Using Creole, and Other Regional Dialects in Writing


Trinidadian writer and journalist Lisa Allen-Agostini recently wrote (in Allyson Latta’s blog Memoir, Writing, & More) about her experiences using Creole in her writing. Allen-Agostini, who was a guest speaker at Latta’s writers’ retreat in Grenada last April, shares her thoughts on this topic and offers tips to writers who want to use regional dialects successfully in their work. Here are a few excerpts, with a link to the full article below:

I write a weekly column in a national newspaper, the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian. For about four years, I wrote it almost entirely in Trinidad Creole. It was both an experiment and a unique selling proposition: first, I wanted to prove that complex social and political analysis could be accomplished in Trinidad Creole and, second, I wanted to differentiate my column from the dozens of others in local papers.

Among newspaper columnists in Trinidad and Tobago, Creole was and is still largely used for dramatic effect, as an insertion in a Standard English argument. Where a column is written in Creole it is usually for comic effect. This wasn’t what I wanted to do. I figured that all over the country people were conducting business, discussing their lives and analyzing politics and government in our Creole. Why not use it as a legitimate, serious medium? The reactions I got were mixed.

Some people loved it. Nationals living abroad loved it especially, as it reminded them of home and our heritage. Others hated it. They felt that by putting Creole into the newspaper I was legitimizing “bad English” or the use of an inappropriate language in the public sphere. By using Creole in a national column, they said, I was giving it a stamp of approval, and sending confusing messages especially to students who were and still are expected to write and speak in Standard English, and who are penalized for using the Creole in school.

Personally I find Trinidadian Creole to be a lovely language, one with a wide range and a poetry I enjoy. Words like obzocky and tabanca and tootoolbay have Standard English equivalents but these don’t quite encompass the nuance of the Trinidadian Creole words. Similarly, regional dialects all over the world deviate from Standard English to a greater or lesser degree. When a writer decides to use a regional dialect in her writing, she may face the same challenges I did. So why use Creole, or any other regional dialect? [. . .]

[The author proceeds to give sound advice to writers who want to use Creole, stressing that “As with any new language, learning to use dialect effectively takes practice.” She adds, “Reflect on your reasons for incorporating it — anthropological authenticity, characterization, and/or art—and ensure that any dialect enhances, rather than gets in the way of, an effortless and meaningful experience for your readers.”]

See full article, at

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