But Cassidy had another string to his bow. Creolists and people interested in West Indian English know him as the joint author of the Dictionary of Jamaican English (CUP: first edition 1967, second edition 1980), and also of an earlier popularization, Jamaica Talk (London: Macmillan, 1961). I studied both in great detail when I was working on my PhD on Jamaican pronunciation in London. Cassidy’s DJE co-author, Bob Le Page, was my external examiner.
As well as being a remarkable work of historical scholarship, the DJE also introduced the world to the orthography Cassidy invented for Jamaican Creole. This can actually be seen as an English spelling reform designed explicitly for JC. It is a phonemic notation, and uses some English letter combinations in ways that are logically chosen but at first can seem surprising. For example, the Jamaican FACE vowel, although a monophthongal [eː] in educated or ‘acrolectal’ Jamaican, is an opening diphthong of the [ɪɛ] type in popular or ‘basilectal’ Jamaican. Cassidy therefore writes it ie. But this means that the reader has to be able to interpret pie as the word we usually spell pay, and bied as either bathe or beard (homophonous for most Jamaicans).
When I was working on JC, people — Jamaicans, particularly — thought that to study it was a strange and eccentric thing to do. The intervening forty-odd years have seen a revolution in attitudes towards the local language/dialect/patwa, and we have now reached the stage where a local company, with the support of the Jamaican Language Unit of the University of the West Indies, is putting out video clips in which the language formerly used only on informal occasions is now used formally. Here is a serious-minded account of Haiti and its troubles, all narrated in JC. Key sentences are flashed on the screen in Cassidy’s orthography.
A Fi Di Piipl is produced by the Jamaican Language Company in association with the Jamaican Language Unit. This video, presented and narrated in Jamaican (Creole), takes its theme from the January 2010 disaster in Haiti, and from the perspective of a neighbouring country, seeks to understand the history of Haiti and its role in the world.
In ordinary spelling and standard grammar, this would be Because after the earthquake CARICOM was doing a large amount (a whole heap) to help out the country. (Don’t ask me why h is preserved in whole but dropped in heap and help.) The name of the series, A Fi Di Piipl, means “it’s for the people”.
Some years before his death, Cassidy was visiting London and invited me to dinner at his hotel. His main purpose was to try and persuade me to become active in the movement to reform English spelling. I suppose it is partly because of this arm-bending that I am now president of the Spelling Society.