Home Special Focus Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Language as a product of cultural contact

Language as a product of cultural contact

Article Index
Language as a product of cultural contact
A Linguistic Approach to Fela Kuti's Lyrics
Backgrounds of `Serial Verb System' and `Linguistic Borrowing' - Prominent Features in the Lyrics
Original Sufferhead - Lyrics and Translation
Typical Features of Nigerian Pidgin in ‘Original Sufferhead’
Yoruba in ‘Original Sufferhead’
‘Colonial Mentality’ - Lyrics and Translation
Selected Linguistic Phenomena in Colomentality
‘Fear Not For Man’ - Lyrics and Translation
Selected Problems of Fela Kuti's Language as a Mixture of Nigerian Pidgin and Standard English in ‘Fear Not For Man’
‘Sorrow, Tears, and Blood’ - Lyrics and Translation
‘Power Show’ - Lyrics and Translation
The Treatment of `Don` in ‘Power Show’
A Comment on the Sociohistorical Background of Fela Kuti`s Lyrics
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Sorrow, Tears, and Blood - Lyrics and Translation

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1 Everybody run run run Everybody runs away
2 Everybody scatter scatter Everybody scatters
3 Some people lost some bread Some people (have) lost some money
4 Some one nearly die someone has nearly died
5 Some one just die someone has just died
6 Police dey come, Army dey come the police is coming, the army is coming
7 Confusion everywhere there is confusion everywhere
8 Several minutes later Several minutes later
9 All den cool down brother everything has calmed down, brother
10 Police don go away the police has gone then
11 Army don disappear The army has disappeared then
12 Dem leave Sorrow, Tears, and Blood They leave Sorrow,Tears, and Blood
13 Dem regular trade mark Their regular trade mark
14 My people self dey fear too much My people also has too much fear
15 Dem dey fear for the thing we no see We fear the things we can not see
16 Dem they fear for the air around us We fear the air around us
17 We fear to fight for freedom We fear to fight for freedom
18 We fear to fight for liberty We fear to fight for liberty
19 We fear to fight for justice We fear to fight for justice
20 We fear to fight for happiness We fear to fight for happiness
21 We always get reason to fear We always find a reason to fear:
22 We no want die We don`t want to die
23 We no want quench we don`t want to be extinguished
24 My mama dey for house my mother is at home
25 My pikin dey for house my children are at home
26 I get one wife I have a wife
27 I get one car I have a car
28 I get one house I have a house
29 I just marry I just got married
30 So policeman go slap your face So the policeman will slap your face and
31 You no go talk you will not say anything
32 Army man go whip your yansh the soldier will whip your back and
33 You go dey look like donkey you will look like a donkey
34 Rhodesia dey do dem own Rhodesia does not care
35 Our leaders dey yab for nothing Our leaders' words are useless
36 South Africa dey do dem own South Africa, they do their own thing
37 Dem leave Sorrow, Tears, and Blood They leave Sorrow,Tears and Blood
38 Dem regular trade mark (Chorus), Their regular trademark
39 Dem regular trade mark Their regular trademark
40 Dem regular trade mark (Chorus) Their regular trade mark
41 That is why-y-y That is why everybody runs away
42 Everybody run run run...  

Aspects of Tense in Sorrow, Tears, and Blood with Respect to the Aspect and Tense Markers in Nigerian Pidgin

Assuming that Fela Kuti is describing a police action in progress even the very first lines give evidence that the language applied is not `pidgin­proper`.{footnote}Eze, p. 56{/footnote} In `pidgin­ proper` `e run` is supposed to mean `he ran`.{footnote}ibid., p. 70{/footnote} (`E run` = `e come run`, as the tense marker `come` can be omitted without distorting the meaning of the sentence.)

There is no reason why we should expect past tense to be used in this particular context, especially as `Everybody run, run, run` and `Everybody scatter, scatter` occur later on in an indisputably `present tense context`. In line 3 Fela shows that he is aware of the grammatical structure of Standard English, using the preterite of `lose`. In Nigerian Pidgin English the verb in simple past should be formed with the time marker `come` and the infinitive. The third line would be as follows: `some come lose some bread` or with deletion of `come`, which is also possible, just `some lose some bread`. This is, of course, why `e run` stands for `he ran`.

Line 4 of `Sorrow,Tears, and Blood` corroborates to the use of the infinitive as a means of expressing past (if translated `someone nearly died`, referring to the previous past tense). However, the infinitive form could also indicate present perfect, e.g. in line 5.

As becomes obvious in my translation of both lines, I preferred present perfect, according to the context. Yet, this tense does not exist in Nigerian Pidgin. Basically there is a distinction of three different tenses in NP, namely past, present and future.{footnote}Elugbe and Omamor, p. 99/100{/footnote} However, there are certain ways of expressing, for example, present perfect although there are no such things as auxiliaries for forming verb phrases in the structure of NP. Rather, there are `aspect marker`:`there are two main aspectual notions in NP. These are the imperfective and the perfective. The imperfective can be interpreted as either habitual or continuous`. The perfective aspect in NP is marked by the particle `don` `which indicates completion, plus present relevance`. The interpretation depends on the context, in which it occurs or the semantics of the particular verb involved.{footnote}ibid., p. 100{/footnote} Hence, Police dey come(6) (imperfective aspect) can mean `the police is coming` and `the police usually comes`. With regard to the present perfect Eve provides a sentence, which additionally hints at the deletion of `and` in NP:

The chief of our village has come and then gone back to his house.
Di chief for we village e don come, go back for im house.{footnote}Eze, p. 164{/footnote}

There are some passages in Fela Kuti`s lyrics, which show this type of clause structure applying the aspect marker `don`. Moreover `and` seems to be omitted. There is rare use of `and` in the lyrics, although this might also be due to the linguistic structure of songs.

Lines 9­11 serve as an ideal example for the `perfective aspect`. In order to describe the situation after the `attack` he sings: All don cool down brother, police don go away, army don disappear. This is definitely a sequence of tenses, which demands present perfect in Standard English.

It is striking that within the verb phrase there is no inflection of the verb. This is considered to be a rather common feature of pidgins and creoles: `Pidgins have reduced inflectional and derivational morphology as compared to the source languages.`{footnote}Arends, Mysken, Smith, p.31. The linguistic discourse about pidgins and creoles has nowadays become rather controversial. According to the author Nigerian Pidgin is probably not a pidgin language, for it has all the features he applies to creoles. He states, however, that extended pidgins share more features with creole languages. The characteristics he points out for creoles are evident in NP: SVO word order, TMA expressd by preverbal markers, reduplication.(Arends, Mysken, Smith, 1995: 31­39){/footnote} Actually, there is no inflection of the Verb in NP like in STE.{footnote}Elugbe and Omamor, p. 99-104{/footnote}

In line 4 it also becomes evident that Fela Kuti does not bother about the categories of tense. In `someone nearly die` he does not use any kind of marker, but leaves tense interpretation to the listener or reader. In this lies a substantial problem for everyone without full command of the pidgin, because the particular clause attains its meaning only through the overall context. And this, is likely to be even more difficult to grasp. In line 5 we are finally provided with a hint at tense by the adverbial tense marker `just`. This implies present perfect or present progressive. I decided for the latter, fitting more sensibly into the context.

Police dey come, however, indicates a continuous form, for `dey` is the tense marker for present tense and what Eve calls a `continuative verb`. He denotes three different tense marker in NP: go future, come ­ past, dey ­ present. Additionally three `continuative verbs` are mentioned, indicating motion: go, come, and begin.{footnote}Eze, p. 69-73{/footnote} Tense marker as well as `continuatives` are preverbal markers in NP. I will not discuss their optional positions, meanings and functional roles at work in the `serial verb con­struction` (29).{footnote}Arends, Mysken, Smith, p. 107{/footnote} I have explained some aspects of this in chapter 2.