Kwasi KoorndijkSranantongoSurinaamse taal

Coding and decoding in Sranan

Coding and decoding in Sranan

Coding and decoding in Sranan; the writing-speaking controversity. A critical review of the Eddy van der Hilst spelling 

By brada Kwasi Koorndijk

Amsterdam, June 16, 2016

‘Brada’ is the label for males in the African-Surinamese tradition, while ‘Kwasi’ reflects not only my first name but also a west African tradition i.e. to say a male born on sunday. I am a transformationist par excellence. Some may describe me as a reformer in the sense of episte-mology, ontology and ethics and as a consequence of methodology. These subjects i.e. epistemology, ontology and ethics will be addressed in detail in future performances. In this discourse I present myself as a transformationist in the field of the use and the study of Sranan. This presentation is only the introduction in the frame work of renewal.

Although I don’t have a professional backbone in linguistics – I do enjoy formally a BSc degree in postal and telegraphic management and a MSc degree in  industrial anthropology – I will touch upon a subject that is of linguistic concern, the spelling of the Surinamese lingua franca, Sranan, also known as Sranantongo. This implies that my essay doesn’t necessarily back up the linguistics conventions with its own terminology.

The main question to be answered in this essay is:

What are the insights of the Van Der Hilst spelling and what are the implications for his theory?



This essay exhibits to the reader a serious attempt by Eddy van der Hilst to decolonize the spelling practices of the Surinamese public pitting the spelling guidelines and customs of Dutch against that of Sranan, showing the inconsistencies of Dutch and English spelling, at the same time exposing the underlying pitfalls in the building blocks of his Sranan spelling. In a close examination I found, in essence, that the basic rule to differentiate between writing and speaking is violated by both skipping – in writing sometimes – in between vocals in words and introducing sometimes double consonants as well in the writing modality that are both assigned to the speak modality.

Main goal and motivation

The purpose of this treatise is rather to elicit opinions of scholars than to be merely critical of an influential exponent of Sranan by far, Eddy van der Hilst. At the same time there are some occurrences that explain the release of this essay. In the first place Sranan is experiencing a revival in Holland and Suriname. This could be backed up by dictation competitions in Holland and Suriname, the increasing use of Sranan in the official scene, code switching in the favor of Sranan[1], and increasing efforts off- and online to teach Sranan. Justly observed in a mail exchange with me: “Het schrijven van het Sranantongo in Nederland en in Suriname staat in de belangstelling …van mensen die meedoen aan spellingdictees of ze organiseren, maar ook op allerlei internetfora schrijft men in het Sranantongo en heeft men het er over. Roue Verveer schrijft in zijn boek over opvoeden op z’n surinaams (creools) ook allerhande opvoedingsadviezen in het Sranantongo”  (M. van den Berg, personal communication, April 7, 2016). Van Den Berg apparently makes reference  to: Waarom? Daarom! Opvoeden op z’n Surinaams by the former mentioned. But the interest in Sranan is not in the least to be understood in the frame work of major developments in Suriname. There is a language law and an advisory board in preparation by the National Assembly of Suriname which will rule and exercise oversight on the input of the different languages for public interest, including Sranan[2].

On the backdrop of all of these occurrences there is a playing field of competing views on the spelling of Sranan which becomes manifest for instance in the dictation matches. Simply put, one of the recurrent debates is: should we write with ‘i’ or ‘y’ at the end of a word? This spelling rivalry will be put in historical perspective below (Introduction).

I normally comment on the texts produced by high profile text writers who are invited as volunteers by the dictation organizing bodies.  On November 15, 2015 there was the yearly held ‘Sranan dictation’ which I commented on at great length in a radio programme. I was asked to be a juror at that event and in my role later as radio commentator I promised a review of the Sranan spelling promoted by Van Der Hilst because I saw many inconsistencies in his spelling. At the same time there’s the unease that Sranan evolves in isolation from the diaspo-ra i.e. Holland. In the wake of this unease there’s the complicating factor of unwillingness respectively the inability to reach out to one another.



I’m indebted to a bunch of actors who contributed to this exposition. Thanks a lot Gracia Blanker and Ninan Esajas for your eulogies made in favour of me. I thank John Sno for his eye openers with regard to the spelling used in this text as well as his critical insights. I also thank my mentor Jahzreel Strijk for his critical insights concerning my style of writing against the backdrop of this era. This alerted me to be even more self-critical. His gratitude expressed to me was sincere. I’m most of all indebted to Kasper Juffermans and Margot van den Berg, two scholars of linguistics. Both Kasper and Margot provided me with relevant literature and substantive criticism. Their insights made me more explicit in my treatment of the subject under review.


As I once learned academic efforts should be maximally subjected to criticism. And reviews aren’t an exception in this respect. An academic effort shouldn’t be subjected to a culture (customs) but rather to the basics, because “the-way-we-do-business” could be opposed to formalities and even against general methodological rules as I have experienced over and over again. Because it bothers me I decided to subject myself to a maximum of scrutiny. This implies that in the early stages leading up to the product (this review) my own work must be exposed to a diversity of opinions, applying at the same time self-criticism and ethics, fencing off politics in the academic field, while showing vulnerability – the acknowledgment of being biased beforehand by education, culture, literature and so on. This plays into the figure I have come to know years ago as the ‘scientific spirit’ reading Cervo & Bervian (1983)[3] – features built in the scientific spirit that are not innate in people. Instead it’s a life-long conquest at the cost of many efforts and exercises (pp.17-20). Although I can’t make any claim to be gifted by the scientific spirit it is worthwhile to strive for this properties.

Anyway the concept of ‘the scientific spirit’ is encountered to a great extent in different codes of conduct, among others, in The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, De Nederlandse Gedragscode Wetenschapsbeoefening, and  Advies van de KNAW-Commissie Onderzoeksgegevens.

In next contributions I’ll return to this concept, reviewing it altogether in the light of an adequate methodology to do research in general and especially researching Sranan.

When I announced in ‘Tongo tori’[4]  that I’d write a review on the spelling of Van Der Hilst I had made a promise and I couldn’t backtrack. I therefore make myself accountable now to the reader concerning the steps taken in this piece of work.

Steps taken in the process:

I first brought a preparatory-review in to the attention of linguists, who in my view could give a maximum of inputs as linguists – as of broaden the base of relevant networkers, the content, structure, style, language use, platforms and forums eligible for publication, and so on. At the same time the draft was brought to the attention of various activists known to the public of Suriname. As I noted I didn’t want to play politics excluding the public from the process and the essay as a product of it. So the draft was distributed in advance among some circles rooted in the Suriname society – media officers, writers, Sranan teachers  – so that nobody could feel excluded beforehand as is the case in too many intellectual contributions of this kind fending them off from competing insights. The draft was at a next stage posted on facebook, with reference to my Consultancy website[5] in order to get competing views and criticism from the public. Finally I gave Eddy van der Hilst by e-mail the opportunity to influence the draft by contradicting my findings and to give his latest insights with regard to the statements made in this regard. Because Eddy didn’t respond within the specified time of 2 weeks I felt free to close the consulting session and move to the formal procedures in order to get the paper published in various forums.


As language trainer and activist of the Surinamese lingua franca, Sranan or Sranantongo, I will draw upon Skrifi Sranantongo, leysi en bun tu (Van Der Hilst, 1988) referring at the same time where appropriate to the follow up De spelling van het Sranan. Hoe en waarom zo (Van Der Hilst, 2008).  First there is a break down per chapter as even most Sranan speakers lack reading skills. Then I give my Commentary. For practical reasons the words ‘spelling’ and ‘orthography’ are treated interchangeable in this exposition. Finally: there are phonological aspects to be commented on which for practical reasons will be left out in this frame work.

In his 16 chapters encompassing book (Van Der Hilst, 1988) the writer proofs to be a grass root linguist as the phonetic script  (e as in sèm same; ɔ as in sòf soft drink; ŋ as in man can) is thoroughly embedded in his account, while the exposure of speech is explained in great detail. Van Der Hilst also vents his good teachership by convincing the reader of the laws guiding Sranan, backing his statements up with clear examples, although (sub)sections would help a lot to wrestle through the mass information given in the various chapters. Another aspect is of methodological concern: there are neihter inline citations nor is there a reference list involved. However in the follow-up, i.e. Van Der Hilst (2008) major developments were made on this front. But all in all as Sranan activist I consider Van Der Hilst (1988) worth reading as the writer chose to report in the lingua franca of Suriname, contributing to the lexicon of Sranan in a technical sense, although the complaints of his readers were massive because of their analphabetism in Sranan (Van Der Hilst (2008, pp. 5, 22).

Van Der Hilst (2008) characterizes his spelling doctrine as: one sound per sign and one sign per sound (p. 22). Thus everywhere of a word where there is a letter of the Sranan alphabet involved there will be only one particular sound produced as in reverse only one particular sound is attached to a particular symbol of the alphabet.

Much to the credit of the author can be said that he highlighted the debate concerning spelling in general and especially with regard to the writing of falling diphthongs, i.e. should we write for instance: ai or ay, ui or uy? Van Der Hilst brought the debate to an academic level and gave a person-in-environment perspective into the Sranan language.



The spelling history of Sranan is comparable to the history of the country Sranan (Suriname), the ‘host’ of the language, Sranan. As Sranan is regarded as conquered land so is Sranan to be seen as conquered language, as of the orthography of Sranan. “Thus one of the earliest orthographies, that of the Moravian missionary Schumann (1783), was based on the spelling system of German” (Sebba, 2000, p. 929). The year 1824 marks the starting point of Dutch spelling conventions, together with a concern for etymology[6] and homonym[7] avoidance (Sebba, idem, p. 930). “In practice, this orthography became fixed by its use in the Sranan version of the New Testament, Da Njoe Testament vo wi Masra en helpiman Jezus Kristus, published in 1829” (Sebba, idem, p. 930). This orthography was based on the Dutch writing system, while the pronounciation of each word is as it would be in German (p. 932).

In the 1950’s the ideological debate had further polarized in that there could be found at the spectrum on the one hand spelling systems of ecclesiastical origin opposed to the one used in scientific literature – Voorhoeve and Peé are among the exponents of this movement – and that of JGA Koenders, an orthography which was later adopted by the grasroot movement Wie Eegie Sanie (pp. 932-933). In 1960 a government commission chaired by Lou Lichtveld produced an orthography (Gouvernementsblad van Suriname, 1960, no. 90) that was revised by an other government commission in 1986 under the chair of André Kramp (Stichting Volkslectuur Suriname, 1995, p. 10); Staatsblad van de Republiek Suriname (1986). no. 40. Judging by Defares (1982, p. 49) there are two groups at the table: one that parts from the proposition that Dutch remains the official language of Suriname and therefore furthering a Dutch orthography sphere of influence – the use of ‘i’ – regarding the falling diphthongs, while in the other group there is the believe that the Sranan spelling should have an international profile – the use of in between sound writing the diphthongs, thus ‘y’ instead of ‘i’ regarding the falling diphthongs. These controverse became manifest in the commission. Van Der Hilst who also was a member of the commission, writes that at the presentation of the spelling the proponents of, y, were left outside (Van Der Hilst, 2008, p.51). In this way the opponents succeeded in making official the i. The minister of education then, promised to reconvene the commission in order to deliberate about the diphthongs, which until to day never happened.

As is the case for spelling Madinka in … Gambia – spelling in the presence of English – so too applies for Sranan “in a complex multilingual ecology in which the postcolonial … language assumes a powerful position” (Juffermans, 2011, p. 652).

I’ll move ahead now with a comprehensive approach to the Van Der Hilst orthography.

Chapter 1

This chapter (pp. 9-12) is a brief account regarding the coincidence of the start of the regular Suriname history in 1650 and the development of Sranan involving the interplay of the West-African coast on the one hand and Portugal, England, and The Netherlands on the other hand under circumstances of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery – a pidgin developed in to a creole which reflect the lexicon of all players involved.

Then from 1718 wherein the oldest written text is registered under “Beschrijvinge van de volksplantinge Zuriname” from J.D. Herlein through 1800-1900 where much was written in Sranan noting the time interval 1900-1940 where only one book was written  up to  1946: “Foe memre wi afo” from JGA Koenders[8] to the current day, a period that can be described as the rivival of Sranan.


The origin of Sranan – and of other creole languages – can be framed in a series of different approaches. In this frame work we encounter: a) theories focusing on the European input (the role of Foreigner Talk/Baby Talk, Imperfect Second Language Learning, Monogenesis, regional European varieties of the lexifier language), b) Theories focusing on the non-European input (substrate and relexification), c) Gradualist and developmental hypothesis (Gradual creolization, Grammaticalization), and d) Universalist approaches (Bioprogram Theory, Generative Theory, Semantic Transparency, Common Social Context Theory) (Den Besten, Muysken, Smith, 1994, pp.  87-97; Arends, Kouwenberg & Smith, N. (pp. 111-116); Muysken & Veenstra, pp. 121-134; See for comments Arends, Muysken & Smith, 1994, pp. 319-323). These approaches in the terms of Chary,  Koefoed & Muysken (1983): ‘the baby talk hypothese’, ‘interlanguage hypothese’, ‘relexifcatie hypothese’, and ‘universalistische hypothese’ are difficult to separate from one another (pp. 20-25).

To cut short: the explanation of how Sranan came into being by Van Der Hilst is only one angle from which the origin of it can be examined – the European input. Thus in the day-to day- exchanges between European and Africans words like the English ‘go’ and ‘take’ were  adapted to the speech habits of the Sranan speakers or diphtongs were exchanged for mono-thongs Van Den Berg explains (2000, p. 7), while on the intra-contact level (the inner circles of the enslaved Africans) religious and magic phenomenons in words like konfo, fyofyo, kunba had their continuity in Sranan. This plays into the hand of the vision that Sranan can’t be a monolitic version of a language, i.e. “if African languages were maintained on the basis of certain tasks, a wide, yet rather simplistic, spectrum of creole (basilects to acrolects) and non-creole speech forms circulating throughout the plantation can be conjectured. Field slaves could be assumed to preserve more (elements of) African languages, speaking a type of basilect, known in 18th century Surinam as nengretongo (literally, “Black man’s tongue”) that was farthest removed from the English superstrate. The creole variety assumed to be spoken by house slaves would be the acrolect, (e.g., bakkratongo, or “White man’s tongue”) conforming more to the superstrate. Slaves of intermediate status would thus be predicted to speak a mesolect, or intermediate creole” (Satterfield, 2005, p. 2085). Accordingly Sranan can’t be understood without considering the underlying social structures underpinning the 18th century.

Over time adoption processes evolved which involved both Sranan and Dutch respectively a low prestige and a high prestige language (Charry, Koefoed & Muysken, 1983, pp. 13-14):

a) the adoption process is restricted to (re)lexifaction without changing the  structure of Sranan

b) Sranan constructions and semantic distinctions are embedded in Surinamese-Dutch – ik ga gaan (I’ll go), hij gaat komen (he’ll come) are both future tense constructions derived from Sranan, while ik zal gaan (I’ll go) semantically means: ‘but don’t pin me on it’.

 c)  Code mixing and borrowing, whereby in a practicle sense Dutch               sentences are embedded in Sranan and often adapted to the speech habbits of the Sranan speaker. Mi e go hale boodschappe (I’m going to the store); een swiete groet komopo na a studio (I greet you from the studio) are among the examples that can be named.

In the case of b) adoption can be the case as a consequence of massive second language acquisition: “bij het leren van de tweede taal brengt een bevolkingsgroep een aantal constructies en onderscheidingen uit de eerste taal mee, die later gemeengoed worden en worden overgenomen door sprekers die de eerste taal niet eens kennen” (Charry, Koefoed & Muysken, 1983, p. 13).


Chapter 2

In this second phase Van Der Hilst illustrates the development of Egiptian characters into the

Latin Alphabet, i.e. the letters a and b permitting Sranan to spelling conditions of Afaka (a syllable script of the Okanisi Maroons  of Suriname).

Van Der Hilst clarifies the domains of speaking with its various articulation habits in Sranan versus writing, concluding that as there might be many ways of  speaking modalities we should write as if we would articulate a word in an isolated position. That means that although people might say in multiple ways – translate into English – don’t do that: ‘I no musu du so’, ‘I no mus du so’, ‘I no mu du so’, ‘I nom du so’, we should write invariably: yu no musu du so (pp. 19-20). Thus speaking and writing are ideologically two separated domains.


It is broadly accepted that the Latin was influenced by the Greek alphabet. In this sense

on the world stage the Greek civilization was succeeded by the Romans to whom the Latin alphabet is attributed. In turn, the Greeks were preceded by the Egyptians  on the world stage. If succession of civilization explains the development of the script then even though his illustrations suggest that, Van Der Hilst doesn’t proof yet that Latin is indebted to Egiptian characters.  A first scan through the internet predict a fierce debate on the indebtedness to ones civilization. To cut short: if true one should expect rather an indirect than a direct relation between Egypt and the Roman Empire.

In this very chapter Van Der Hilst explains his theory which is at the heart of the book and which survived his later contribution. “Schrijf de woorden steeds zo op als wanneer zij in een geïsoleerde positie worden uitgesproken” (Van Der Hilst, 2008, p. 33). Further Van Der Hilst (idem) teaches the reader that with the ‘one sound one sign; one sign one sound rule’ (pp. 22-25) Sranan is put in contrast with Dutch’.

The Dutch spelling inconsistencies[9]:

The  Dutch spelling faces serious inconsistencies: the letter ‘e’ is encountered with three different sounds in words like: ‘met’ (with) and meter (meter). The first, e, is pronounced as e (the Sranan represent of è), the second, e, sounds eI (the Sranan represent of ey), while the third, e, is pronounced, ə (the Sranan represent of mètər = master). Further more the sound, eI, is found in words with two e’s for example in words like: ‘neem’, zee and loan words like café and logé. Besides that there is no continuity in the sound eI when the double e, is succeeded by the letter r. Thus the eI-sound will be encountered in the words: neem and zee, while changing in, e: (the Sranan represent of ê) adding the letter, r, after these words, while changing the meanings in respectively ‘neer’ (down) and ‘zeer’ (very, painful).

There are also other inconsistencies found in the i-, ə-, t- and s-sound (Van Der Hilst, 2008, pp. 23-24).

Chapter 3

The follow up of the treatise is the sound system of Sranan where vocals (a, o, u, e, i) are central to the stage. Van Der Hilst chooses to differ from the standard institution in changing the position in the vocal structure challenging the alphabetical order (a, e, i, o, u). In addition to this 5 vocals Sranantongo adopted from Dutch: è, ò ((Van Der Hilst, 1988, pp. 22-23).

Further Van Der Hilst states that Sranan, in its nature, doesn’t support:

  1. a) the silent “ə” sound, called Sjwa, in for example vader in its lexicon
  2. b) an accent on the last syllable of a word
  3. c) consonants in borrowings from Dutch and English

On a)

This means that words like: ‘kaba’, ‘pasa’, ‘sidon’, and ‘gowe’ will not be converted into  kəba, pəsa, sədon, gəwe as this forms don’t fit the Sranan vowel-system.

On b)

This also means that words like: ‘kaba’, ‘pasa’, ‘sidon’, and ‘gowe’ will be made suitable to the normal patterns of Sranan. As a result the words will be made monosyllabic. So Sranan will skip the first vowels to become: ‘kba’, ‘psa’, ‘sdon’, and ‘gwe’.

On c)

As a consequence borrowings from Dutch and English will be transformed, i.e. ‘donder into dondru’; ‘verroest into frustu’; ‘smelter into smèltri’; ‘sadel into sadri’; ‘master in masra’; ‘pepper into pepre’, and so forth. Thus the silent sound will be skipped adapting a consonant into a vowel in Sranan.


Whether the change of the order from: a, e, i, o, u into: a, o, u, e, i, is a practical or an arbi-trary one remains in limbo. Van Der Hilst doesn’t give any explanation for this deviation from international standards.

On a)

This can be seriously challenged as in pragmatism mètər is not inflected to mètri, sidon is not inflected to sədon, like bògəl is not inflected to bògli, and snèfər is not inflected to snèfri. The same applies to kagət kind of formal paper and dèbər very big. They are both pronounced with a sjwa, the silent sound.

On b)

The skipping of  the first vowels in kaba, pasa, sidon, and gowe to become: ‘kba’, ‘psa’, ‘sdon’, and ‘gwe’ breaks with the historical origin of the words as his basic rule suggests (Van Der Hilst, p. 20). See the foregoing (chapter 2) on the writing rules.

On c)

This statement can easily be undermined as there are a great many words in the various areas of life adopting consonants. The child’s play ‘dyul’ (… ) has been very popular accross generations[10]. The football field lexicon provided us bònrit (kicking of the ball over lines as a tactic), haps the uncontrolled ejection of the ball. The marble game has provided for: rèys play disc, tòl score by targeting the marble succesfully, romèyn seek an advantage position. Further we know: brèms chance meeting, dyaf boast, bam bell blow, till pleasure, bum beg, òp oral report, sker empty, dead, tyèk bal irritation of groins and the pubic region[11], tyònk throw.

Finally: how does the chicken cackles according to the elderly across generations? Isn’t it: ‘kò kò kò?!’ Another example is the Sranan equivalent: nò?! for: are you sure? This is concerning the assertion made by Van Der Hilst that the sound, ò, is strange to Sranan.

Chapter 4 nososten nasal vowels

Here Van Der Hilst teaches the reader that besides the vowels (a, o, u, e, i) which concentrate on the oral articulations solely, the Sranan sound system provides also in a nasal arriculation. He explains that while one part of the wind escapes from the mouth the other part escapes form the nose. The writer introduces the term: ‘noso sten’ nasal vowels.

The nasal vowels are formed by combining the vowels with ‘n’. Thus a+n (an); o+n (on); u+n (un); e+n (en); i+n (in). Examples of words with an, on, un, en, and in, are respectively tan stay, sdon sit, dukrun duck, biten direct, krin clean.

At last Van Der Hilst touches upon mental slavery in focusing on sound systems combined with writing modalities in borrowing words. Thus the user suggests to hear for example: ‘m’ in banbusi because of the ‘m’ in bamboo. That’s why he writes “bambusi”. The same is appropriate for anbegi. Because of the ‘n’ in ‘aanbidden’ the Sranan user writes “anbegi”. But the nasal vowels exposed to p and b should be written in one way. Other wise there will be  two ways to write the nasal vowels in conjunction with words initiated by ‘b’or ‘p’. Thus although we believe we hear: “tampresi”, “sombololi”, “kumba”, “pemba”, and “bimba”, we should keep on writing respectively: tanpresi address, sonbololi dope, kunba ombilic, penba white clay, and binba filaria leg.


The word ‘sdon’ violates the historical origin of the word as suggested by the basic writing modality of Van Der Hilst (see foregoing), while as a matter of fact Van Der Hilst shows he can draw the line between the Dutch and Sranan spelling.

Chapter 5 Tusten Diphthongs

The diphthongs are formed by combining the vowels (a, o, u, e, i) with the two in between sounds ‘y’ and ‘w’. In addition there is the vowel Ɛ, represented by è in Sranan. Then Van Der Hilst gives the combinations a+y (ay), a+w (aw); o+y (oy), o+w (ow); u+y (uy), e+y (ey), e+w (ew) and è+y (èy).

So we find ay, aw; oy, ow; uy; ey, ew; and èy; in respectively the words: bay buy, babaw thunderstuck, loy empty, krey cry, bew (sound-imitation from gunshot); and rèys play disc;

Besides the above mentioned diphthongs there is a nasal variant involved, formed by oy + n, ay + n, and uy + n (oyn, ayn, and uyn), examplified respectively by the words: doyn, kayn, and puyn.

Furthermore there are elongated diphtongs which are the previously mentioned vowels (a, o, u, e, i) transformed into (â, ô, û, ê, î). They’re illustrated by words like: bâna plantane, pôti poor, têgo everlasting, pî dead calm; ideophone, and dûn spell bound; ideophone).

(pp. 33).

These elongated diphthongs should not be confused with words where the letter ‘r’ is involved. Van Der Hilst mentions: kori caress, bari scream, teri count, and buru farmer. He explains that the preceding vowels (o, a, e, and u) are not naturally elongated sounds as a change of, r, into ‘t’ would betray the status of the vowels. To cut short it is only because of the r that the preceding vowels sound prolonged. So they are not written with circumflex accent (Van Der Hilst, 1988, p. 33).


Here Van Der Hilst gives a good account of the rules reigning the writing modality. He shows consistency with the rules. It is a further elaboration on the ‘one sound per sign and one sign per sound rule. But the writer upholds the two main categories the traditional grammar endorses: ‘krinsten’ vowels i.e. the standard variant and ‘tapusten’ consonants (p. 31), while he distinguishes many subcategories of the concept vowel pitting the Sranan against the mainstream sound system.

Even in Van Der Hilst (2008) a comprehensive understanding of this multifaceted concept
remains out of the picture: “Het Sranan kent verschillende klinkers, ook wel vocalen genoemd. Deze zijn: de orale klinkers, de neusklinkers of nasalen, de lange klinkers en de tweeklanken of diftongen” (p. 33).

Chapter 6 Tapusten Consonants; first and second part

The consonants c, j, q, v, x, z are not considered to belong to the Sranan alphabet. More over the letters, w, and,  y, are both vowel-like and consonent-like. As mentioned before they are between sounds. Van Der Hilst explains that the air flow in the mound is blocked in one way or the other – by teeth, tongue, lips, resulting in the letters b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, w, y. The letters b up to h as well as k up to y are addressed in respectively the first and second part of the chapter.

In the following you will find some illustrations of the consonants regarding the Sranan alphabet (Van Der Hilst, 1988, pp. 35-37).


b sounds like b in bobo dopey

d sounds like d in odi greeting

f sounds like f in fa given that

g sounds like g in agu pig

h sounds like h in hebi heavy

k sounds like k in kari call

l sounds like l in lasi lose

m sounds like m in masi mash

n sounds like n in neti night  

p sounds like p in pori rotten  

r sounds like r in rowsu roos

s sounds like s in sari sad  

t sounds like t in tara tar

w sounds like w in  we well 

y sounds like y in yu yu  

Finally, Van Der Hilst explains that the letter, n, in for example mindri middle/amongst, ondro under, sensi cent/since, pransun sprout, printa leaf[12] doesn’t refer to the consonant n, but to nasal vowels oŋ (ong), eŋ (eng), aŋ (ang), iŋ (ing).


If in all cases the letter, n, refers to the nasal vowel as Van Der Hilst suggests, is subject to serious reflection. Could you say: miŋdri, oŋdro, seŋsi, and priŋta?

Van Der Hilst (2008) continues on this path (p. 41-42) insisting that Sranan words like ‘dansi’ and ‘kondre’ should sound respectively like daŋsi and koŋdre. “Bij het lezen moet het geschreven woord ‘dansi’ dus klinken … niet als /dansi/ … ‘kondre’ moet klinken … niet als /kondre/” (p. 42).

If the nasal vowels in these instances are proven right the position of the hyphen will not be debated. But if the nasal vowels are proven wrong the position of the hyphen might be under scrutiny. Should it precede the letter, n?

Chapter 7 Tapusten Consonants; part 3

Along with the consonants mentioned in chapter 6 there are the ones of a mixed nature resulting in: sy (ʃ), dy (dʒ), ty (tʃ), ny (ɲ). So we encounter the sy-, dy-, ty-, and ny-sound respectively in the following examples: syatu, dyari, tyari, nyan.

Note: when the ‘dy’-sound precedes the vowels e and i as in the words: “dyeri”yellow and “dyi” give, we should consequently write ‘geri’ and ‘gi’. The dy-sound can also be heard in nasal vowels as in the words “adyen” and “dyendyen” we should consequently spell respectively: agen and gengen.

Note: when the ‘ty’-sound precedes the vowels e and i as in the words: “botyeti” boeket and tatyi tell, we should consequently write ‘boketi’ bouquet and ‘taki’talk. The ty-sound can also be heard in nasal vowels as in the words “tyentyi” Change and “styinbody we should consequently spell respectively: kenki and skin.

Note: when the ‘ny’-sound precedes the vowels e and i as in the words: “lendye” vergoeding and “tanyi” dank, we should consequently write ‘tangi’ and ‘lenge’. The ny-sound can also be heard in nasal vowels as in the words “tyentyi” and “styin”. However we should consequently spell the words respectively: kenki and skin.


Van Der Hilst tries very hard to distinghuish between the oral and writing modalities suggesting there should be one way of writing the ‘dy-‘, ‘ty-‘, anda ‘ny’-sounds. But if you’re obliged to write ‘gengen’ and not ‘dyendyen’ it is allowed to pronounce ‘gengen’ just as it is allowed to pronounce, dyendyen. But what if nobody uses ‘gengen’ in their articulations? The same applies to words like: ‘gindya’, ‘geme’, ‘wenke’, kema, ken, and ‘kiki’. Nobody says them! What I suggest is not to put the whole spelling upsite down, but to allow exceptions to the game. For example we should write in contrast to the rules: dyindya, dyeme, wentye, tyema, tyen, and tyityi contradicting the basic rules in fact.

Chapter 8 Tapusten Consonants; part 4

Van Der Hilst explains here the necessity to write the letter ‘k’ in front of the, e, and, i. He breaks it down: kisi received means the same thing as “tyisi”, kibri shelter is similar to “tyibri”, boketi bouquet and “botyeti” are the same concept as applies to kersi cherry and “tyersi” as opposed to kari and tyari; kokro tube and tyokro strangle; kuku cake and tyuku bribe.

The same applies to the ge- and “dye” sound, resulting in words of equal concepts as explained in chapter 7. At the same time the clarification of Van Der Hilst is of phonological concern – the tongue moves to the fore front of the mouth in both circumstances: articulating the sounds, e,  and , i, on the one hand and “dye” and “dyi” – ty’ and ‘dy’ are alveolar stop sounds – on the other hand.  This circumstance encourages efficiency in articulating, dye, respectively, dyi instead of, ge, respectively, gi, respectively ke, respectively ki. In this last circumstances the tongue has to retract first then pressing the middle of the tongue towards the palate articulating the sound, g, respectively k. In second instance the tongue would move to the fore front articulating, e respectively i. At the same time there is the need of efficiency of spelling. That’s why, ge, respectively gi, respectively ke, respectively ki is prefered over, dye, respectively dyi, respectively tye respectively tyi (Van Der Hilst, 1988, pp. 43-50).


See Commentary on Chapter 7.

Chapter 9 Tapusten Consonants; part 5

Not only the vowels are combined with the in between sounds (Chapter 5) but also there is a mix of consonant (b, d, f, g, k, n, p, s, t) and in between sounds (y, w) as in the words: obya magic, bwasi leprosy, dyari yard, dweyri mop, fyofyo magic illness, gwenti customs kweri chop up, nyan eat, pyo spit, syoro ashore, swen swim, tyari in abundance twatwa finch.

Dobru tapusten Double consonants (1)

We learn also that there are double consonants, skipping in between vowels. So ‘mama’, ‘papa’ porridge/father, ‘nanay’ needle, ‘kokronoto’ coconut, will result respectively in: mma, ppa, nnay, kkronto. The rationale for using double consonants, according to Van Der Hilst is that people speak quicker nowadays. But other than dependent on the pitch the words will change of concept. If the accent falls on the first syllable of the word mama, the meaning will be: enormous. When the accent falls on the second syllable however the word will mean: mother. The same concerns papa: dependent on the pronunciation (accent on the first syllable) the word means: porridge. If the accent falls on the second syllable, papa, means father.


In this section Van Der Hilst confuses writing with speaking as we swallow the sounds when

we speak – ppa, wwan, mma while we spell out the words explicitly when we write, contradicting his first  spelling rule: “Yu musu skrifi den wortu, leki fa yu e taki den, te yu e taki den den wwan” (Van Der Hilst, 1988, p. 20). So write the words in such a way that when reasoned from the speech modality we speak the words isolated – papa, wanwan solely, mama.

Chapter 10 Dobru tapusten Double consonants (ll)

Van Der Hilst continues to hammer good writing habits into the mind of the reader referring to the unnatural sjwa (ǝ) in Sranan. As there is no room for in between vowels (chapter 3) so there is no room for writing an apostroph (‘) symbolizing the mute -e- in for example representations like  pəsa, kəba, sədon (chapter 3) – the transition phase of the words pasa passing by, lapse, kaba finished, sidon sit down. The same applies to words like məma, pəpa, nənay, resulting in double consonants. In short there is: bb (bbari),  dd (ddon), ff (ffrey), kk (kka), ll (llolo), mm (mma), nn (nnay)/nnyan, pp (ppa), ss (ssu), tt (ttu), ww (wwan) (ləlolo),  as a consequence of the weakening of in between vowels in the course of time: babari screaming everywhere, didon lay down, freyfrey, kaka shit, lololo, mama, nanay needle/nyan nyan non-systematically eaten, papa, susu shoe, tutu few, wawan some.


See my criticism in Chapter 9; return also to Commentary on Chapter 3; subitem a)

Chapter 11 Leysi Reading

This part of the book is dedicated to teach the reader how to read Sranan. The writer casts a look back at some publications. He draws upon the works of Aleks de Drie (1984, ’85) and concludes that the books are written in the modern Sranan spelling apart from some observations. In general writing rules are confused with reading ones – “undati” should be spelled as: ‘un dati’. “nin” should be written: ‘na ini’. The apostrophe and sjwa are part of the spelling used in the books – “twarf’” should be spelled as ‘twarfu’; “feryari” should be spelled as ‘friyari’. Then there are infringements committed against the rule concerning ‘nasal vowels in conjunction with words initiated by, b, or p (chapter 3 under c) – “dyompo” should be spelled as ‘dyonpo’, “warimbo” should be spelled as ‘warinbo’. Sometimes you’ll find words spelled correctly – skin, pikin, wenke. But there are also infringements – “tye” instead of ke, “tyeptyepi” instead of kepikepi, “banyi” instead of ‘bangi’  (Chapters 7,8). Further “mama” should be spelled as ‘mma’.

Van Der Hilst (1988) refers to books that are written in good Sranan spelling. He mentions in this regard Grot (1987), Vernooy & Van Der Hilst (1988), and Grot & Waterberg (1988, ’89).

Finally Van Der Hilst slams the newspapers of Suriname where bad spelling is rather the rule than an exception.

After these escapes Van Der Hilst retreats to his main issue: how to read in Sranan. He explains that reading is just the opposite of writing. One should not read words as if they are isolated contrary to writing where you should spell the words thoroughly. On the one hand you swallow and contract the words on the other hand you stretch the words out.  So you say for instance: m͜na: moni  but you write: mi no abi moni. Another example Van Der Hilst broaches is: A be: sribi, di: kon (speak modality). When spelled correctly we should write: A ben e sribi di yu kon.

Finally the writer gives an exercise in this regard introducing a piece of proza from Koenders (march 18, 1944-1946).



As I observed in the foregoing Van Der Hilst violates his own formulated rules while criticizing the media for not applying the rules correctly.

Chapter 12 Puwema Poem

In this part Van Der Hilst  advances on a poem named ‘Nyanmofo Adriyan nanga en nekti Meriyan’ (Adriyan who doesn’t stick to agreements and his niece Mary).

The poem is rigged with wrong spelling. The student is commanded to put the sentences in the right spelling.


This is a different exercise in verses to test the skills of the reader than the ordinary ones presented in Van Der Hilst (1988).

Chapter 13 Taywortu Contractions (1)

This section is devoted to contractions. They are existent words meaning a certain thing with which a particular significance is obtained connecting them (p. 67). Van Der Hilst elucidates the subject with examples among others: dyonpo jump plus futu foot, doti dirty plus wagi car, faya hot plus watra water, and dyarusu jealous plus sturu chair resulting in respectively hopscotch, collecting service, tea/cacao/koffie, Aysa chair.

This combination delivers new words with newly created meanings. Van Der Hilst elucidates that contractions are coupled together observing the accent in the words. If a word tells something about another word it will be accentuated which indicates that this word is not part of its successor. Thus ‘wan bigi futu’ tells something about futu indicated by its accent on bigi – in the first instance on the first i of bigi. But ‘wan bigifutu’ means an elephant leg. Note that the accent falls on the first ‘u’ of ‘futu’.

Van Der Hilst further argues that the rule in Sranan is to keep on writing the words as seperated ones till the words are proven to be contractions. So words that people interpret from the Dutch spelling like: ‘alasma’ everybody, ‘alasani’ everything, ‘misrefi’ myself are misspelled. The words should be spelled: ala sma, ala sani, mi srefi because of the accent on: both of the words involved: ala sma, ala sani, mi srefi.


In this part Van Der Hilst shows perfectly how meaning is created using contractions in Sranan.

Chapter 14 Taywortu Contractions (ll)

Part of the contractions are the ones which are connected with a hyphen. This occurs when the constituent word parts both end and begin with a vowel, causing the compound to prolongue the sound. Thus the words are articulated in a prolongued way. This sound causes us to write what we here : “dedôso” memorial service, “atôso” hospital, “ogrâti” cruelty, “sarâti” sorrow while it is because of the clash of two vowels: dede and oso, ati and oso, sari and ati. So we should represent this phenomenon in our writing: ‘dede-oso’, ati-oso, ogri-ati, sari-ati.

To go on Van Der Hilst explains that we use to hear from the Sranan speakers the following articulations: “konman”, “lenman”, “graman”, “droman”. But by writing them this way we would be in violation of our own spelling rules: on and en are nasal vowels and should be heard while isolating the two syllables: “koncome and man man, len ? and man man. At the same time while islolating the two syllables “gra” ? and man man, and dro bet on the first to shoot and man man we would breach our own speech habits. We mean that the word man (nasal vowel ‘an’) would be preceded by gran (nasal vowel ‘an’) superior. To cut short we should write: koniman smart man and ‘granman’ Governer/tribal leader.

The same applies to the clash of diphthongs, nasal and vowels: we should write them isolated by hyphen as well respectively: san-ede why, trow-oso marriage. In addition we should write a hyphen where a nasal vowel clashes with the consonant, n, in for example: bun-nen or where a diphtong clashes with the same in between sound: dow-watra dew water. Finally we use the hyphen when a vowel clashes with a double consonant as in: bigi-ssa, bigi-mma, fisi-wwoyo, tarattey.


This Chapter is added value to the understanding of writing where sounds different from the ones we already know (vowels) clash and therefore are seperated by a hyphen: ‘astmaaanval’ astma attack, ‘placeboeffect’ placeboeffect. We also distinguish clashes regarding diphthongs, nasals and vowels in a variety of ways not existent in the Dutch spelling situation. These last ones will be seperated where a double consonant succeeds.


Chapter 15 reduplications (1)

In order to create meanings Sranan makes use of doubling the same word. So koti cut, dyonpo jump, bari scream, sibi sweep, nyan eat, and wan één, when doubled they will have another meaning, respectively: kotikoti  mole, dyonpodyonpo grasshopper, baribari screaming, sibisibi broom, nyannyan [nnyan] meal and wawan some. In addition to this there are some reduplications which exist by the grace of two words: kwetikweti no way biribiri grass.


In this regard the words: kotikoti, dyonpodyonpo, sibisibi, nyannyan, and wawan are stringed togehter on the basis of the accent on the last syllable, meaning something different than they would be written separated from one another, thus: koti koti, dyonpo dyonpo, sibi sibi scamp one’s work, nyan nyan eaten everywhere[13] and so on.  But there is a special Commentary to be made: wawan violates the rule of writing with the historical origin, i.e. wanwan.

Chapter 16

In this last chapter Van Der Hilst elaborate on  chapter 15, explaining that the hyphen can come into effect there where two vowals clashes: esi-esi very quick, ari-ari rake opo-opo juggling. The meanings created can refer to the plant kingdom: sinsin mimosa piduca, the animal kingdom wunwun bee, the noise produced by something gengen bell, a whole of times betibeti bite more than one time, superficiality: sibisibi sloppy. Finally we can create meanings by expressing the way somebody or something looks like: rediredi reddish, dotidoti dirty looking.


See Commentary made in the foregoing (Chapter 14).



The sound-rule in order to write in Sranan limits the string of words that can be joined together to up to two words  on the basis of: “samenstellingen worden aaneengeschreven, waarbij elk van de samenstellende woorden wordt geschreven zoals zij in een geïsoleerde positie worden uitgesproken” (Van Der Hilst, 2008, p. 86). That’s why a word like: wetiberekayman joined together can be proven wrong as ‘weti’, ‘bere’, ‘kayman’ carries three accents when decomposed. This means that the word should be written as three isolated words: ‘weti bere kayman’. Van Der Hilst (idem): “een woord is een samenstelling, indien van de samenstellende woorden, slechts het laatste woord een klemtoon heeft … Voor het aaneenschrijven van woorden is de klemtoon doorslaggevend” (p. 76). In case of meaning creation there should be at the same time  a word that can be distinguished from these three words, like can be distinguished between: ‘wan bigi futu’ and ‘wan bigifutu’ (p. 76). In the former one, bigi, is an adjective to, futu (a big foot). The latter one is a concept attributed to a disease, called binba filaria leg. In the case of wetiberekayman there should be a similar situation where the Sranan speaker can differentiate.

But what’s the rationale behind the writing of reduplications as words written altogether in for instance: ‘dorodoro’ very often, ‘penipeni’ dotty, ‘wetiweti’ not that white, ‘pisipisi’ broken into pieces? “Reduplicaties worden aaneengeschreven, waarbij het woord waaruit de reduplicatie bestaat dus ook steeds in zijn volle vorm wordt geschreven (Van Der Hilst, 2008, pp. 90-91). Here the historic origin of the words is upheld in contrast to for example: ppa, mma transpiring the double consonants and with regard to: kba’, ‘psa’, ‘sdon’, and ‘gwe’  (Chapter 3; On b).

The sound-rule in Sranan excludes the existence of more than two words stringed together i.e. ‘aan’, ‘een’, ‘schrijven’ joined together: ‘aaneenschrijven’ or worse ‘tweede’, ‘graads’, ‘leraren’, ‘opleiding’ joined together: tweedegraadslerarenlopleiding.

As the sjwa in Sranan exists there should be room to express it. This means that the (‘) can apply to situations where the sjwa is at stake like for example: mètr, wèrdr, snèfr.

The thesis made by Van Der Hilst (2008) as if consonants at the end of Sranan words are strange to Sranan compells the language into a situation of unnatural conditions. ” (…) Deze woorden zijn meteen herkenbaar omdat zij op een medeklinker eindigen” (p. 38). Thus: bum, dèb’r, wèrd’r, haps, bònrit, dyaf, tyònk, sker among others would be forced to become respectively: bumi, dèbri, wèrdri, hapsi, bònriti, dyafi, tyònki, which would get people frowning.

In the foregoing the ‘historical origin’ rule is constantly violated by confusing speaking and writing as in the case of ppa, mma (speech modality), papa, mama (writing modality). Van Der Hilst (2008) in defending the double consonant-rule: “Een eerste probleem met deze schrijfwijze is dat niemand deze woorden zo zegt, ook niet in een geïsoleerde situatie. Zelfs in een geïsoleerde situatie zegt men: /mma/ en /ppa/” (p. 66). But how is that possible? Even in the anthem of Suriname we encounter a clause that contradicts the claim made by Van Der Hilst: ‘(…) pe mi mama èn mi papa, èn mi famiri de’. Except that there are a great many ex-pressions[14] and songs where the words mama respectively papa are encountered and uttered. ‘Mama na sribi krosi’[15] by the Golden Gate Boys, ‘Mama’[16] and ‘Dansi nanga mi papa’[17] by Bryan Bijlhout are only a few among a great many songs that easily undermine the assertion of Van Der Hilst. This differences which I have with Van Der Hilst are simply put of an epistemological order, namely how do we both know Sranan? If we’d write ‘mama’ and ‘papa’: Van Der Hilst (2008) argues then that that will have consequences too for: sma, psa, kba, sdon (speech modality) and suma, pasa, kaba, sidon (writing modality). “Dit betekent weer dat we iedereen die Sranan wil schrijven, verplichten om ook etymoloog te zijn om ook lang vergeten woordvormen te kennen” (p. 66). And that is the problem with the Van Der Hilst model: ‘wanting it both ways’. To cut short: his model is built on shaky ground or inconsistency.

The Van Der Hilst model differentiates on the concept of vowel – a standard, nasal, diphthong, prolonged, and various nasal variants, failing at the same time to integrate the concept into a single overarching definition.

Finally the use of double consonants contradicts the ‘historical origin rule’ as explicitly indicated in the second rule (Van Der Hilst, 2008, p. 86) and even worse creates serious consequences for the Sranan alphabet, forcing it to adopt besides mono consonants all the double consonants (b, bb, d, dd, f, ff, g, gg, k, kk, m, mm, n, nn, p, pp, s, ss, t, tt, w, ww) within its ranks.



The equivalent of food will be written as nyan-nyan according to the spelling rules. But how do we write: food from the ground gron-nyan-nyan or gron nyan-nyan? How do we write respected one? Is that odi-odi-wan or odi odi-wan? Following the writing rule consequently: will the word ‘na’ then written as ‘nanga’ regarding numbers? So is fifty four then feyfi tenti nanga fo instead of feyfi tenti na fo?

Elaborating on the explicit way of writing: particles as part of the verbal system, namely ‘e’ and ‘o’  should be returned to their origin facilitating more than one speech modality. Thus mi e wroko should be spelled as mi de wroko, while mi o wroko should be spelled as mi de go wroko, enabling ‘mi e wroko’ and ‘mi o wroko’ in the speech modality.

In the case of capital letters: there is broad consensus on initiating a sentence with a capital letter. But how will we write a name of two words with uneven font sizes, as is the case in Open day. Thus will we write: A kra, or A Kra the human soul. By the way how will we apply capital letters in the cult-religious domain? How will we spell Aysa Ground mother? Will we wright the word with an uppercase respectively a lowercase letter?

Then there is the role of the ‘r’. If it elongates the preceding (kori caress) or following sound (wroko work), does the prolonging in the word counts for an accent different from vocals? How will in this regard the following nouns will be spelled: koti wroko or koti-wroko engraving; bari wroko or bari-wroko bekendmaking; seti wroko makandra, setiwrokomakandra or seti-wroko makandra or maybe seti wrokomakandra[18] organisatie?

Next: where do we put the hyphen? Do we suggest to hear na-ngra nail and therefore break the word down to ‘na’ at the end of a sentence, followed by ‘ngra’ in the next line? Or do we suggest to hear nan-ra and therefore break the word down to ‘nan’, followed by ra in the next line? The same applies to words like dungru dark and dangra complicated. It all comes down to how we experience the sounds.

Penultimately: in the case of ‘wan’ as a number and ‘wan’ as an indefinite pronoun it is functional to distinguish from one another by accentuating wan as number (wàn). At the same time accentuating words with accent aigu in: ‘a meki wán oso’ he/she/it has made a house; ‘a síki’ he/she/it  is sick (Van Der Hilst, 2008, p. 98) is questionable as the words express intensity and are expressed in a elongating way, thus are of an ideophonic order. Here the accent circumflex would fit. So: ‘a meki wân oso’ he/she/it has made a remarkable house ; a sîki he/she/it is very sick respectively sikî.

Ultimately: The lacking in Van Der Hilst (1988) of an all ecompassing spelling system implying not only the use of letters but also the use of punctuation –  full stop, comma, among others and diacritics – accents of all sorts is recuperated in Van Der Hilst (2008, p. 97-114).


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[1] Questions posed in Dutch are met with responses in Sranan at length by public figures –


[3] “é aquela força interior, aquela atitude ou disposição subjetiva do pesquisador chamada espírito científico, que busca soluções adequadas, imparciais, objetivas e racionais no exame dos problemas” in (p. 66).

[4] It was a live radioprogram of januari 24 2016 via Salto Amsterdam.

[5] http://

[6] “Zo schreef men bijvoorbeeld: ‘boutoe’ (Ne. Bout) en ‘fowloe’ (Eng. Fowl). ‘Blyti’ (Ned. Blij,  ‘zeili’ (Ned.

Zeil) en  ‘felicitere’ (Ned. feliciteren)” (Van Der Hilst, 2008, p. 26).

[7] “… bijvoorbeeld: ‘fasi (manier) en ‘fassi’ (vastmaken), ‘pisi’ (stuk) en ‘pissie’ (pissen), ‘hati’ (pijn doen) en

‘hatti’ (hart), ‘pikîn’ (kind) en ‘pikin’ (klein, weinig, jong)” (Van Der Hilst, 2008, p. 26).

[8] The father of nationalism (Marshall, 2003, pp.32-39; 64, 66, 87, 131)

[9] In comparison with the Dutch the English spelling is much worst off: “In het Nederlands is de schrijfwijze consequenter dan in het Engels. Een klank wordt meestal op één en dezelfde wijze geschreven en elk symbool vertegenwoordigt meestal slechts één klank” (Adams & Nelis, 2009, p. 73).

[10] Although the current generation might be under the spell of the of internet games and the mobile phone.

[11] A term in the Wenti religion

[12] vein of palm species

[13] What birds use to do with fruits

[14] Mama fowru no e kiri en pikin, mama mofo na bâna watra




[18] This is an innovation derived from Koorndijk (1994, p. 12). In the last 10 years I introduced setiwroko tetey

for the same concept: organization.

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