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The Trinidadian 'Theory of Mind'

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

This collaborative piece was inspired with Prof Carsten Levisen's visit to the Australian National University. Being colleagues at the Centre for European Studies, we naturally set out for drinks and started a conversation on how some words exist in some cultures but not in others. In 2015, I visited him at Aarhus University (Denmark) and did a talk on entitled 'Speak and write proper English': Struggles between culture and language in Postcolonial countries. The photo below is commemorative of this trip and reassured me that perhaps a bit of the Caribbean is already in Denmark.

Carsten Levisen, Aarhus University, 2015


In this paper, we study the cultural semantics of the personhood construct mind in Trinidadian creole. We analyze the lexical semantics of the word and explore the wider cultural meanings of the concept in contrastive comparison with the Anglo concept. Our analysis demonstrates that the Anglo concept is cognitively oriented construct with a semantic configuration based on 'thinking' and 'knowing', whereas the Trinidadian mind is a moral concept confined around perceptions of 'good' and 'bad'. We further explore the Trinidadian moral discourse of bad mind and good mind, and articulate a set of cultural scripts for the cultural values lined with personhood in the Trinidadian context. Taking a postcolonial approach to the semantics of personhood, we critically engage with Anglo-international discourses of the mind, exposing the conceptual strangle-hold of colonial langauge (i.e., English) and its distorting semantic grip on global discourse. We argue that creole categories of values and personhood - such as the Trinidadian concept of mind - provide a new venue for critical mind studies as well as for new studies in creole semantics and cultural diversity.


Levisen, C. and Jogie, M.R., (2015). 'The Trinidadian 'Theory of Mind': Personhood and postcolonial semantics'. International Journal of Language and Culture, 2(2), pg. 169-193.

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