Having spent decades working and researching outside of his native Trinidad and Tobago, on his return to Trinidad in the early 2000s, Mervyn Alleyne began to record his thoughts and observations on aspects of the phonetics and phonology of Trinidadian speech in the 21st century, as well as elements of morphosyntax, including Kortmann’s ‘vernacular angloversals’. In personal correspondence and classroom and other discussions, Alleyne noted that it is entirely possible to hear discourse that incorporates the grammar of International Standard English (ISE) but the phonology of non-standard Trinidadian English (TrE) and Trinidadian English Creole (TrEC) varieties. It is the phonetics and phonology of the latter two (overlapping) systems he wished to interrogate. He stimulated exchanges on the yet undescribed phonology of non-standard TrE, including the phonotactics of syllable codas, palatalisation, the schwa, and vowel mergers. Alleyne was particularly interested in comparisons of vowel systems across Caribbean varieties and others in the hemisphere. One very specific area of great interest to him was that of vowel mergers in contemporary Trinidadian speech.
Using J.C. Wells’ lexical sets as a standardised reference and starting point, we can observe four vowel mergers in both standard and non-standard TrE, much like TrinEC. All varieties may include the following four vowel mergers, with examples: a) TRAP and BATH/START/PALM (the latter all merging to TRAP), b) LOT and STRUT (with homophones for golf and gulf, box and bucks, and body and buddy; on the other hand, hugs may be hypercorrected to hogs, and commerce sounding like commercial), c) CLOTH and NORTH/FORCE (with boss and horse rhyming), and d) NURSE and STRUT (nurse and nuss as per Early Modern English). Standard(ising?) TrinE, on the other hand, has lost any distinction between NEAR and SQUARE, whereas TrinEC preserves the separation of these two vowel phonemes. This paper seeks to interrogate some of those aspects of the phonetics and phonology of Trinidadian speech of interest to Alleyne and to forge the way forward for ongoing research, documentation and analysis.