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“Leave patois alone, focus on English”

Friday, December 06, 2019

Dear Editor,

I so enjoyed Franklin Johnson's article in the Jamaica Observer article on November 1, 2019 that I've saved it for posterity and forwarded to all my family and friends of like mind.

The 'Patois Movement' distresses me. You have articulated so well the motivation of self-aggrandisement, which propels these (mostly highly educated and accomplished academia in our midst), for example, Carolyn Cooper, author and professor of literary and cultural studies, and attorney-at-law Dionne Jackson-Miller.

I read and listen to their rationale for elevating our native, natural “language of our people” to the status of being a formally taught language in our school's curriculum, and my only hope is that if successful, it'll not be in my lifetime.

So many questions race through my mind. The main ones being: To what end? What is the agenda? Our schoolchildren are already dismally backward in reading, writing, and expressing themselves in the language which is accepted globally (English).

How does the introduction of patois in the curriculum improve their chances at excelling locally or globally? I've tried so hard — and failed miserably — to read and comprehend articles written by Cooper in the papers (chaka-chaka vs prapa-prapa).

I really wonder about the agenda of the people who expound on the inclusion of our colloquially spoken dialect to our children's curriculum as a formally taught language.

There are so many people, particularly in the underprivileged communities of our island, struggling to communicate effectively and efficiently in the established language of the country where they live and are expected to prosper as contributing citizens in our society.

How does this drive help them? Jackson-Miller speaks of people who are at a disadvantage in the courts, as they are unable to comprehend or communicate effectively in the Queen's English.

They are, of course, limited to expressing themselves in any other language than the patois spoken informally in their families and communities. My thinking is that these unfortunate people are at a disadvantage for many more reasons than just the inability to communicate efficiently in the native language of the country of their birth.

The main one being the absence of a formal education. Jackson-Miller's assessment was quite unique as I listened recently to a radio discussion on the issue. She continually referred to these persons in the court setting as being disenfranchised, so to speak, in a world of the formal English language.

I wanted to ask the learned lady if she thinks that these challenged people ever watched television, listened to programmes on the radio for entertainment and enjoyment, or attended church services in their respective districts throughout the island.

Or, perhaps in her assessment, do they appear as if “plucked from the confines of a jungle-type existence” or live in communities where all communication is restricted to this colloquial dialect or patois?

This conversation about making our expressive and wonderfully colourful local dialect a “formally accepted language” akin to English is really just a fad. It's trendy enough and controversial enough to give all these academics something to debate.

It would be a shame for this movement to gain any traction to the point of being taken seriously.

The fad will be as much a failure as the patois Bible turned out to be, and will only benefit the academics and politicians pushing it, as they host discussion forums and give lectures on chaka-chaka vs prapa-prapa and the cultural significance of patois being “not a dialect or broken English” …blah, blah, blah. Why am I so bothered by this trendy fad being forced on us by the patois activists?

In my opinion, it's non-progressive. It does not address the real issue of the absence of effective education and few tangible opportunities to elevate the disadvantaged in our country.

In the true sense of the word fad, this patois drive is an “enthusiasm for something without basis in the object's qualities; a craze”, hopefully short-lived.



Judith-Ann Farmer