Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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AFRO-AMERICAN FOLKSONGS
to America had no written language. Among them there was diversity of speech as well as of tribes and customs. The need of a medium of communication between them and their masters was greater than that of a communal lan­guage for themselves; and in its construction they had the help of their masters, who were not averse to a simplifica­tion of their colloquial speech. The African languages were soon forgotten. Dr. Alfred Mercier, who wrote a de­lightful brochure on the grammar of the Creole patois some forty or more years ago,1 says that there were then not more than six or seven African words in the language spoken by the Creoles. His meaning, no doubt, was that only so many words were employed colloquially, for a great many more were in use in the incantations which formed a part of their superstitious rites and in some of the songs which accompanied their orgiastic dances, though their meaning was forgotten. How the black slave proceeded in the construction of a grammar for the speech which he took from the lips of his master is most interestingly described by Dr. Mercier in his pamphlet, on which I have drawn for the following notes:
In the first place, the negro composes the verb. For his present indicative he takes a pronoun and the adjective which qualifies a state of being. He says Mo contan (Je suis content) for "Moi etre content"; he suppresses the infinitive (etre). The present indicative tells us that the action expressed by the verb is doing. You present your­self at the door of a house and say to the negress who opens to your knock that you want to speak to her master. She replies that he dines (qu'il dine); L e., he is dining (qu'il est dinant); to form the present participle she makes use of the pronoun lui (which she pronounces It) and places it before the preposition apres (ape). Of these two words she makes one, lape, to which she adds the infinitive diner— laps dinin—(il est apres diner).
The preposition apres plays an important role in the Creole patois. Dr. Mercier points out that it is used by the
1 ''Eude sur la Langue Creole en Louisiane," evidently printed for private circulation, and bearing neither imprint nor date.
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