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

by Kwasi Koorndijk

Chapter 2

In this second phase Van der Hilst illustrates the development of Egyptian characters into the
Latin Alphabet, i.e. the letters a and b permitting Sranan to spelling conditions of Afaka (a syllable script of the Okanisi Maroons of Suriname).
Van der Hilst clarifies the domains of speaking with its various articulation habits in Sranan versus writing, concluding that as there might be many ways of speaking modalities we should write as if we would articulate a word in an isolated position. That means that although people might say in multiple ways – translate into English – don’t do that: ‘I no musu du so’, ‘I no mus du so’, ‘I no mu dos’, ‘I nom du so’, we should write invariably: yu no musu du so (pp. 19-20). Thus speaking and writing are ideologically two separated domains.


Afaka orthography


It is broadly accepted that the Latin was influenced by the Greek alphabet. In this sense on the world stage the Greek civilization was succeeded by the Romans to whom the Latin alphabet is attributed. In turn, the Greeks were preceded by the Egyptians on the world stage. If succession of civilization explains the development of the script then even though his illustrations suggest that, Van der Hilst doesn’t proof yet that Latin is indebted to Egyptian characters. A first scan through the internet predict a fierce debate on the indebtedness to ones civilization. To cut short: if true one should expect rather an indirect than a direct relation between Egypt and the Roman Empire.
In this very chapter Van der Hilst explains his theory which is at the heart of the book and which survived his later contribution. “Schrijf de woorden steeds zo op als wanneer zij in een geïsoleerde positie worden uitgesproken” (Van der Hilst, 2008, p. 33). Further Van der Hilst (idem) teaches the reader that with the ‘one sound one sign; one sign one sound rule’ (pp. 22-25) Sranan is put in contrast with Dutch’.

The Dutch spelling inconsistencies: [note: In comparison with the Dutch the English spelling is much worst off: “In het Nederlands is de schrijfwijze consequenter dan in het Engels. Een klank wordt meestal op één en dezelfde wijze geschreven en elk symbool vertegenwoordigt meestal slechts één klank” (Adams & Nelis, 2009, p. 73).]

The Dutch spelling faces serious inconsistencies: the letter ‘e’ is encountered with three different sounds in words like: ‘met’ (with) and meter (meter). The first, e, is pronounced as  (the Sranan represent of è), the second, e, sounds eI (the Sranan represent of ey), while the third, e, is pronounced, ə (the Sranan represent of mètər = master). Further more the sound, eI, is found in words with two e’s for example in words like: ‘neem’, zee and loan words like café and logé. Besides that there is in no continuity in the sound eI when the double e, is succeeded by the letter r. Thus the eI-sound will be encountered in the words: neem and zee, while changing in, e: (the Sranan represent of ê) adding the letter, r, after these words, while changing the meanings in respectively ‘neer’ (down) and ‘zeer’ (very, painful).
There are also other inconsistencies found in the i-, ə-, t- and s-sound (Van der Hilst, 2008, pp. 23-24).


Hilst Eddy van der Hilst

Eddy van der Hilst

Chapter 3

The follow up of the treatise is the sound system of Sranan where vocals (a, o, u, e, i) are central to the stage. Van der Hilst chooses to differ from the standard institution in changing the position in the vocal structure challenging the alphabetical order (a, e, i, o, u). In addition to this 5 vocals Sranantongo adopted from Dutch: è, ò (Van der Hilst, 1988, pp. 22-23).
Further Van Der Hilst states that Sranan, in its nature, doesn’t support:
a) the silent “ə” sound, called Sjwa, in for example vader in its lexicon
b) an accent on the last syllable of a word
c) consonants in borrowings from Dutch and English

On a)

This means that words like: ‘kaba’, ‘pasa’, ‘sidon’, and ‘gowe’ will not be converted into kəba, pəsa, sədon, gəwe as this forms don’t fit the Sranan vowel-system.

On b)

This also means that words like: ‘kaba’, ‘pasa’, ‘sidon’, and ‘gowe’ will be made suitable to the normal patterns of Sranan. As a result the words will be made monosyllabic. So Sranan will skip the first vowels to become: ‘kba’, ‘psa’, ‘sdon’, and ‘gwe’.

On c)

As a consequence borrowings from Dutch and English will be transformed, i.e. ‘donder into dondru’; ‘verroest into frustu’; ‘smelter into smèltri’; ‘sadel into sadri’; ‘master in masra’; ‘pepper into pepre’, and so forth. Thus the silent sound will be skipped adapting a consonant into a vowel in Sranan.


Whether the change of the order from: a, e, i, o, u into: a, o, u, e, i, is a practical or an arbitrary one remains in limbo. Van der Hilst doesn’t give any explanation for this deviation from international standards.

On a)

This can be seriously challenged as in pragmatism mètər is not inflected to mètri, sidon is not inflected to sədon, like bògəl is not inflected to bògli, and snèfər is not inflected to snèfri. The same applies to kagət kind of formal paper and dèbər very big. They are both pronounced with a sjwa, the silent sound.

On b)

The skipping of the first vowels in kaba, pasa, sidon, and gowe to become: ‘kba’, ‘psa’, ‘sdon’, and ‘gwe’ breaks with the historical origin of the words as his basic rule suggests (Van der Hilst, p. 20). See the foregoing (chapter 2) on the writing rules.

On c)
This statement can easily be undermined as there are a great many words in the various areas of live adopting consonants. The child’s play ‘dyul’ (… ) has been very popular accross generations [footnote: Although the current generation might be under the spell of the of internet games and the mobile phone.]. The football field lexicon provided us bònrit (kicking of the ball over lines as a tactic), haps the uncontrolled ejection of the ball. The marble game has provided for: rèys play disc, tòl score by targeting the marble succesfully, romèyn seek an advantage position. Further we know: brèms chance meeting, dyaf boast, bam bell blow, till pleasure, bum beg, òp oral report, sker empty, dead, tyèk bal irritation of groins and the pubic region [footnote: A term in the Winti religion], tyònk throw.
Finally: how does the chicken cackles according to the elderly across generations? Isn’t it: ‘kò kò kò?!’ Another example is the Sranan equivalent: nò?! for: are you sure? This is concerning the assertion made by Van der Hilst that the sound, ò, is strange to Sranan.


Paramaribo 18e eeuw

Paramaribo in de 18de eeuw

Chapter 4 nososten nasal vowels

Here Van der Hilst teaches the reader that besides the vowels (a, o, u, e, i) which concentrate on the oral articulations solely, the Sranan sound system provides also in a nasal arriculation. He explains that while one part of the wind escapes from the mouth the other part escapes from the nose. The writer introduces the term: ‘noso sten’ nasal vowels.
The nasal vowels are formed by combining the vowels with ‘n’. Thus a+n (an); o+n (on); u+n (un); e+n (en); i+n (in). Examples of words with an, on, un, en, and in, are respectively tan stay, sdon sit, dukrun duck, biten direct, krin clean.
At last Van der Hilst touches upon mental slavery in focusing on sound systems combined with writing modalities in borrowing words. Thus the user suggests to hear for example: ‘m’ in banbusi because of the ‘m’ in bamboo. That’s why he writes “bambusi”. The same is appropriate for anbegi. Because of the ‘n’ in ‘aanbidden’ the Sranan user writes “anbegi”. But the nasal vowels exposed to p and b should be written in one way. Other wise there will be two ways to write the nasal vowels in conjunction with words initiated by ‘b’or ‘p’. Thus although we believe we hear: “tampresi”, “sombololi”, “kumba”, “pemba”, and “bimba”, we should keep on writing respectively: tanpresi address, sonbololi dope, kunba ombilic, penba white clay, and binba filaria leg.



The word ‘sdon’ violates the historical origin of the word as suggested by the basic writing modality of Van der Hilst (see foregoing), while as a matter of fact Van der Hilst shows he can draw the line between the Dutch and Sranan spelling.



Chapter 5 Tusten Diphthongs

The diphthongs are formed by combining the vowels (a, o, u, e, i) with the two in between sounds ‘y’ and ‘w’. In addition there is the vowel Ɛ, represented by è in Sranan. Then Van der Hilst gives the combinations a+y (ay), a+w (aw); o+y (oy), o+w (ow); u+y (uy), e+y (ey), e+w (ew) and è+y (èy).
So we find ay, aw; oy, ow; uy; ey, ew; and èy; in respectively the words: bay buy, babaw thunderstuck, loy empty, krey cry, bew (sound-imitation from gunshot); and rèys play disc;
Besides the above mentioned diphthongs there is a nasal variant involved, formed by oy + n, ay + n, and uy + n (oyn, ayn, and uyn), examplified respectively by the words: doyn, kayn, and puyn.
Furthermore there are elongated diphtongs which are the previously mentioned vowels (a, o, u, e, i) transformed into (â, ô, û, ê, î). They’re illustrated by words like: bâna plantane, pôti poor, têgo everlasting, pî dead calm; ideophone, and dûn spell bound; ideophone). (pp. 33).



Banana tree

These elongated diphthongs should not be confused with words where the letter ‘r’ is involved. Van der Hilst mentions: kori caress, bari scream, teri count, and buru farmer. He explains that the preceding vowels (o, a, e, and u) are not naturally elongated sounds as a change of, r, into ‘t’ would betray the status of the vowels. To cut short it is only because of the r that the preceding vowels sound prolonged. So they are not written with circumflex accent (Van der Hilst, 1988, p. 33).


Here Van der Hilst gives a good account of the rules reigning the writing modality. He shows consistency with the rules. It is a further elaboration on the ‘one sound per sign and one sign per sound rule. But the writer upholds the two main categories the traditional grammar endorses: ‘krinsten’ vowels i.e. the standard variant and ‘tapusten’ consonants (p. 31), while he distinguishes many subcategories of the concept vowel pitting the Sranan against the mainstream sound system.
Even in Van der Hilst (2008) a comprehensive understanding of this multifaceted concept remains out of the picture: “Het Sranan kent verschillende klinkers, ook wel vocalen genoemd. Deze zijn: de orale klinkers, de neusklinkers of nasalen, de lange klinkers en de tweeklanken of diftongen” (p. 33).

Chapter 6 Tapusten Consonants ; first and second part
The consonants c, j, q, v, x, z are not considered to belong to the Sranan alphabet. More over the letters, w, and, y, are both vowel-like and consonent-like. As mentioned before they are between sounds. Van der Hilst explains that the air flow in the mound is blocked in one way or the other – by teeth, tongue, lips, resulting in the letters b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, w, y. The letters b up to h as well as k up to y are addressed in respectively the first and second part of the chapter.
In the following you will find some illustrations of the consonants regarding the Sranan alphabet (Van der Hilst, 1988, pp. 35-37).

b sounds like b in bobo dopey
d sounds like d in odi greeting
f sounds like f in fa given that
g sounds like g in agu pig
h sounds like h in hebi heavy
k sounds like k in kari call
l sounds like l in lasi lose
m sounds like m in masi mash
n sounds like n in neti night
p sounds like p in pori rotten
r sounds like r in rowsu roos
s sounds like s in sari sad
t sounds like t in tara tar
w sounds like w in we well
y sounds like y in yu yu
Finally, Van der Hilst explains that the letter, n, in for example mindri middle/amongst, ondro under, sensi cent/since, pransun sprout, printa leaf [footnote: vein of palm species] doesn’t refer to the consonant n, but to nasal vowels oŋ (ong), eŋ (eng), aŋ (ang), iŋ (ing).


If in all cases the letter, n, refers to the nasal vowel as Van der Hilst suggests, is subject to serious reflection. Could you say: miŋdri, oŋdro, seŋsi, and priŋta?
Van der Hilst (2008) continues on this path (p. 41-42) insisting that Sranan words like ‘dansi’ and ‘kondre’ should sound respectively like daŋsi and koŋdre. “Bij het lezen moet het geschreven woord ‘dansi’ dus klinken … niet als /dansi/ … ‘kondre’ moet klinken … niet als /kondre/” (p. 42).
If the nasal vowels in these instances are proven right the position of the hyphen will not be debated. But if the nasal vowels are proven wrong the position of the hyphen might be under scrutiny. Should it precede the letter, n?

Chapter 7 Tapusten Consonants; part 3

Along with the consonants mentioned in chapter 6 there are the ones of a mixed nature resulting in: sy (ʃ), dy (dʒ), ty (tʃ), ny (ɲ). So we encounter the sy-, dy-, ty-, and ny-sound respectively in the following examples: syatu, dyari, tyari, nyan.

Note: when the ‘dy’-sound precedes the vowels e and i as in the words: “dyeri”yellow and “dyi” give, we should consequently write ‘geri’ and ‘gi’. The dy-sound can also be heard in nasal vowels as in the words “adyen” and “dyendyen” we should consequently spell respectively: agen and gengen.

Note: when the ‘ty’-sound precedes the vowels e and i as in the words: “botyeti” boeket and tatyi tell, we should consequently write ‘boketi’ bouquet and ‘taki’ talk. The ty-sound can also be heard in nasal vowels as in the words “tyentyi” Change and “styin” body we should consequently spell respectively: kenki and skin.

Note: when the ‘ny’-sound precedes the vowels e and i as in the words: “lendye” vergoeding and “tanyi” dank, we should consequently write ‘tangi’ and ‘lenge’. The ny-sound can also be heard in nasal vowels as in the words “tyentyi” and “styin”. However we should consequently spell the words respectively: kenki and skin.


Van der Hilst tries very hard to distinghuish between the oral and writing modalities suggesting there should be one way of writing the ‘dy-‘, ‘ty-‘, anda ‘ny’-sounds. But if you’re obliged to write ‘gengen’ and not ‘dyendyen’ it is allowed to pronounce ‘gengen’ just as it is allowed to pronounce, dyendyen. But what if nobody uses ‘gengen’ in their articulations? The same applies to words like: ‘gindya’, ‘geme’, ‘wenke’, kema, ken, and ‘kiki’. Nobody says them! What I suggest is not to put the whole spelling upsite down, but to allow exceptions to the game. For example we should write in contrast to the rules: dyindya, dyeme, wentye, tyema, tyen, and tyityi contradicting the basic rules in fact.


[to be continued, part IV & last click here]

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