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Coding and decoding in Sranan; the writing-speaking controversity. A critical review of the Eddy van der Hilst spelling (I)

by brada Kwasi Koorndijk

Amsterdam, June 16, 2016
‘Brada’ is the label for males in the African-Surinamese tradition, while ‘Kwasi’ reflects not only my first name but also a west African tradition i.e. to say a male born on sunday. I am a transformationist par excellence. Some may describe me as a reformer in the sense of epistemology, ontology and ethics and as a consequence of methodology. These subjects i.e. epistemology, ontology and ethics will be addressed in detail in future performances. In this discourse I present myself as a transformationist in the field of the use and the study of Sranan. This presentation is only the introduction in the frame work of renewal.
Although I don’t have a professional backbone in linguistics – I do enjoy formally a BSc degree in postal and telegraphic management and a MSc degree in industrial anthropology – I will touch upon a subject that is of linguistic concern, the spelling of the Surinamese lingua franca, Sranan, also known as Sranantongo. This implies that my essay doesn’t necessarily back up the linguistics conventions with its own terminology.
The main question to be answered in this essay is: What are the insights of the Van der Hilst spelling and what are the implications for his theory?

Kwasi Koorndijk

Kwasi Koorndijk


This essay exhibits to the reader a serious attempt by Eddy van der Hilst to decolonize the spelling practices of the Surinamese public pitting the spelling guidelines and customs of Dutch against that of Sranan, showing the inconsistencies of Dutch and English spelling, at the same time exposing the underlying pitfalls in the building blocks of his Sranan spelling. In a close examination I found, in essence, that the basic rule to differentiate between writing and speaking is violated by both skipping – in writing sometimes – in between vocals in words and introducing sometimes double consonants as well in the writing modality that are both assigned to the speak modality.


Sranantongo Nederlands woordenboek

Main goal and motivation
The purpose of this treatise is rather to elicit opinions of scholars than to be merely critical of an influential exponent of Sranan by far, Eddy van der Hilst. At the same time there are some occurrences that explain the release of this essay. In the first place Sranan is experiencing a revival in Holland and Suriname. This could be backed up by dictation competitions in Holland and Suriname, the increasing use of Sranan in the official scene, code switching in the favor of Sranan [note: Questions posed in Dutch are met with responses in Sranan at length by public figures – ], and increasing efforts off- and online to teach Sranan. Justly observed in a mail exchange with me: “Het schrijven van het Sranantongo in Nederland en in Suriname staat in de belangstelling …van mensen die meedoen aan spellingdictees of ze organiseren, maar ook op allerlei internetfora schrijft men in het Sranantongo en heeft men het er over. Roué Verveer schrijft in zijn boek over opvoeden op z’n surinaams (creools) ook allerhande opvoedingsadviezen in het Sranantongo” (M. van den Berg, personal communication, April 7, 2016). Van Den Berg apparently makes reference to: Waarom? Daarom! Opvoeden op z’n Surinaams by the former mentioned. But the interest in Sranan is not in the least to be understood in the frame work of major developments in Suriname. There is a language law and an advisory board in preparation by the National Assembly of Suriname which will rule and exercise oversight on the input of the different languages for public interest, including Sranan.[link]
On the backdrop of all of these occurrences there is a playing field of competing views on the spelling of Sranan which becomes manifest for instance in the dictation matches. Simply put, one of the recurrent debates is: should we write with ‘i’ or ‘y’ at the end of a word? This spelling rivalry will be put in historical perspective below (Introduction).
I normally comment on the texts produced by high profile text writers who are invited as volunteers by the dictation organizing bodies. On November 15, 2015 there was the yearly held ‘Sranan dictation’ which I commented on at great length in a radio programme. I was asked to be a juror at that event and in my role later as radio commentator I promised a review of the Sranan spelling promoted by Van der Hilst because I saw many inconsistencies in his spelling. At the same time there’s the unease that Sranan evolves in isolation from the diaspo-ra i.e. Holland. In the wake of this unease there’s the complicating factor of unwillingness respectively the inability to reach out to one another.

I’m indebted to a bunch of actors who contributed to this exposition. Thanks a lot Gracia Blanker and Ninan Esajas for your eulogies made in favour of me. I thank John Sno for his eye openers with regard to the spelling used in this text as well as his critical insights. I also thank my mentor Jahzreel Strijk for his critical insights concerning my style of writing against the backdrop of this era. This alerted me to be even more self-critical. His gratitude expressed to me was sincere. I’m most of all indebted to Kasper Juffermans and Margot van den Berg, two scholars of linguistics. Both Kasper and Margot provided me with relevant literature and substantive criticism. Their insights made me more explicit in my treatment of the subject under review.


Eddy van der Hilst

Pagina 16 van Taki Sranantongo Bun, de grammatica van het Sranan, deel 1 – Eddy van der Hilst

As I once learned academic efforts should be maximally subjected to criticism. And reviews aren’t an exception in this respect. An academic effort shouldn’t be subjected to a culture (customs) but rather to the basics, because “the-way-we-do-business” could be opposed to formalities and even against general methodological rules as I have experienced over and over again. Because it bothers me I decided to subject myself to a maximum of scrutiny. This implies that in the early stages leading up to the product (this review) my own work must be exposed to a diversity of opinions, applying at the same time self-criticism and ethics, fencing off politics in the academic field, while showing vulnerability – the acknowledgment of being biased beforehand by education, culture, literature and so on. This plays into the figure I have come to know years ago as the ‘scientific spirit’ reading Cervo & Bervian (1983) [note: “é aquela força interior, aquela atitude ou disposição subjetiva do pesquisador chamada espírito científico, que busca soluções adequadas, imparciais, objetivas e racionais no exame dos problemas” in  (link, p. 66).] features built in the scientific spirit that are not innate in people. Instead it’s a life-long conquest at the cost of many efforts and exercises (pp.17-20). Although I can’t make any claim to be gifted by the scientific spirit it is worthwhile to strive for this properties.
Anyway the concept of ‘the scientific spirit’ is encountered to a great extent in different codes of conduct, among others, in The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, De Nederlandse Gedragscode Wetenschapsbeoefening, and Advies van de KNAW-Commissie Onderzoeksgegevens.
In next contributions I’ll return to this concept, reviewing it altogether in the light of an adequate methodology to do research in general and especially researching Sranan.

When I announced in ‘Tongo tori’ [note: It was a live radioprogram of januari 24 2016 via Salto Amsterdam.] that I’d write a review on the spelling of Van der Hilst I had made a promise and I couldn’t backtrack. I therefore make myself accountable now to the reader concerning the steps taken in this piece of work.

Steps taken in the process:
I first brought a preparatory-review in to the attention of linguists, who in my view could give a maximum of inputs as linguists – as of broaden the base of relevant networkers, the content, structure, style, language use, platforms and forums eligible for publication, and so on. At the same time the draft was brought to the attention of various activists known to the public of Suriname. As I noted I didn’t want to play politics excluding the public from the process and the essay as a product of it. So the draft was distributed in advance among some circles rooted in the Suriname society – media officers, writers, Sranan teachers – so that nobody could feel excluded beforehand as is the case in too many intellectual contributions of this kind fending them off from competing insights. The draft was at a next stage posted on facebook, with reference to my Consultancy website [link] in order to get competing views and criticism from the public. Finally I gave Eddy van der Hilst by e-mail the opportunity to influence the draft by contradicting my findings and to give his latest insights with regard to the statements made in this regard. Because Eddy didn’t respond within the specified time of 2 weeks I felt free to close the consulting session and move to the formal procedures in order to get the paper published in various forums.


[To be continued, part II click here]

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