Book Review: The Trinidad Dougla: Identity, Ethnicity and Lexical Choice

The Dougla (plural: Douglas) is the offspring of the following seven combinations of parents: African mother and Indian father; African father and Indian mother; African mother and Dougla father; African father and Dougla mother; Indian mother and Dougla father; Indian father and Dougla mother; and Dougla mother and Dougla father. The Trinidad Dougla is the offspring of these combinations of parents in Trinidad. Douglas constitute a social group, and for her PhD dissertation Dr. Regis researched how the choice of 103 lexical items by six of them as they interacted with people in their different partial social networks contributes to the formation of their ethnic identity. She has gone further when converting her study into this book, in part to make it more easily accessible to scholars, researchers, and culture enthusiasts alike.

9781443890793.jpgDr. Regis has found that Dougla identity is polymorphous, with a bias towards what is socially perceived as a greater degree of Indianness in their phenotype. She also determined from a review of the literature that use of Indic words rather than Afric ones was a better measure of the ethnic identity of Douglas. She chose over 200 words from interviews and recordings of Indians who claimed that they deliberately used their language to mark their ethnic identity and who resided in communities ‘deemed Afric, Indic and Neutralʼ (p. 67). From this list, she chose 103 items that appeared in the speech and writing of her Dougla ‘consultantsʼ (or respondents) and that were drawn from different semantic domains in the Indic culture (e.g., kitchen and related activities, insults and taboos, and religion), as well as from the vernacular of Trinidad, Trinidadian English Creole (TrinEC), used by Douglas as well as the general Trinidadian society.

Dr. Regis used Social Network Analysis and Communities of Practice theory to gather and analyse her respondentsʼ use of the targeted lexical items. In respect of her Social Network Analysis, she hypothesized that the six Douglas had three options available to them in the projection of their ethnolinguistic identity, namely:

  1. an allegiance to or alliance with one ethnic group to the exclusion of the other;
  2. the formation of strategic alliances with both ancestral groups; and
  3. the maintenance of an unmarked position avoiding ethnic issues linked to either ancestral group (p. 180).

She found that no single option was chosen; there was ‘no prototypical Dougla identityʼ (p. 182). Instead, ‘different Douglas depending on their circumstances of upbringing, situation and audience select a mixture of these three options in the formation of an identityʼ (p. 157). All the Douglas used salient Indic terms to signal Indic identity; some of them used the TrinEC forms ‘to signify both an alliance with their African ancestry and the adoption of a nationalistic positionʼ; and others used TrinEC forms ‘to signify one or other possibilityʼ (pp. 157-8).

In respect of how the Communities of Practice tool influenced the relevant Douglasʼ lexical choice, Dr. Regis used three of the six respondents and found that one respondent projected ‘a self-motivated unmarked identityʼ (p. 176); a second projected ‘a group-motivated and unmarked identityʼ; and a third ‘a group motivated biased identityʼ (pp. 175-6).

Dr. Regis divided her consultants into three groups: two brought up in stereotypically Indic communities; two brought up in stereotypically Afric communities; and two — one Indic and the other Afric — brought up in neutral communities.

Overall, she found that the consultants and respondents used the items far less frequently than the persons with whom they interacted in their social networks. Nevertheless, ‘the networks of the consultants brought up in stereotypically Indic communities…employed the most Indic lexical items while the networks of the respondents ‘who were brought up in stereotypically Afric communities used the leastʼ (p. 176). The analysis also revealed that the network of the respondent who was brought up in a neutral community was stereotypically Afric and unmarked but that the network of the respondent who was brought up in an equally neutral community was stereotypically Indic.

Dr. Regis has produced a very important work. It is a pioneering study both on a social group that has been neglected by linguistic scholarship and in the field of ethnolinguistics in the Anglophone Caribbean. It informs and expands our sociolinguistic knowledge and understanding of a growing social group in the multiethnic space that is Trinidad.

It also reflects an important goal of The University of the West Indies, which is to have its graduate students engage in research that explores and illuminates Caribbean self-hood in all its critical manifestations.

This book is a start in the field of Caribbean ethnolinguistic research. It has been a pleasure to read. I look forward to Dr. Regis deepening and expanding her research with a far bigger population sample and an expansion of scope to include, as examples, phonological and morphosyntactic considerations.

Dr Winford James

University of the West Indies at Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago


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