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

by Kwasi Koorndijk

Chapter 8 Tapusten Consonants; part 4

Van Der Hilst explains here the necessity to write the letter ‘k’ in front of the, e, and, i. He breaks it down: kisi received means the same thing as “tyisi”, kibri shelter is similar to “tyibri”, boketi bouquet and “botyeti” are the same concept as applies to kersi cherry and “tyersi” as opposed to kari and tyari; kokro tube and tyokro strangle; kuku cake and tyuku bribe.


Deutsch-Negerenglisches Wörterbuch van H.R. Wullschlägel, Löbau 1856. (Collectie Michiel van Kempen)

The same applies to the ge- and “dye” sound, resulting in words of equal concepts as explained in chapter 7. At the same time the clarification of Van der Hilst is of phonological concern – the tongue moves to the fore front of the mouth in both circumstances: articulating the sounds, e, and , i, on the one hand and “dye” and “dyi” – ty’ and ‘dy’ are alveolar stop sounds – on the other hand. This circumstance encourage efficiency in articulating, dye, respectively, dyi instead of, ge, respectively, gi, respectively ke, respectively ki. In this last circumstances the tongue has to retract first then pressing the middle of the tongue towards the palate articulating the sound, g, respectively k. In second instance the tongue would move to the fore front articulating, e respectively i. At the same time there is the need of efficiency of spelling. That’s why, ge, respectively gi, respectively ke, respectively ki is prefered over, dye, respectively dyi, respectively tye respectively tyi (Van Der Hilst, 1988, pp. 43-50).


See Commentary on Chapter 7.

Chapter 9 Tapusten Consonants; part 5

Not only the vowels are combined with the in between sounds (Chapter 5) but also there is a mix of consonant (b, d, f, g, k, n, p, s, t) and in between sounds (y, w) as in the words: obya magic, bwasi leprosy, dyari yard, dweyri mop, fyofyo magic illness, gwenti customs kweri chop up, nyan eat, pyo spit, syoro ashore, swen swim, tyari in abundance twatwa finch.

Dobru tapusten Double consonants (1)

We learn also that there are double consonants, skipping in between vowels. So ‘mama’, ‘papa’ porridge/father, ‘nanay’ needle, ‘kokronoto’ coconut, will result respectively in: mma, ppa, nnay, kkronto. The rationale for using double consonants, according to Van Der Hilst is that people speak quicker nowadays. But other than dependent on the pitch the words will change of concept. If the accent falls on the first syllable of the word mama, the meaning will be: enormous. When the accent falls on the second syllable however the word will mean: mother. The same concerns papa: dependent on the pronunciation (accent on the first syllable) the word means: porridge. If the accent falls on the second syllable, papa, means father.


In this section Van der Hilst confuses writing with speaking as we swallow the sounds when
we speak – ppa, wwan, mma while we spell out the words explicitly when we write, contradicting his first spelling rule: “Yu musu skrifi den wortu, leki fa yu e taki den, te yu e taki den den wwan” (Van der Hilst, 1988, p. 20). So write the words in such a way that when reasoned from the speech modality we speak the words isolated – papa, wanwan, mama.


Hilst spelling van het Sranan

Chapter 10 Dobru tapusten Double consonants (ll)

Van der Hilst continues to hammer good writing habits into the mind of the reader referring to the unnatural sjwa (ǝ) in Sranan. As there is no room for in between vowels (chapter 3) so there is no room for writing an apostroph (‘) symbolizing the mute -e- in for example representations like pəsa, kəba, sədon (chapter 3) – the transition phase of the words pasa passing by, lapse, kaba finished, sidon sit down. The same applies to words like məma, pəpa, nənay, resulting in double consonants. In short there is: bb (bbari), dd (ddon), ff (ffrey), kk (kka), ll (llolo), mm (mma), nn (nnay)/nnyan, pp (ppa), ss (ssu), tt (ttu), ww (wwan) (ləlolo), as a consequence of the weakening of in between vowels in the course of time: babari screaming everywhere, didon lay down, freyfrey, kaka shit, lololo, mama, nanay needle/nyan nyan non-systematically eaten, papa, susu shoe, tutu few, wawan some.


See my criticism in Chapter 9; return also to Commentary on Chapter 3; subitem a)



Chapter 11 Leysi Reading

This part of the book is dedicated to teach the reader how to read Sranan. The writer casts a look back at some publications. He draws upon the works of Aleks de Drie (1984, ’85) and concludes that the books are written in the modern Sranan spelling apart from some observations. In general writing rules are confused with reading ones – “undati” should be spelled as: ‘un dati’. “nin” should be written: ‘na ini’. The apostrophe and sjwa are part of the spelling used in the books – “twarf’” should be spelled as ‘twarfu’; “feryari” should be spelled as ‘friyari’. Then there are infringements committed against the rule concerning ‘nasal vowels in conjunction with words initiated by, b, or p (chapter 3 under c) – “dyompo” should be spelled as ‘dyonpo’, “warimbo” should be spelled as ‘warinbo’. Sometimes you’ll find words spelled correctly – skin, pikin, wenke. But there are also infringements – “tye” instead of ke, “tyeptyepi” instead of kepikepi, “banyi” instead of ‘bangi’ (Chapters 7,8). Further “mama” should be spelled as ‘mma’.
Van der Hilst (1988) refers to books that are written in good Sranan spelling. He mentions in this regard Grot (1987), Vernooy & Van der Hilst (1988), and Grot & Waterberg (1988, ’89).
Finally Van Der Hilst slams the newspapers of Suriname where bad spelling is rather the rule than an exception.
After this escapes Van der Hilst retreats to his main issue: how to read in Sranan. He explains that reading is just the opposite of writing. One should not read words as if they are isolated contrary to writing where you should spell the words thoroughly. On the one hand you swallow and contract the words on the other hand you stretch the words out. So you say for instance: m͜na: moni but you write: mi no abi moni. Another example Van der Hilst broaches is: A be: sribi, di: kon (speak modality). When spelled correctly we should write: A ben e sribi di yu kon.
Finally the writer gives an exercise in this regard introducing a piece of proza from Koenders (march 18, 1944-1946).


As I observed in the foregoing Van der Hilst violates his own formulated rules while criticizing the media for not applying the rules correctly.

Chapter 12 Puwema Poem

In this part Van der Hilst advances on a poem named ‘Nyanmofo Adriyan nanga en nekti Meriyan’ (Adriyan who doesn’t stick to agreements and his niece Mary). The poem is rigged with wrong spelling. The student is commanded to put the sentences in the right spelling.


This is a different exercise in verses to test the skills of the reader than the ordinary ones presented in Van der Hilst (1988).


surinaams woordenboek

Chapter 13 Taywortu Contractions (1)

This section is devoted to contractions. They are existent words meaning a certain thing with which a particular significance is obtained connecting them (p. 67). Van der Hilst elucidates the subject with examples among others: dyonpo jump plus futu foot, doti dirty plus wagi car, faya hot plus watra water, and dyarusu jealous plus sturu chair resulting in respectively hopscotch, collecting service, tea/cacao/koffie, Aysa chair.
This combination delivers new words with newly created meanings. Van der Hilst elucidates that contractions are coupled together observing the accent in the words. If a word tells something about another word it will be accentuated which indicates that this word is not part of its successor. Thus ‘wan bigi futu’ tells something about futu indicated by its accent on bigi – in the first instance on the first i of bigi. But ‘wan bigifutu’ means an elephant leg. Note that the accent falls on the first ‘u’ of ‘futu’.
Van Der Hilst further argues that the rule in Sranan is to keep on writing the words as seperated ones till the words are proven to be contractions. So words that people interpret from the Dutch spelling like: ‘alasma’ everybody, ‘alasani’ everything, ‘misrefi’ myself are misspelled. The words should be spelled: ala sma, ala sani, mi srefi because of the accent on: both of the words involved: ala sma, ala sani, mi srefi.


In this part Van der Hilst shows perfectly how meaning is created using contractions in Sranan.

Chapter 14 Taywortu Contractions (ll)

Part of the contractions are the ones which are connected with a hyphen. This occurs when the constituent word parts both end and begin with a vowel, causing the compound to prolongue the sound. Thus the words are articulated in a prolongued way. This sound causes us to write what we here : “dedôso” memorial service, “atôso” hospital, “ogrâti” cruelty, “sarâti” sorrow while it is because of the clash of two vowels: dede and oso, ati and oso, sari and ati. So we should represent this phenomenon in our writing: ‘dede-oso’, ati-oso, ogri-ati, sari-ati.
To go on Van der Hilst explains that we use to hear from the Sranan speakers the following articulations: “konman”, “lenman”, “graman”, “droman”. But by writing them this way we would be in violation of our own spelling rules: on and en are nasal vowels and should be heard while isolating the two syllables: “kon” come and man man, len ? and man man. At the same time while islolating the two syllables “gra” ? and man man, and dro bet on the first to shoot and man man we would breach our own speech habits. We mean that the word man (nasal vowel ‘an’) would be preceded by gran (nasal vowel ‘an’) superior. To cut short we should write: koniman smart man and ‘granman’ Governer/tribal leader.
The same applies to the clash of diphthongs, nasal and vowels: we should write them isolated by hyphen as well respectively: san-ede why, trow-oso marriage. In addition we should write a hyphen where a nasal vowel clashes with the consonant, n, in for example: bun-nen or where a diphtong clashes with the same in between sound: dow-watra dew water. Finally we use the hyphen when a vowel clashes with a double consonant as in: bigi-ssa, bigi-mma, fisi-wwoyo, tarattey.


This Chapter is added value to the understanding of writing where sounds different from the ones we already know (vowels) clash and therefore are seperated by a hyphen: ‘astma-aanval’ astma attack, ‘placebo-effect’ placeboeffect. We also distinguish clashes regarding diphthongs, nasals and vowels in a variety of ways not existent in the Dutch spelling situation. These last ones will be seperated where a double consonant succeeds.

Chapter 15 reduplications (1)

In order to create meanings Sranan makes use of doubling the same word. So koti cut, dyonpo jump, bari scream, sibi sweep, nyan eat, and wan één, when doubled they will have another meaning, respectively: kotikoti mole, dyonpodyonpo grasshopper, baribari screaming, sibisibi broom, nyannyan [nnyan] meal and wawan some. In addition to this there are some reduplications which exist by the grace of two words: kwetikweti no way biribiri grass.


In this regard the words: kotikoti, dyonpodyonpo, sibisibi, nyannyan, and wawan are stringed togehter on the basis of the accent on the last syllable, meaning something different than they would be written separated from one another, thus: koti koti, dyonpo dyonpo, sibi sibi scamp one’s work, nyan nyan eaten everywhere [footnote: What birds use to do with fruits] and so on. But there is a special Commentary to be made: wawan violates the rule of writing with the historical origin, i.e. wanwan.


ietswaart haabo sranantongo

Chapter 16

In this last chapter Van der Hilst elaborate on chapter 15, explaining that the hyphen can come into effect there where two vowals clashes: esi-esi very quick, ari-ari rake opo-opo juggling. The meanings created can refer to the plant kingdom: sinsin mimosa piduca, the animal kingdom wunwun bee, the noise produced by something gengen bell, a whole of times betibeti bite more than one time, superficiality: sibisibi sloppy. Finally we can create meanings by expressing the way somebody or something looks like: rediredi reddish, dotidoti dirty looking.


See Commentary made in the foregoing (Chapter 14).


The sound-rule in order to write in Sranan limits the string of words that can be joined together to up to two words on the basis of: “samenstellingen worden aaneengeschreven, waarbij elk van de samenstellende woorden wordt geschreven zoals zij in een geïsoleerde positie worden uitgesproken” (Van der Hilst, 2008, p. 86). That’s why a word like: wetiberekayman joined together can be proven wrong as ‘weti’, ‘bere’, ‘kayman’ carries three accents when decomposed. This means that the word should be written as three isolated words: ‘weti bere kayman’. Van der Hilst (idem): “een woord is een samenstelling, indien van de samenstellende woorden, slechts het laatste woord een klemtoon heeft … Voor het aaneenschrijven van woorden is de klemtoon doorslaggevend” (p. 76). In case of meaning creation there should be at the same time a word that can be distinguished from these three words, like can be distinguished between: ‘wan bigi futu’ and ‘wan bigifutu’ (p. 76). In the former one, bigi, is an adjective to, futu (a big foot). The latter one is a concept attributed to a disease, called binba filaria leg. In the case of wetiberekayman there should be a similar situation where the Sranan speaker can differentiate.
But what’s the rationale behind the writing of reduplications as words written altogether in for instance: ‘dorodoro’ very often, ‘penipeni’ dotty, ‘wetiweti’ not that white, ‘pisipisi’ broken into pieces? “Reduplicaties worden aaneengeschreven, waarbij het woord waaruit de reduplicatie bestaat dus ook steeds in zijn volle vorm wordt geschreven (Van der Hilst, 2008, pp. 90-91). Here the historic origin of the words is upheld in contrast to for example: ppa, mma transpiring the double consonants and with regard to: kba’, ‘psa’, ‘sdon’, and ‘gwe’ (Chapter 3; On b).
The sound-rule in Sranan excludes the existence of more than two words stringed together i.e. ‘aan’, ‘een’, ‘schrijven’ joined together: ‘aaneenschrijven’ or worse ‘tweede’, ‘graads’, ‘leraren’, ‘opleiding’ joined together: tweedegraadslerarenlopleiding.
As the sjwa in Sranan exists there should be room to express it. This means that the (‘) can apply to situations where the sjwa is at stake like for example: mèt’r, wèrd’r, snèf’r.
The thesis made by Van der Hilst (2008) as if consonants at the end of Sranan words are strange to Sranan compells the language into a situation of unnatural conditions. ” (…) Deze woorden zijn meteen herkenbaar omdat zij op een medeklinker eindigen” (p. 38). Thus: bum, dèb’r, wèrd’r, haps, bònrit, dyaf, tyònk, sker among others would be forced to become respectively: bumi, dèbri, wèrdri, hapsi, bònriti, dyafi, tyònki, which would get people frowning.
In the foregoing the ‘historical origin’ rule is constantly violated by confusing speaking and writing as in the case of ppa, mma (speech modality), papa, mama (writing modality). Van der Hilst (2008) in defending the double consonant-rule: “Een eerste probleem met deze schrijfwijze is dat niemand deze woorden zo zegt, ook niet in een geïsoleerde situatie. Zelfs in een geïsoleerde situatie zegt men: /mma/ en /ppa/” (p. 66). But how is that possible? Even in the anthem of Suriname we encounter a clause that contradicts the claim made by Van der Hilst: ‘(…) pe mi mama èn mi papa, èn mi famiri de’. Except that there are a great many expressions [footnote: Mama fowru no e kiri en pikin, mama mofo na bâna watra] and songs where the words mama respectively papa are encountered and uttered. ‘Mama na sribi krosi’ by the Golden Gate Boys, ‘Mama’ and ‘Dansi nanga mi papa’ by Bryan Bijlhout are only a few among a great many songs that easily undermine the assertion of Van der Hilst. This differences which I have with Van der Hilst are simply put of an epistemological order, namely how do we both know Sranan? If we’d write ‘mama’ and ‘papa’: Van der Hilst (2008) argues then that that will have consequences too for: sma, psa, kba, sdon (speech modality) and suma, pasa, kaba, sidon (writing modality). “Dit betekent weer dat we iedereen die Sranan wil schrijven, verplichten om ook etymoloog te zijn om ook lang vergeten woordvormen te kennen” (p. 66). And that is the problem with the Van der Hilst model: ‘wanting it both ways’. To cut short: his model is built on shaky ground or inconsistency.
The Van der Hilst model differentiates on the concept of vowel – a standard, nasal, diphthong, prolonged, and various nasal variants, failing at the same time to integrate the concept into a single overarching definition.
Finally the use of double consonants contradicts the ‘historical origin rule’ as explicitly indicated in the second rule (Van der Hilst, 2008, p. 86) and even worse creates serious consequences for the Sranan alphabet, forcing it to adopt besides mono consonants all the double consonants (b, bb, d, dd, f, ff, g, gg, k, kk, m, mm, n, nn, p, pp, s, ss, t, tt, w, ww) within its ranks.

The equivalent of food will be written as nyan-nyan according to the spelling rules. But how do we write: food from the ground gron-nyan-nyan or gron nyan-nyan? How do we write respected one? Is that odi-odi-wan or odi odi-wan? Following the writing rule consequently: will the word ‘na’ then written as ‘nanga’ regarding numbers? So is fifty four then feyfi tenti nanga fo instead of feyfi tenti na fo?
Elaborating on the explicit way of writing: particles as part of the verbal system, namely ‘e’ and ‘o’ should be returned to their origin facilitating more than one speech modality. Thus mi e wroko should be spelled as mi de wroko, while mi o wroko should be spelled as mi de go wroko, enabling ‘mi e wroko’ and ‘mi o wroko’ in the speech modality.
In the case of capital letters: there is broad consensus on initiating a sentence with a capital letter. But how will we write a name of two words with uneven font sizes, as is the case in Open day. Thus will we write: A kra, or A Kra the human soul. By the way how will we apply capital letters in the cult-religious domain? How will we spell Aysa Ground mother? Will we wright the word with an uppercase respectively a lowercase letter?
Then there is the role of the ‘r’. If it elongates the preceding (kori caress) or following sound (wroko work), does the prolonging in the word counts for an accent different from vocals? How will in this regard the following nouns will be spelled: koti wroko or koti-wroko engraving; bari wroko or bari-wroko bekendmaking; seti wroko makandra, setiwrokomakandra or seti-wroko makandra or maybe seti wrokomakandra organisatie? [Footnote: This is an innovation derived from Koorndijk (1994, p. 12). In the last 10 years I introduced setiwroko tetey  for the same concept: organization.]
Next: where do we put the hyphen? Do we suggest to hear na-ngra nail and therefore break the word down to ‘na’ at the end of a sentence, followed by ‘ngra’ in the next line? Or do we suggest to hear nan-ra and therefore break the word down to ‘nan’, followed by ra in the next line? The same applies to words like dungru dark and dangra complicated. It all comes down to how we experience the sounds.
Penultimately: in the case of ‘wan’ as a number and ‘wan’ as an indefinite pronoun it is functional to distinguish from one another by accentuating wan as number (wàn). At the same time accentuating words with accent aigu in: ‘a meki wán oso’ he/she/it has made a house; ‘a síki’ he/she/it is sick (Van der Hilst, 2008, p. 98) is questionable as the words express intensity and are expressed in a elongating way, thus are of an ideophonic order. Here the accent circumflex would fit. So: ‘a meki wân oso’ he/she/it has made a remarkable house ; a sîki he/she/it is very sick respectively sikî.
Ultimately: The lacking in Van der Hilst (1988) of an all ecompassing spelling system implying not only the use of letters but also the use of punctuation – full stop, comma, among others and diacritics – accents of all sorts is recuperated in Van der Hilst (2008, p. 97-114).



Postzegel van de Poelepantjebrug, Paramaribo


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