Trinidadians and Tobagonians - Orientation

Identification. The name "Trinidad and Tobago" is a conjunction of the names of the two islands that comprise this independent state. "Trinidad" is often used alone to refer to the two islands as a political unit. Columbus, on his third voyage, in 1498, sighted three points of an island; in appropriating it for Spain, he called it "Trinidad," in honor of the Holy Trinity. This etymological history has subsequently been commemorated by various Christian authorities, including John Paul II during a 1986 papal visit. The name "Tobago" apparently derives from the Carib word for a smoking receptacle for tobacco, the plant that was reportedly the first item from Tobago to be exported to Europe.

Location. The island of Trinidad is located in the Caribbean Sea at 10°30′ N and 6°30′ W, and 11 kilometers (at the nearest point) from the Venezualan coast. It has an area of 4,950 square kilometers. The island of Tobago lies 32 kilometers northeast of Trinidad and has an area of 290 square kilometers.

Demography. The population of the two islands was 1,299,301 in 1992, with an average of 214 people per square kilometer. Life expectancy at birth is 70 years. The average annual growth rate from 1965 to 1980 was 1.3 percent, although the rate fluctuated with net annual migration, which reached a high of 17,370 in 1970 and a low of 2,200 in 1976. Brooklyn, London, and Toronto are the most common destinations for Trinidadians. Because many return after many years, and many move back and forth a number of times in a lifetime, the process is better described as one of transmigration rather than emigration.

Linguistic Affiliation. Although Trinidad and Tobago is an English-speaking country, its speech forms are diverse. They vary with class and social context, from a local "dialect" that is substantially opaque to foreign English speakers to a Global Hegemonic English (G.H.E.) articulated by television newscasters and prescribed in schoolrooms. Moreover, almost all Trinidadians hear a substantial portion of the range of English used on U.S. television programs and in contemporary popular music by U.S. artists. In general, writing is in G.H.E., and there have been few efforts to establish a written form of the local dialect.

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