Lockdown Diary 5

“One big fellow box, ‘e got plenty black tooth, plenty white teeth belong ‘im, time master ‘e fight ‘im, fight  ‘im, ‘e sing out, sing out!”

From “A Young Traveller in the South Seas” (Iremonger)

The above phrase is given by the author as the translation of the word “piano” into Pidgin English.  And what a glorious way to name this object through language.  I loved it when I read it and have remembered it ever since.

I am experiencing a similar thing when I watch the Downing Street Briefings.  There is always a po-faced person on the left, gravely appraising our situation and then on the right there is what I would like to think of as the speaker of Pidgin English.  Look at the expressive faces this smaller person pulls.  He is mouthing what appear more to be obscenities than to be offering an exaggerated lip-reading synch to emphasise the speech for those who cannot hear the words of wisdom emanating from his larger friend.  Look at the evocative hand gestures that accompany the face-pulling.  He is using his whole body to communicate.

As a result of this, I find myself captivated by the visual drama of the diminutive character to the right, to the extent that I soon start to drift off and cease to listen to the person on the left at all. 

If you could take Pidgin English and put it into visual form, then this would be it. 

I wonder if anyone else has become obsessed by these rather small people who so often pop up on our TV screens and are much more interesting than the politicians and experts at the moment?

4 thoughts on “Lockdown Diary 5”

  1. Always fun to put in my two cents (I learned long time ago that I was short of common sense, so I don’t try to dole that out). As I understand pidgins, they are foreign languages where a lot of vocabulary and sometimes other linguistic features) overlay a foreign base language. They often sound cute or or quaint or amusing to native speakers of the language from which they are adopted, but for the pidgin speaker they are just the way people talk.

    When I worked training volunteers for Cameroon, I learned a few phrases of the English pidgin used there. Hello: How you day? Response: I day fine. Goodbye: You walka fine. The inflections were important. The language sounds singsong, like Swedish sounds to English speakers or Swiss French sounds to the French. And a word might be the same as an English word, but have a different meaning. I remember that a few of the volunteers performed the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet in Cameroon pidgin. It sounded hilarious.

    Never got to use them, thanks to the unfriendliness of Nigerian officials ( I was too young and pure in those days to think about bribing government officials, which I reckon now should be an important part of any cross cultural training.)

    Speaking of the latter, I had a cousin who needed a work visa, but was continually jerked around by Austrian officials. When time became a serious matter and the final bureaucratic excuse became “a certain letter was needed,” my cousin decided to insist to the Austrians that they had in fact received the letter (they hadn’t), and vociferously berated the official for losing it. Rather than admit that he had lost it, a mortal sin in a land priding itself on Teutonic efficiency, the official delivered the visa. Of course, that would never work in lands where nothing is expected of bureaucrats except favors and bribes.

    Only six to nine more months of the pandemic. I have been vaccinated, but don’t hold out much hope for a quick end. This is a major public health emergency that most governments have botched, and as we know from Humpty Dumpty, fixing things after the fact may be difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love a thoughtful reply… but when it comes with stories… well what can I say? Your knowledge of language and experience of travel come out smelling of pure alpine air, or in your case maybe the chergui: always something to be savoured by travellers. This is one comment I really enjoyed reading. Thanks, Dave.


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