News Release

Surinamese language Trio demands honesty

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

The Leiden linguist Eithne Carlin has discovered that the Surinamese indigenous language Trio is particularly accurate with respect to the truth level of statements. Carlin has almost finished a complete written grammar of Trio.

The precision of Trio means that it is difficult to accurately translate Dutch sentences into the Trio language. This results in many misunderstandings between the Trio population and the Surinamese government. Dutch is the official language in Suriname and sometimes Dutch speakers seem to be lying. For example, the Trio language contains a so-called frustrative ending. This ending expresses an expectation which has not been met. For example, a civil servant says in Dutch: "I told you that we are going to build a school but it has now transpired that we do not have any money for this." An interpreter translated this into the Trio language but omitted the frustrative ending to the word told. The sentence then gave the impression that when the civil servant made the promise, he already knew that the school would never materialise. Trio leaves no room for doubt. Whoever says: "The man has gone to town", must indicate in the form of the verb whether or not he saw the man going to town. If the speaker was not an eyewitness, he also needs to indicate whether he has understood this to be the case or whether he has indirect evidence. In the majority of other languages such precision is only possible by means of long clauses, such as in the jargon of lawyers. The Trio people always speak with a soft almost whispering voice. Raising ones voice is considered highly inappropriate in their culture. In many cases the tone of a conversation is even more important than the content. It is therefore hardly surprising that this also leads to misunderstandings between the Trio people and the Surinamese government. Trio is spoken by about 2200 people on both sides of the border between Suriname and Brazil. They inhabit several villages in the rainforest. Every morning and evening the villagers communicate intensively with each other via the radio. They also travel a lot between villages over the rivers in dugout canoes with outboard motors. Apart from this their lifestyle is still quite traditional. The Trio population lives from hunting and farming.


The research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

For further information please contact Dr Eithne Carlin (Department of Comparative Linguistics, University of Leiden) tel. +31 (0)71 5127659, e-mail: In September, Eithne Carlin and Jacques Arends will publish an English-language atlas of all of the languages in Suriname: “Atlas of the Languages of Suriname.” publisher KITLV Press, Leiden.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.