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Barbados & the Caribbean

The scene behind the KFC near my Barbadian hotel
is rather unlike the scene behind the KFC near my Brighton home
As I mentioned in the last post, and as I have been wont to mention at any opportunity, I got to go to Barbados recently. It was my first time in the West Indies and it was fabulous—even if I did spend much of it in a windowless conference room.

In the weeks before I went there, I was wont to mention at any opportunity that I was going to Barbados soon. And this is when my (obviously jealous) English friends started pointing out (or was it mocking?) that I didn't say Barbados like they say Barbados. I (in my American way) say the last syllable as if it is the word dose. Theirs sounds like (BrE) doss  or the acronym for 'disk operating system': DOS. In saying it they use the 'rounded short o' vowel that Americans like me don't have.

I was gratified to learn, in the welcoming speeches at the conference, that Barbadians pronounce the last vowel in Barbados like I do, more like the Spanish number dos than like doss. I tweeted about this discovery, and one of my longtime blog correspondents emailed to note (as others had) that in olden times it was often Barbadoes in English, suggesting the "long", or more accurately "tense" o pronunciation that I use. She added "the modern spelling suggests the '-oss' ending".

To which I had to respond—well, the modern ending might suggest '-oss' for you, but not for me. Barbados is part of a partial pattern of difference between BrE and AmE. For my American English, I see the -os in kudos or pathos and I say it with the tense /o/. They rhyme with dose, not doss. But the standard pronunciation of these in Britain is with the -oss sound. And that kind of pronunciation has bled into Barbados. The name Barbados comes from either Portuguese or Spanish for 'bearded ones' (probably because of a tree with beard-like foliage). It's not related to the Greek-derived words pathos and kudos, but the spelling leads us to treat them similarly.

This varies in the US, though. Merriam-Webster gives the doss-type pronunciation first for kudos and pathos (though, of course, with the kind of short-o that Americans use, see link above). American Heritage's first choice for kudos rhymes with doze. But my kudos rhymes with dose. That pronunciation is in both dictionaries, but further down their lists. They both give the dose-type first for Barbados, though. (And they don't give a 'doss' type, but do give a schwa pronunciation more like "Barbaduss".) I suspect that the dose pronunciation for Barbados is preserved in the US because it looks like Spanish, and Americans are used to pronouncing the Spanish o in the tense/long way. (For more on AmE/BrE approaches to Spanish words, see this old post & its comments.)

Thanks to previous UK comment on/mockery of my pronunciation, I went to Barbados also nervous about saying Caribbean. Natural-me says caRIBbean. English people (and now me-when-I'm-speaking-to-English-people-and-wanting-to-avoid-mockery) say caribBEan.  I again heard "my" pronunciation during the opening speeches of the conference. Professor Jeannette Allsopp, co-namesake of the Richard and Jeannette Allsopp Centre for Caribbean Lexicography, put her stress on the -rib-. I thought if she does it, I can do it too. Then I noticed other staff and students from the University of the West Indies (UWI) putting their stress on the -be-. This is what Oxford Dictionaries says on the matter:
There are two possible pronunciations of the word Caribbean. The first, more common in British English, puts the stress on the -be-, while the second, found in the US and the Caribbean itself, stresses the -rib-
The 'first' in this quotation is made especially weird by the fact that it's the rib-stressed pronunciation that is listed first in their entry for the word. Phonetician (and frequent travel[l]er to the Caribbean) John Wells tells me that indeed the rib-stressing pronunciation is traditionally the more common in the area. The fact that I heard a lot of younger UWI folk using the more BrE pronunciation is an interesting counterexample to the oft-heard claims that English is being Americanized all over the world. In this case, decades after Barbadian independence, a British pronunciation seems to be making inroads.

The competition between these pronounciations comes from the fact that Caribbean has two possible etymologies. It's either Carib(b)+ean or Caribbee+an. Both Carib and Caribbee are apparent anglici{s/z}ations of the Spanish Caribe (which is probably an adaptation of an Arawak word). Caribbee has pretty much died out now, but it and Carib are both found in the earliest days of European reporting on "the New World". 

So, I'm happy now to say Barbados and Caribbean in my natural way even with British friends who might mock me because (a) they're not wrong, and (b) I GOT TO GO TO BARBADOS AND THEY DIDN'T. 😎

This post first appeared on Separated By A Common Language, please read the originial post: here

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Barbados & the Caribbean


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