One word or two?

In Patwa, there’s a future tense marker. Similar to English, both the word “go” and the continuous aspect marker (-ing in English, a in Patwa) make this. And so, you get:

Mi ago dwiit.
“I am going to do it.”

Although I type ago as one word above, I am not convinced that it is. After all, a is a separate word in Jamaican Creole, at least in my mind:

Mi a riid.
“I am reading.”

A taak dem a taak.
“They are just talking.”

Maybe it should be a go. Or How about a-go, to show that it’s a compound….?

One of my lecturers once said that for written language, what is written as one word is often arbitrary convention. Every standard form of writing goes through these sorts of decision-making processes, and I am not sure whether the people who have created the standard form for Patwa have given this much thought.

When talking to my friends, though, I see that they tend to type it as ago.

In the era of e-mails and texting, it’s easy to see that this confusion exists in English, too. Even people who are avid readers (and writers) make the mistake of typing alot rather than a lot. This error is so prevalent that it led one blogger to invent an “imaginary creature” to help her deal with it:


“The Alot,” she wrote, “is an imaginary creature that I made up to help me deal with my compulsive need to correct other people’s grammar.”

When you think of alot in this way, she says, it allows her to come up with all kinds of funny images. For example:

alot of

As I once read (and I wish I could find the source now!), you don’t write abit, alittle, adog, awoman, or acomputer!

All joking aside, though, it could have easily become standard in English for the indefinite article a in English (or even the definite article the) to have been ended up being written as a prefix. After all, in Hebrew, the Hebrew definite article (ה, ha) is written a prefix; and I imagine there are people who would argue that it is actually a separate word:

התפוח טעים.
Ha-tapuach taim.
The apple is delicious.

The distinction between one word and two is further confused in English because of pairs like the following:

work out: verb to exercise
workoutnoun an exercise/a session of exercise

apart: adjective separate from
a part: noun a section/amount that, combined with others, makes up a whole

And there are quite a bit more examples.

I said all of this to say that even written language has a lot of arbitrariness in there, and that this confusion is definitely not limited to a language like Patwa, whose standard has only just been developed recently, and has not even fully taken root yet. Take a look at the story of how American and British spellings became different to get an understanding of that.

So… is it ago, a go, or a-go? Which do you think makes the most sense to you?


About Ken Drake

Jamaican writer and aspiring fantasy novelist.
This entry was posted in Linguistics, Patwa and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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