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‘A Lee Chip’ Captures the Sound of an Island

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When Caroline Myrick first went to the Caribbean island of Saba in 2012, she had no idea that she’d be publishing a dictionary on the native language four years later.

Theodore Johnson and Caroline Myrick. Photo credit: Bastiaan Janssens.

Then a graduate student pursuing her M.A. in English from NC State, Myrick had traveled to Saba to document the unique dialect spoken on the island. As she started to interview locals, they repeatedly recommended she talk with Theodore Johnson, or “Teddy” as he’s known to most.

Johnson was indeed someone Myrick needed to talk to — he had been collecting and recording Saban words and phrases for nearly two decades. “Although Teddy lives in Aruba, I was able to get in contact with him and discuss ways we could collaborate,” Myrick said.

The discussion led to a full-fledged partnership, resulting in the first-ever dictionary and study of Saban English, A Lee Chip. The new book, published by the Language and Life Project at NC State, documents and describes more than 2,500 local words and phrases.

Located about 28 miles southwest of St. Maarten in the Lesser Antilles chain, Saba’s heritage languages — Dutch, European Englishes and African-language-influenced Englishes — make the island an interesting study of sociolinguistics, Myrick said. A Lee Chip not only celebrates the local vocabulary that makes Saba unique, it helps ensure the preservation of many words which may have otherwise been lost to history.

“I began researching Saba with the intention of giving back to the community,” said Myrick, whose family ties to Saba — four of her great grandparents were Saban — initially got her interested in the island.

“After countless residents volunteered their time and resources to help my research, I’m honored to be able to repay the community with such a special and important book.”

 

Myrick, now a Ph.D. student in sociolinguistics at NC State, wrote two chapters for the book, “Saban English Pronunciation” and “Saban English Grammar.” Both stem from her master’s thesis and a journal article she wrote for English World-Wide.

For the book, Myrick enlisted NC State graduate students Cadwell Turnbull (M.A. English 15’) and Shivonne Gates (M.A. English ‘14) to help proofread and edit the manuscript. She worked with NC State design graduate student Ioan Opris to craft the book and cover design.

The name of the book is a Saban phrase that refers to a little morsel of something. It’s one of many entries in the book that are based on interviews, recordings and written sources Johnson has collected for the past 18 years.

“This book and the dictionary in particular are meant to preserve the language as a written source of reference for Saban English,” Johnson said. “Moreover, I sincerely hope that this will instill more pride in its usage locally and beyond.”

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