A note about de (deh) in Guyanese

There are two words with the pronunciation ‘de’. These are two homophones: two words with the same sound but different meanings and/or functions.

  1. de is an adverb (or a pro-adverb) meaning English ‘there’
  2. de is a verb indicating location or existence.

Pro-adverb de can be used in place of a locative phrase

  •  Di pikni sidong pan di bed -> Di pikni sidong de
  • ‘The child sits on the bed -> The child sits there’
  • Mi lef mi buk a hous -> Mi lef mi buk de
  • ‘I left my book at home -> I left my book there’

The verb de  conveys both locative and existential meanings. These two meanings are inter-related:  if something is located somewhere, it exists in that location; if it exists, it is located in the world.

  • Di goot dem de a rood
  • ‘The goats are on the road’
  • Piita de wid i fren dem
  • ‘Peter is with his friends’
  • Wan chikin haak de pan di hous tap
  • ‘A chicken hawk is on top of the roof’
  • Awi de ya
  • ‘We are here’

The combination of de + wid can be ambiguous: it can mean any of the following and only the context (including our knowledge of how the world works) will allow us to decide which interpretation is the appropriate one.

  1. X is in the company of Y
  2. X is associated with Y for work-related reasons
  3. X and Y are in a love affair (possibly sexual, possibly living together). A particular type of relationship exists between them.
  • Di pikni de wid i muma
  • ‘The child is with his/her mother’
  • (Context will indicate whether this means ‘The child lives with mother (not with father or someone else)’ or whether it means ‘The child is merely at some place where the mother is right now (e.g. shopping)’)
  • Piita de wid Anii
  • ‘Peter is with Annie’
  • (Context will determine the nature of the association.  Could be a love affair; could be merely a location or even a business association)

In the next example, no such ambiguity exists. The speaker is asserting that the parties are indeed having a love affair.

  • Di tuu a dem de
  • ‘The two of them are in an amorous (non-platonic) relationship’

The next two examples illustrate an existential meaning even more clearly.

  • No moni no de
  • ‘There is no money’
  • (How yu du?) Mi de
  • (How are you?) ‘I’m okay’ (A non-committal response. NB: A Jamaican reply would be Mi de ya ‘I’m here’)

Finally, de can combine with a verb in progressive aspect.

  • Mi de a iit
  • ‘I am in the act of (process of) eating’

The verb ‘de’ and the pro-adverb ‘de’ can both appear in the same sentence.

  • Mi muma hous de rait oova di rood-> Mi muma hous de rait oova de
  • ‘My mother’s house is right across the road’ -> ‘My mother’s house is right over there’
  • Mi muma hous de rait de (rait de-so)
  • ‘My mother’s house is right there
  • Mi muma hous de de
  • ‘My mother’s house is there

Note: It is not accurate to say that de de  (as in the last example above) is a more intense version of de. In this example, de de is a combination of the verb followed by the adverb.

On occasion, however, some speakers might create sentences such as, “i de-de de” as a joke (or word play). The intent is usually to poke fun at the language but it may also be interpreted as an intensifier. In this case, they have doubled the verb de-de.

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