ‘hunden’. We have two suffixes for ‘the’: ‘et’ and ‘en’. We have a lot more plural endings for ‘the’ but I won’t bore you with them.
Now the thing is that Saint Lucian Creole (SLC) also has several suffixes for ‘the’ but I suspect speakers of SLC are unaware of them because the other day I was chatting to a dear lady friend of mine, who is a speaker of SLC, and I asked her what the Creole word for ‘the’ was. She did not know. I asked her what ‘table’ was in SLC and she answered ‘tabla’ in one word (tab-la). And so began my lesson and my intelligent lady friend entered the whole new world of Grammar.
SLC nouns that end in a vowel, (traditionally a-e-i-o-u) take the suffix ‘a’ to mean ‘the’, for example: kouto-a (the knife), tje-a (the heart or the jetty depending on the pronunciation of the ‘e’), and so on.
SLC nouns that end in a consonant generally take the suffix ‘la’ to mean ‘the’, for example: bagay-la (the thing), tab-la (the table), and so on.
SLC nouns that end in a nasal sound (-an, -on, -en) generally take the suffix ‘an’ to mean ‘the’, for example: ban-an (the bench), pon-an (the bridge), pen-an (the bread). Please note that SLC has no silent letters except in the cases of nasal sound like –an, -en, and –on, where the ‘n’ is silent. If you want to sound the ‘n’ you double it, e.g. balenn (whale), savann (pasture), which is the only time you will find double letters in SLC.
I hope you have noticed that all these suffixes take a hyphen: -a, -la, -an, –en, -on. The other suffix for ‘the’ in SLC is ‘lan’; it’s a little more complicated but I will try to simplify it. If there is a nasal sound (an, en, on – remember the ‘n’ is not pronounced) followed by a consonant, then the suffix is ‘lan’, e.g. madanm-lan, balenn-lan, etc.
Another case where ‘lan’ is appropriate is if the noun ends with ‘in’, e.g. lalin-lan (the moon) or machin-lan (the vehicle), but you will find quite a few speakers of SLC using –la in such cases, which is unfortunate.
What’s the point of all this? Clearly, SLC is a language with rules that determine its grammar, pronunciation and structure. It really is time to start teaching the language in our schools if for no other reason than to improve our understanding of English Grammar. The languages are not the same and the only way to avoid making mistakes is to understand these differences. It works both ways!