LINGUIST List 2.565

Fri 27 Sep 1991

Disc: An Irish-Jamaican Connection?

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  1. , On "be(s)"

Message 1: On "be(s)"

Date: Thu, 26 Sep 1991 01:10:01 PDT
From: <paramskasdmCCVAX.CCS.CSUS.EDU>
Subject: On "be(s)"
Members of Linguist may wish to comment on the following
"off-line" discussion...
To: Bruce Nevin
On Wed, 18 Sep 91, you said:
>All of the above sounds like the stative use of the copula in Black
>English which, as I recall, derives directly from statives in Wolof and
>other West African languages. This usage and others have spread to
>non-Black kids' talk a lot in urban schools. Use in a "real English
>folk song" I would take to be folk process influenced by Black English
>in recent times. But perhaps someone can come up with bona fide
>examples of English dialectal usage unlikely to be influenced through
>the effect of American Black English on folk music and bohemian
I replied:
In one of the English dialects of Newfoundland, Canada (and
perhaps all of them, but I can't be sure), be/bes is commonly
used. Given the geography and history, I think we can rule out
African influences; the origins of the dialect are in Ireland.
If I remember correctly an interview I once heard on the CBC with
a Newfoundland linguist (from Memorial University... you might
check with members from there), he said basically that 1) the
"be" form is used to differentiate between a sort of timeless
statement (on the order of the traditional formula: here there
be dragons) - i.e., in winter, there bes snow in the mountains vs
last winter, there was snow on the mountain. 2) The conjugation
has been aligned on the /s/ standard for main verbs : I be, he
bes (it doesn't work for structures using auxiliaries such as
"do" - but now I can't remember the exact examples).
I'm not only quoting from memory, but am one of those people who
are on the borderline of "linguist" - trained partly in
linguistics on the undergraduate level, but literature in
graduate school, and now specializing in "language", whatever
that makes me. It does make me leery of using terminology which
I recognize passively, but have not used actively for too long...
Reply of 24 Sep 91 08:38:05 EDT
 From: "Bruce E. Nevin" <>
Now that Irish connection is particularly interesting because large
numbers of Irish women and children were shipped off to Jamaica as
slaves by Oliver Cromwell's brother (forget his name) when he was in
British charge of Ireland. (A fact I came across to my surprise in a
couple of articles by Michael Ventura on origins of jazz, rock 'n roll,
and voodoo, "Hear That Long Snake Moan," originally in LA Times,
reprinted a couple of years ago in _Whole Earth Review_ or maybe it was
still _CoEvolution Quarterly_ then.) I knew about the Irish influence
on Jamaican English, I wonder if any of their descendants got back to
Ireland. More likely this is as you suggest a distinction borrowed from
Gaelic into the English of Ireland and quite possibly Scotland. Gaelic
mavens on the list should be able to say. I know of a strong Scots
influence in Newfoundland and eastern Canada, didn't know about Irish,
but how could it be that they should not have immigrated there as well
as to the US?
Reply of 24-SEP-1991 23:12:34.70
Interesting about the Irish-Jamaica connection... I wonder if that could
explain the beautiful lilt in Jamaican English, which I haven't found
in other (limited exposure, though) West Indian dialects.
Scots and Irish in Canada: It is a truism up (here...there?)
that Newfoundland is *strictly* Irish in linguistic descent; the
Scots dominate in Nova Scotia (there's even a local radio station
there that broadcasts in Gaelic occasionally). New Brunswick
seems mixed, but leaning to the Irish side, and no one can fathom
Prince Edward Island. Other Scots stronghold is good old Ontario.
There *was* a solid Irish influence in Quebec, but they
assimilated to the French very quickly, resulting in unilingual
politicians named Ryan, Johnson and, um, bilingual ones named
Dana Paramskas (temporarily:; normally
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