Bocas News

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Judge Spotlight: Lise Winer

By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2012 Bocas Lit fest blogger


“I’m very interested in things that look like something but aren’t, things that are marginalized and misunderstood…I was very interested in the question of historical development, because Trinidad was this meeting place of some very great cultural inputs: African, Spanish, French, British and East Indian. Much more so than any other place in the Caribbean.”

These were among the remarks of Lise Winer, a Canadian scholar with an acute, intimate interest in Caribbean language, excerpted from Mark Shainblum’s article “The Language that Wasn’t: Lise Winer’s passionate quest for the language of Trinidad” (fully accessible here). If ‘acute’ and ‘intimate’ sound too intense, it’s worth noting that Winer’s lexical curiosity has given rise to a definitive examination on language patterns, commonalities and anomalies in her publication Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago, widely and highly regarded as the definitive guide to how Trinis speak. If you shouted it out while in your cups at the corner rumshop, or maco-ed it as it was whispered, sotto voce, during Holy Communion, the odds favour it being chronicled in Winer’s dictionary. Here are some thoughts from reviewers in the region:

From Caribbean Beat (full review accessible here) Judy Raymond says:

“…like any good dictionary, it’s not just useful for looking up words, but is a jolly good read in itself. Its sources range from Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul to the weekly tabloid newspaper The Bomb. It defines words and phrases that encompass the amusing and enlightening, the obscene and the obsolete; from abentana,  “the space between four cocoa trees planted in squares, used to plant shade trees and food crops” to zeef, as in the phrase make a zeef, “to show off; make a big impression but with not much serious behind it” – a national bad habit encapsulated in one terse definition.”

From The Caribbean Review of Books (full review accessible here) Brendan de Caires says:

“Weighing in at just over five pounds, and with the familiar fimbriated black slash of the national flag sloping proudly across its front cover, this handsome doorstopper arguably evokes the living reality of Trinidad in ways that bear comparison with the fiction of Antoni, Selvon, Lovelace, and V.S. Naipaul, and for my money it deserves to keep them company on the bookshelves of any self-respecting Trickidadian (a term that “can be negative or admiring”).”

In closing, enjoy this brief but grin-inducing report of Winer’s account of her most memorable moment as a student at the UWI St. Augustine campus, recorded during the university’s 50th Anniversary Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony. Stay tuned, won’t you? Tomorrow we’ll be meeting our first poetry judge!
Author photo copyrighted, here.