Victory for Jamaican patois!

Michael Burke

Thursday, February 07, 2013

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The latest American VW advertisement where white Americans speak the Jamaican patois, is a victory for these who advocate the equality of Jamaicanese with Standard English. And by coincidence it comes when we are observing Black History Month. Yes, the Jamaican dialect can be included as part of Black History. The Jamaican dialect has some 250 African words and another 90 compound words that is a mixture of European languages and African.

More importantly, the victory for Jamaican patois comes two months after the release of the first Jamaican Patois Bible albeit limited to the New Testament as a start. The VW ad is an encouragement for Jamaicans to appreciate our own language. The dialect also makes us into a family that can discuss domestic issues without outsiders knowing it unless they study our native tongue.

Yes, Jamaican children need to learn Standard English to communicate with the world. But we tend to have an 'either-or' mentality in Jamaica. Some believe that the dialect enthusiasts are advocating dialect instead of English and not by way of equality of language and by way of being bi-lingual Some say that there is no need to teach patois as it will only be used by Jamaicans who know it anyway. This was disproved by people who studied our patois to do the VW ad.

I understand that no Jamaican in the Diaspora labelled the ad as racist. That comment came from people who want to pretend that they know what is best for us. But was the labelling of the ad as racist a ploy from any of VW's competitors so that there could be a boycott of VW vehicles in favour of others? Anything is possible!

Someone made the point that those who labelled the ad as racist assume that Jamaicans are all black. Indeed our Motto is "Out of Many, One people" although some (including myself) opine that it is misleading because it implies that the races are roughly of equal percentages in Jamaica.

Over 90 per cent of Jamaicans are of African ancestry. But the ethnic antecedents are African, Chinese, Indian, European and Lebanese. And the European can be divided into several including English and German as well as Portuguese. Indeed, the ad has given me an idea, since Volkswaggen originated in Germany.

Seaford Town in Westmoreland is a community of German descendants who came to Jamaica in the 1830s. Today, many of the lily-white German Jamaicans have migrated and it is the mixed people that are mostly left.

It is a pity that VW did not think of the ad in the 1970s when there were many German Jamaicans around and have them speak the patois. It would have been far more authentic although they may not have done professional acting unless they were trained.

In the 1970s, a German documentary film on Seaford Town was done. I know about it because Seaford town is a Roman Catholic community although the Roman Catholic population of Jamaica is less than three per cent. And on church-related business, I spent weekends in Seaford Town more than 30 years ago.

I happened to be in Seaford Town in 1976 when the community was shown the documentary film about the German descendants who are Jamaicans. Many German-Jamaicans who did not know a word of German watched the film in the German language and were delighted to see themselves on screen although they did not know what was being said. There were scenes of the cemetery and featured such names as Kameka, Wedemire and Eldemire among others.

Would Germans fly to Jamaica as tourists to re-discover members of the families who came to Jamaica as indentured servants? If they would, perhaps the people of Seaford Town could provide hospitality up as part of a bed and breakfast programme. Indeed, as far as I can see, the best-developed bed and breakfast programme in Jamaica is in Bluefields in Westmoreland. How about expanding the programme to Seaford town?

Would VW consider teaming up with an airline? Perhaps the VW parent company has shares in one already. If VW would get German tourists to come to Jamaica, maybe they could strike a deal with a company here to buy their vehicles as taxis to carry the German tourists to Seaford Town. It would certainly be a "win-win-win" situation. VW would get their vehicles sold, the hospitality industry would benefit in terms of employment and the revenue would benefit in terms of more foreign exchange.

Indeed, VW could also help to finance a faith-based tourism project in Seaford Town, if the community there desires it. The community has its roots in the Roman Catholic Church and I imagine that it is easier to flood Jamaica with Roman Catholics tourists than with others, given the very large numbers of Roman Catholics in the world (over one thousand-million)

But even if the VW company and the hospitality industry do not act on the idea, perhaps the government can at least bring an airline full of Germans to visit Seaford Town, just as it did with the Czechoslovakian airline recently.




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