Asian Migration and
Linguistic Presence
Parts I & II
General Aims
To examine the history of the migration of
Asians to the Caribbean.
What did the slaves and the planters do when slavery
was abolished and how did this affect
 How did the arrival of substitute labour from (largely)
Asia affect the linguistic picture of the Caribbean?
To examine their mark on the linguistic situation
on countries such as Guyana, Jamaica and
Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname (to a lesser
extent Cuba).
Asian Migration -- Background
British Colonies at the time
 Jamaica,
Antigua, Dominica, St. Lucia,
Barbados, St. Vincent, Grenada, Trinidad,
Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana -- large
Antigua, Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados,
St. Vincent, Grenada – small territories
Asian Migration --Background
Martinique, Guadeloupe
Some territories had no immigration
 Haiti,
Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico & Barbados
Asian Migration -- Background
The Apprenticeship system ended in 1838.
 Mass
exodus from the plantations on the
larger islands (this will help to inform us why
different colonies had different numbers of
 Labour
shortage on larger plantations.
Asian Migration - Background
Marshall (in Beckles and Shepherd 1996)
outlines three views of what Africans did
upon emancipation.
 They
were so horrified by slavery they left the
plantations (where they could) and set up
small villages in the interiors of territories (the
Jamaican experience being the typical
Asian Migration - Background
 In
general, they stayed on plantations but
many left eventually when wages/working
conditions did not prove favorable (typically
 Africans
so acculturated to forced labour they
vowed never to do arduous work of any type.
Asian Migration - Background
In Cuba abolition did not trigger a flight of
 Many
slaves became waged labourers, often in
similar conditions to the life under slavery –in
barracks, genders typically separated but a
growing reconstitution of family life around the
provision grounds.
 Others
joined “caudrillas” or work gangs who hired
themselves out to plantations and who moved
depending on the terms of employment.
Asian Migration - Background
Situation seemed to be similar for the
French colonies. Eric Williams reports the
following: 
32,000 (h.c.) Martinique
43,794 (wkrs)
32,000 (h.c.) Guadeloupe
51,659 (wkrs)
Asian Migration --Background
In Jamaica and Guyana substantial
numbers of ex-slaves remained as waged
 Hall
Golden Grove Estate
500 workers
400 workers
Asian Migration -- Background
Labour began to leave the plantations
(where they could) when planters began
to charge rent for provision grounds and
housing and when wages became
uncompetitive (this is in a context of
falling sugar prices and general economic
Asian Migration --background
In the colonies of Barbados, Antigua and
St. Kitts – so called high density colonies–
where arable land was scarce because of
the geography and the scope of the
estates, labour was plentiful.
Asian Migration - Background
The West Indian planters pressed for
liberal immigration policies to solve their
labour problems. A number of
immigration schemes were tried.
 West
 Phased
out in 1865/1870 for grater reliance on
Indian immigrants
 European
(poor English and Scots, French,
Asian Migration --Background
 Portuguese
 North
from Madeira
Asian Migrants – Why were they
brought to the Caribbean?
All other schemes were unproductive.
They came chiefly to solve labour
problems i.e. to satisfy the labour
shortage on the plantations.
 Planters
required cheap consistent labour. “The
indenture system was a purely economic
undertaking, and no attention was paid to the
possible implications of introducing one more
ethnic component into the West Indies” (Black et
al 1976:53)
Asian Migrants—Who came from
Two main Asian groups came to the
 Chinese
 Indians
 Asians,
by far, dominated numerically.
Map of Asia
Asian Migration – Who came from
As early as 1806 efforts were made to
import people from Hong Kong (China) ,
Singapore (Malaysia) and Calcutta (India)
to settle as peasant farmers and to
replace Negro domestic slaves in Trinidad.
Asian Migration -- China
Chinese were recruited mainly from Canton.
They were generally Hakka/Cantonese
After the mid 19th Century a large number came
to the West Indies as contract labourers, but
they tended to drift into towns, where they
acted as brokers and distributors of food and
small shopkeepers.
Asian Migration -- China
Between 1853 and 1879, British Guiana
imported more than 14,000 Chinese workers,
with a few going to some of the other colonies
The Chinese languages brought to the
Caribbean were
Mandarin?? (to the extent that standard speakers
migrated to the West Indies)
Asian Migration -- India
In July 1844 the British government gave
permission for West Indian colonies to
import labour from India chiefly at their
own expense (minor imperial assistance).
Calcutta and Madras were designated as
ports of embarkation in India.
Asian Migration -- India
Recruiting agents were paid bounties (per
Indians were recruited from the cities and
the depressed areas of the Granges Valley.
In 1846 the first shipload of 226 Indians
arrived in Trinidad from Calcutta.
Asian Migration – India & China
According to the rules, they(Indians) were
to be
 Allotted
to estates in parties of 20-25 or 50
under a headman or sidar.
 Given medical care, housing, provision
grounds, monthly food rations, yearly
allotments of clothing and free return passage
after their contracts expired.
Asian Migration –India & China
 Contracts
were for five years; nine hours per
day; six days per week
 Immigrants
were bound to reside on the
plantations which indentured them.
 Land
grants (among other more dishonorable
tactics) were used to induce immigrants to
remain on plantations after their contracts
Asian Migration -- India
The Indian indentureship system was abolished
Between 1838 and 1917, nearly half a million
East Indians (from British India) came to work
on the British West Indian sugar plantations, the
majority going to the new sugar producers with
fertile lands. Trinidad imported 145,000;
Jamaica, 21,500; Grenada, 2,570; St. Vincent,
1,820; and St. Lucia, 1,550.
Asian Migration cont’d
Chinese were the main immigrants to Cuba. By
1877 Cuba had 54,000 Chinese. (Indentureship
in Cuba abolished in 1921)
37, 000 Indians up to 1921, 4, 500 Chinese up to
Guyana 1838 – 1900
165,000 Indians, 13,000 Chinese, 12,000 Portuguese
Asian Migration cont’d
 Indians
42,500, Africans 6,500, Chinese 500,
Madeira, 413, Japanese 500
 22,000
Javanese (1890- 1939). By 1971 the
Surinamese Javanese community numbered
60,000, comprising 16% of the population of
the colony. 34,000 Indians (1873-1916)
Asian Migration cont’d
Trinidad (1845-1916)
 145,000
Indians, & 4,000 Chinese
Indian languages which were
brought to the Caribbean
Bhojpuri speakers were not the first Indian
indentured labourers to be brought to the
Caribbean. For the first 15 years of organized
emigration most recruits came from Chhota
Nagpur, the Calcutta hinerland and Calcutta
These people were native speakers of Bengali,
Oraon, Mundari and Santali and Tamil (recruits
brought from the Port in Madras)
Indian languages cont’d
Of these first language only Tamil took
root in tiny pockets for almost a century in
 By 1860 recruiting concentrated on
Bihar where regional dialects of Bhojpuri,
Maithili and Maghi were spoken and later
on Uttar Pradash where Western Bhojpuri
and the Eastern Hindi dialects, mainly
Avadhi were found.
Indian languages cont’d
Some labourers also came from further west and
spoke dialects of Western Hindi and Braj.
Note---Though all labourers were Hindi speakers
they actually spoke geographical varieties which
were very different from each other and since
labourers were uneducated they did not know
Standard Hindi or Urdu.
Linguistic impact of Asian Migration
Introduction of new languages into the
language mosaic which already existed in
the Caribbean.
 For Indians – there were new patterns of
language contact, both internal and
external, resulting in many linguistic
Linguistic impact of Indian Migration
There was increased interaction among
speakers of the different geographical
In the new environment (Caribbean) they
needed linguistic unity.
This led to dialect levelling and dialect
Linguistic impact of Indian Migration
There were external contacts with Indigenous,
European and Creole languages which caused
large scale borrowing and some structural
Vertovec (1996) provides an 1855 comment
“when these people meet in Trinidad it strikes
one as somewhat strange that they may have to
point to water and rice and ask each other what
they call it in their language.”
Linguistic impact of Indian migration
For Indians – the development of a new
varieties of Hindi (Overseas Hindi) distinct
from any form of Hindi in India. Each
developed under similar social and
historical conditions yet have been
maintained in varying degrees.
Overseas Hindi
Among the places where what is referred
to as Overseas Hindi developed were
Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname.
Guyanese Bhojpuri
Indians emigrated form 1838 – 1916 (78
Today Guyanese Bhojpuri is used only in a
very limited way by members of the oldest
generations in rural areas.
Guyanese Bhojpuri cont’d
Rural men and women over 60 ---bilingual in GB
and Creole/English
Between 35 and 59 years ---passive bilinguals
Under 35 –monolingual in Creole/English
GB has very limited use in the home but is used
in some folksongs.
Trinidad Bhojpuri
Indians emigrated between 1845 and
Spoken by old, usually rural Indians. It
has been displaced by Trinidad English
NB—Standard Hindi is an important ethnic
language in Trinidad today.
Sarnami Hindi/Sarnami
Between 1873 and 1916 some 34,000
Indian labourers left North India for
Suriname two thirds of which settled there
(Damssteegt 2002:249).
In 1980s there were approximately
130,000 speakers (Damsteegt 2002:251).
Sarnami Hindi/Sarnami
Hindustani/Sarnami cont’d
Although there is widespread bilingualism there
has not been a significant shit to Sranan (the
local Creole) or Dutch (the official language).
Sarnami Hindi is the only variety of Overseas
Hindi which has been recognized as a language
in its own rights but is not extensively used
outside informal contexts.
Social factors and the loss of Asian
vernaculars in most C’bbean Terr.
All instances of language death are the
result of language shift.
Investigating the processes leading to
language death therefore means studying
language shift situations.
Social factors and language
With regard to the phenomenon of
language death two levels are involved.
 The
environment –political, historical,
economic and linguistic realities.
 The
speech community –patters of language
use and attitudes
Social factors and language loss…
Concerning the first level – the environment–
factors such as status, demography, institutional
support (education and employment), time and
space, urbanization, occupation, contact with
other groups, pragmatics, access to information,
entertainment and the arts, cultural (dis)
similarity are relevant.
These influence the second level –speech
community (patters of language use and
Social factors and language
In terms of causal relations then, changes
within the speech community very often
have to be understood as reactions
towards environmental changes.
Minority languages are the ones
threatened by extinction in language shift
Social factors and language
The minority language has to be valued
highly by the members of a speech
community in order for it to survive a
generally hostile environment.
Patterns of language choice reflect
language attitudes.
Social factors and language
In cases of language shift one has to
investigate underlying changes in attitude
towards the languages involved, that is
the abandoned language and the target
language. Additionally investigations have
to be made into
Social factors and language loss…
 Internal
pressure on minority languages such
as limited communication yield caused by
restricted distribution of the language.
 External
pressures on minority languages
such as stigmatization, exclusion from
education and political participation and
economic deprivation.
Social factors and language
The actual process of abandoning a
language may be observed in a decrease
 Number
of speakers
 Functional domains
 Competence
Social factors affecting language
maintenance and shift
Asian vernaculars in general have had no
practical value -- they have never been
(widely) used in broadcasting,
newspapers, information distribution or
entertainment in the form of films,
education, employment etc. European
varieties are used for these purposes.
Social factors cont’d
Pragmatic aspects
Concerns how widely the language is used and the
benefits gained by its use.
In Guyana and Trinidad OH is dying because the
oldest generation of speakers did not regard the
language as having practical value, so it was not
transmitted. Languages have practical value in areas
such as education, employment, wider
communication, access to information, entertainment
etc. Situation is similar for the Chinese.
Social factors cont’d
Urbanization and Occupation
Language shift usually occurs more readily in urban
areas because of the increased contact. People
usually migrate to urban areas in search of greater
employment opportunities.
Language shift from Overseas Hindi in Trinidad and
Guyana is more extensive in urban areas. (In general,
urbanization does not necessarily lead to widespread
language shift, but when the shift begins, it may
occur more rapidly among the urban population.
Social factors cont’d
Urbanization and Occupation cont’d
Maintenance of occupation promotes language
maintenance. Mohan and Zabor (1986:315) report a
close relationship between having been a labourer on
the sugar estates and high competence in Trinidad
Two factors which have conditioned the near loss
Trinidad and Guyanese Bhojpuri therefore are the
shift in occupation and urbanization.
Social factors cont’d
 Chinese
were not a numerically dominant
group (except in Cuba). Numerically nondominant groups are usually under pressure
to conform.
Social factors affecting language
maintenance and shift
 Size
of the group is sometimes an ambivalent
factor. The expectation is that the large size
of the Indian communities would have
encouraged language maintenance. In terms
of actual numbers the country with the
smallest Indian population, Suriname has one
of the thriving varieties of overseas Hindi.
Social factors cont’d
Time and space can also be an ambivalent
factor. Longer history of migration is
usually a factor in language maintenance
but Suriname which had the shortest
years of Indian migration is the only
speech community with OH thriving.
 Trinidad
(71years), Guyana (78 years)
Suriname (43years).
Social factors cont’d
Contact with other groups.
 Related
to urbanization and occupation—less
contact, the greater the chance of
maintenance. Indians working and living in
sugar estates in the rural areas are usually
isolated from other groups (Guyana).
Social factors cont’d
Education and Employment
 European
languages served as official in
Caribbean territories before and after
independence. In Trinidad and Guyana, OH
has no official place in education and
 Gambhir (1981:3) the major reason for the
shift from OH has been the importance of
learning English for success in education, for
economic gain and for political power.
Social factors cont’d
Wider communication
 No
Asian vernaculars have been useful for
intergroup communication. The advantage of
having another language for wider
communication within a country may be an
important factor in language shift. (In
Suriname however, Sranan is the lingua franca
but there has been no shift from Sarnami -ethnicity issues)

Asian Migration and Linguistic Presence