St. Croix author Robin Sterns is planning a number of events to celebrate publication of her new book, Say it in Crucian! A Complete Guide to Today's Crucian for Speakers of Standard English.
The book, featuring everyday phrases, a basic linguistics, conversations, stories, retold fairytales, a brief linguistic history of St. Croix and a Crucian/Standard English dictionary, is being published by Antilles Press.
Sterns, who holds a Ph.D. in creative writing from Florida State University, has taught English, creative writing and journalism at several universities. This book grew out of collaborative research she engaged in with her research-writing students at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix campus.
"This book began as a nefarious plot, a typical English teacher ploy to get her terminally bored students to focus on the grammar and structure—and ultimately, the beauty—of their native language," Sterns wrote in the book's foreword.
"I’ve been engaged in some version of this plot at various universities for nearly 30 years, and it became much more interesting when I returned in 2005 to the University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus, where most of my students could "code-switch" effortlessly between Crucian and Standard English. Many also speak several other languages and creoles. I decided to alter my research-writing course so students could research and write about their language uses (while I was secretly honing their Standard English)," she said.
Early projects included students' analyzing all the ways they use language and developing glossaries of their favorite words and expressions. Eventually the research expanded into a comparative linguistics.
"I armed the students with basics on Standard English - options for forming questions or negative constructions, or when to use subjective or objective pronouns. The students then engaged in original research to determine the patterns, rules and exceptions to those rules in Crucian," she said.
Whenever two distinct language groups encounter each other, a pidgin results. Pidgin is a vastly simplified mixture of two or more languages with a basic grammar and vocabulary. No one uses the pidgin as a first language; it is simply a basis for rudimentary communication. When, over time, children start learning the pidgin as their first language, and it eventually becomes the mother tongue of a community, it becomes a creole.
Many linguists list Virgin Islands creole - the English-based creole spoken on St. Croix for the past 300 years or so - as a dying language, because it has become "infected" with elements of Standard English, patterns from other creoles, urban and hip-hip slang, as the impacts of people from elsewhere to St. Croix, television and the Internet have changed the ways people communicate.
"But I learned it's very popular among today's young people on St. Croix," Sterns said. "They speak it, they text it, they have groups on Facebook devoted to it."
The book Say it in Crucian! is an outcome of the research Sterns' students did and Sterns' nearly 18 years experience on island. The book is full of specific examples of Crucian as today's young people speak it, with handy (if overblown and tongue-in-cheek) Standard English translations.
World-famous linguist Derek Bickerton, who was kind enough to review a draft of the book, said, "Say it in Crucian! is a reader-accessible guide to the language of St. Croix that combines a wealth of spicy and vividly up-to-the-minute examples with a level of linguistic and sociolinguistic savvy seldom found in popular introductions. It presents its topic in a way that provides fun for the tourist as well as solid information for the expert. If only every creole language had a book like this!"
Highlights include an original story by Anika Johnson illustrating how young people switch between Standard English and Crucian, as a student struggles for control over an unruly classroom, and "Crucian Cinderella," by Miquelina Valdes, which takes the traditional fairytale and places it thoroughly on St. Croix.
An excerpt from "Crucian Cinderella" (and its straightlaced Standard English translation) illustrates the book's content: "Gyal cack up she bana and swing it from lef to right. Boy, dem hatas was vex!" ("She started dancing very fetchingly, much to the dismay of those who were jealous of her.")
Sterns also provided graphic design for the book, which has a colorful, post-modern 1950s feel. "I wanted the look of the book to be as hip as my students," she said.
Starting at the end of November, the book will be available at Undercover Books, the UVI St. Croix bookstore and the Whim Store. It will be available through amazon.com as well. Price is $19.95. ISBN: 978-0-916611-06-4. Caution: The book contains adult content.
Sterns is rushing to build a companion website, cruciandictionary.com. She will post the dictionary content from the book and will then invite users to add words, phrases, their definitions and examples of their usage, in hopes of supporting a living snaphot of today's Crucian.
For more information on the book or website, please contact Sterns at email@example.com