Friday, October 23, 2009

No Woman No Cry ≠ No Pain No Gain: On negation in Jamaican Creole

In the course of searching for examples of linguistically interesting phenomena in reggae music (for my historical linguistics class), I have naturally had occasion to research some of the songs of the great Bob Marley, one of most well-known of which is "No Woman, No Cry". I have encountered various interpretations of the line "no woman, no cry"--one predominant one being "if you have no woman, you have no reason to cry" (on the model "no pain, no gain"), another being "there is no woman who does not cry" (see here for representative interpretations and discussion). The correction interpretation seems to be "no, woman, don't cry" as evidenced by the line "oh little darling, don't shed no tears".

Interestingly, Dawes[1]:119 remarks that the actual lyrics are "no woman, nuh cry", where nuh is equivalent to Standard English don't. But in the version of the song I was most familiar with, the live 1975 performance in London, the refrain is clearly "no woman, no cry":
(1) "no woman, no cry" [Live! (London 1975)]
[full song on Youtube here]
However, in fact, in the earlier Natty Dread recording of 1974 the line can be heard clearly as "no woman, nuh cry":
(2) "no woman, nuh cry" [Natty Dread (1974)]
[full song on Youtube here]
So, did Marley (intentionally or otherwise) eliminate the Jamaican Creole [JC] shibboleth nuh in his live London performance?

Possibly, since, at least to my ear, another JC shibboleth has disappeared in the Live! (1975) version: little as /likḷ/ (see the posting "A 'Likkle' sound change in Jamaican Creole English"):
(3) “oh lik-oh likkle (/likḷ/?) darlin’, don’t shed no tears; no woman, nuh cry” [Natty Dread 1974]

(4) “oh my little (/liɾḷ/?) darlin’, don’t shed no tears; no woman, no cry” [Live! 1975]
So did Marley 'decreolise' the song in the live 1975 London performance? Is this what accounts for theno/nuh and little/likkle variation? The data are complicated by the fact that later in the Natty Dread version of the song (at 2:29) the line sounds like "no woman, no cry"--just as in the 1975 Live! version:
(5) "no woman, no cry" [Natty Dread at 2.29]
Are we then simply dealing with some sort of free (or prosodically-conditioned) variation between no and nuh? Is nuh the unstressed version of no in JC?

Turning to descriptions of JC morphosyntax: Patrick[2] states that the simplest and most common sentential negation in JC is no, which is reducible to nuh /na/, adding that most JC speakers also have a tense-neutral form duon[t]. Adams[3]:34-5 provides examples of JC sentential negation occurring as don' (~duon[t]) and no:
(6) Dem don' cook herly. ("They don't cook early.")
(7) Him no say. ("He doesn't say.")
For the negative imperative, Patrick[2] notes that either no or duont may occur, but he says that no "requires an expletive verb bada (< bother) while duont, being verbal, requires none", as in (7) and (8), respectively.
(7) No bada gwaan bad. ("Don't misbehave.")
(8) Duont gwaan bad. ("Don't misbehave.")
So neither "no woman, nuh cry" nor "no woman, no cry" matches Patrick's description of JC negative imperatives: that is, in JC it seems that we should expect either "no woman, duont cry" or "no woman, no bada cry". [Doing a google search for "no bada cry", I do find one example: fast car alone mi drive dawg...............................joke, no bada cry (from Wheels Jamaica).]

Do both the Natty Dread and Live! versions of the line represent some sort of compromise between JC and "Standard" English (a mesolectal form)? Or is nuh also a possible negation in JC negative imperative, with the Live! version "no cry" representing a decreolised/hypercorrected negation? Or are both no and nuh possible JC negative imperative forms?

Another possibility: is "no woman, nuh cry" really an imperative? Could the "nuh" actually be naa?
Naa is a form Patrick[2] explains as a coalescence of no with the progressive particle a, adding that the latter occurs both "for [present] progressive and for periphrastic future". Representative examples:
(9) Nabadii na a kom ina mai aus. (Roberts[4]:36)
"Nobody is going to come into my house."

(10) Don’t me done tell yuh seh me na go do nutten again. (Sistren[5]:70)
"Haven’t I told you already that I’m not going to do anything further?"
Thus could "no woman, naa cry" then mean "no woman is going to cry"? [Note that JC has negative spread, as can be seen in examples like (9) and (10).] In which case, the Live! version "no cry" would again represent a decreolised/hypercorrect form.

My suspicion is that both no and nuh will turn out to be possible mesolectal negative imperative negators (this is suggested also by the sporadic occurrence of "no cry" in the Natty Dread version). Still, whatever the case, it is interesting that Marley's live London performance of "No Woman, No Cry" seems to suppress JC shibboleths found in the Natty Dread version.

Perhaps native JC speakers and creolists could weigh in here?

[1]Dawes, Kwame. 2002. Bob Marley: Lyrical genius. London: Sanctuary.
[2]Patrick, Peter L. 2004. “Jamaican Creole: Morphology and syntax.” In A Handbook of Varieties of English. Vol 2: Morphology and Syntax, ed. Bernd Kortmann, Edgar W Schneider, Clive Upton, Rajend Mesthrie & Kate Burridge. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 407-438. [online prepublication draft]
[3]Adams, L. Emile. 1991. Understanding Jamaican Patois: An introduction to Afro-Jamaican grammar. Kingston (Jamaica): Kingston Publishers.
[4]Roberts, Peter. 1973. "Speech of 6-year-old Jamaican children". Society for Caribbean Linguistics Occasional Paper No. 1. Mona (Jamaica): University of the West Indies (Caribbean Language Research Programme).
[5]Sistren, with Honor Ford-Smith. 1987. Lionheart Gal: Life-stories of Jamaican Women. Toronto: Sister Vision.
[6]Durrleman-Tame, Stephanie. 2005. "Notes on the Left Periphery in Jamaican Creole". Generative Grammar in Geneva 4:113-157. [web-version]

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