A POST BY PETER JORDENS.
Martin Panday of De Ware Tijd (Suriname) has written e humorous article about the oral interjection that is called a tyuri (tjoeri) in Sranang Tongo, a kiss-teeth, hiss-teeth or suck-your-teeth in English, and le tchip in French. Examples of kiss-teething can be seen in these videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YJ3XZYoZvQ, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CwV0P_D8iY and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha9-RAJK65g. The characteristic kiss-teething sound is usually transcribed as “Tsk”, “Kst”, “Chew, or “Chup.” It is a common expressive form in the Caribbean, Africa and other places. Here is the article:
I recently spoke with someone who was here on holiday for the first time, and we were talking about things typical of Suriname. At some point the tourist asked me what that thing is that Surinamese do when they are dissatisfied with something. At first I did not understand what the tourist meant, until he said: “The thing they do with their lips, a type of kissing gesture, producing a strange sucking sound.” The good fellow obviously meant a kiss-teeth. “Because,” he continued, “I think that’s something typically Surinamese.”
I entered into a discussion with him and told him that the kiss-teeth does not exist only in Suriname. Still, he saw it as a charming and distinctive expression that he had noticed only among Surinamese.
After that conversation I could not let go of the subject. I asked myself whether the kiss-teeth was a positive characteristic of our culture or a negative quality that we should display less.
In the end I concluded that the kiss-teeth is in fact a really charming expression that we use when we are dissatisfied with something. Recently I was sitting in the waiting room of a medical specialist in the University Hospital – and you know how much time that takes: whether you have an appointment or not, you’ll be waiting for two to four hours. Anyway, after waiting for an hour and a half, a friend of mine called me. “You haven’t been helped yet?” I answered that I was still waiting. On the other end of the line I immediately heard a heavy kiss-teeth. Only a kiss-teeth. No “oh, how terrible that you have to wait so long”, no “I feel sorry for you” or the like. Just a kiss-teeth, which communicated several messages simultaneously without any words being necessary. The kiss-teeth expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that I had to wait so long, it contained compassion for my suffering, and it also made clear to me that our appointment, which my girlfriend and I had planned for later that afternoon, would probably have to be canceled, which annoyed her. Isn’t that great? A single sound can express so many things at the same time and so clearly.
When you are at the bank, and the window where you are standing suddenly closes with a long line of people still waiting, a kiss-teeth will probably be the only way, yet a very effective way, to express your displeasure. When you need to pay at the register and realize that you forgot your wallet in the car, the kiss-teeth offers you great relief (I mean your kiss-teeth, not the one made by the cashier – because the cashier will surely also make a kiss-teeth when you tell her/him that you don’t have your wallet).
At the office a male colleague of mine had the habit of going to the men’s room at a certain time of the day to ‘do a big job.’ Once I really needed to go at the same, which meant that I kept the men’s room occupied at precisely the same time that my colleague wanted to use it. As I was sitting on the toilet, the doorknob turned, my colleague noticed that the stall was occupied, and the only thing that he uttered was a big kiss-teeth. Nothing else. He didn’t knock and didn’t ask who was using the toilet, how much longer it was going to take, or whether it was biochemically responsible to use the toilet immediately afterwards. Nothing. All I heard was the kiss-teeth and the subsequent receding sound of departing footsteps. But the effect of his kiss-teeth was extremely effective. The duration and the depth of the sound of a kiss-teeth indicates the extent of the annoyance of the kiss-teether. The longer the duration of a kiss-teeth and the deeper or fuller the kissing sound, the greater the displeasure of the kiss-teether. The kiss-teeth of my colleague was like that (long and full) and made such an impression on me that from then on I would use the men’s room only at closing time.
I have also understood that kiss-teething is impolite. I get that completely. To make a kiss-teeth in someone’s direction, expressing one’s dissatisfaction with that person, is odious and even seems barbaric. Certainly in a service context. Still, it happens that when customers request a little extra service in a restaurant, the waiter will tend to openly make a kiss-teeth. That’s not-done. But when people make a kiss-teeth to show empathy with a guest or customer (who may have expressed his/her own dissatisfaction about something or someone), then I think that it’s actually rather charming. Someone from abroad who is not familiar with the kiss-teeth (but is duly introduced to it during his/her stay) will probably just laugh because of this Surinamese expression and perhaps even tell others about it.
The original article (in Dutch) is available at http://www.dwtonline.com/de-ware-tijd/2013/10/19/de-tyuri.
To read more about the kiss-teeth, go to:
- http://www.arte.tv/fr/europeens/karambolage/Emission-du-25-octobre-2009/2902414,CmC=2902418.html (Guadeloupe).
- http://www.bladi.net/forum/threads/tchip-antillais.211505 (French Antilles).
- http://sapodilla.blogspot.com/2006/02/suck-teeth.html (Guyana).
- http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2011/09/what-kiss-teeth-suck-teeth-means.html (Caribbean).
- http://nonjeneregretterien.blogspot.com/2009/07/kiss-my-teeth-or-sounds-with-meanings.html (Africa).
- The Meaning of Kiss-teeth, a paper by Jamaican filmmaker Esther Figueroa and UK sociolinguist Peter L. Patrick, American Speech, Winter 2002, 77 (4): 383-397, http://repository.essex.ac.uk/167/1/KSTpapwww.pdf (Caribbean, African Diaspora).