Antigua and Barbuda
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Arwe lub um: In celebration of dialect, We put the spotlight on local dialect to mark International Mother Language Day

By Samantha Simon

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Mother languages are those that are spoken by people in a certain region and have been passed down for generations. These languages are often seen as a source of cultural identity, pride and unity.

In the modern world, most countries have multiple languages spoken within their borders. This has often led to the marginalisation of certain mother tongues, as they are not considered to be official languages. This can be seen in countries like India, which has over 20 different official languages but many more mother languages that are not recognised.

To help preserve these languages, there have been a number of initiatives, such as UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day – marked globally yesterday – which aims to celebrate and promote mother languages around the world.

The Antiguan dialect is considered to be a creole language, which is a mixture of two or more languages. In the case of our dialect, English is the main originator, but it was further shaped by the West African languages spoken by the African slaves who were brought to the islands during the colonial period.

Many groups of Africans and Indians reached back to their roots to recapture language and culture during their transition from their homeland to the Caribbean as slaves and indentured labourers. This led to further changes to the English they were forced to speak in the new land they now occupied.

This scattering and pulling together of languages served as the basis of the ever evolving dialect we speak today.

While some may not consider the Antiguan dialect a mother language, it is an important part of the culture and identity of the people of Antigua and Barbuda that continues to be preserved locally.

It has been passed down through generations and is still widely spoken today and is regularly used in the islands’ music such as calypso, which was born out of the need to share information without the European slave masters understanding, along with literature and theatre.

Over the years, our dialect has been heavily influenced by the dialects spoken in countries such as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. This is evident in the use of words such as “mon” to mean “man”, and “ting” to mean “thing”. Other words and phrases used in the dialect include “ah wah gwan?” (“What’s going on?”), “tief” (“steal”) and “tek” (“take”).

Mother languages are important for preserving local cultural heritage and identity. They often contain words and phrases that have been passed down for generations and can be seen as an embodiment of a people’s history and culture. They also provide a connection to the land and its people and can be used to express feelings and ideas that otherwise might be lost in translation.

As such, it is an important part of the Antiguan and Barbudan identity and culture.