A non-Creole Jamaica is a false concept

It is time to give our minority language an official status

By Dr Sondré Colly-Durand Observer writer

Monday, December 12, 2011

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Paris, France — We are often defined by a number of important cultural and linguistic attributes. Jamaicans, what is our race? What is our ethnicity? And our language...?


Who am I?


Indeed our language is not only a technical instrument of communication, it is the vessel which holds our heritage and identity and as such is worthy of respect and recognition. However, Jamaican Creole is not an official language even though it is the main form of communication in many homes and social spheres in the country. If Creole is not an "official" language then what message are we transmitting to its speakers? That they are somehow lesser citizens than speakers of English? Besides, this lack of status for our lingua franca is in fact a vestige of Jacobinism.


Babylon System is a Vampire


Unfortunately, many Jamaicans continue to believe that because English is an international language it should dethrone the Jamaican Creole. While it is clear to all that Jamaica needs to shed insularism and that in this respect English is an invaluable tool, we shouldn't envision an either/or solution.


Indeed, monolingualism is actively encouraged by globalisation and therefore whatever indicator for language competence you use, it is true that we tend to assume rigid positions on language teaching/learning based on those underlying socio-political and economic realities. The fact, however, is that we received English as a part of our slavery and colonial heritage, it was imposed.




I want to break free...Free your minds


Jamaican Creole on the other hand is a 100 per cent local product. Its birth being a result of the unique mix of English and West African languages such as Fante, Igbo, Wolof, Yoruba and Twi, many of which are no longer spoken in their original forms. All the more reason for the Creole to be valued and preserved. In this effort, there should be unity among all Jamaicans about the safeguarding of our lingua franca, because a non-Creole Jamaica is a false concept which would devalue the core identity of the island. In order to achieve that consensus though, it seems to me that a change in mentality is a necessary prerequisite.




Cacophony or symphony in Europe?


The European Union which represents 450 million people now has 21 official languages. Although that reality costs a fortune in interpreting and translation services, the Union wants to remain faithful to its motto which is 'United in diversity'. Old European languages like Lithuanian (2.96 million native speakers in Lithuania) or Luxembourgish (320,000 speakers and it is not one of the 21 official languages of the Union) are preserved and protected within the context of this European linguistic diversity. Indeed, in Barcelona in 2002 EU leaders committed to a 'Mother tongue plus two' principle which ensures that the children here learn at least two foreign languages in addition to their mother tongue during the course of their schooling. This explains in part why tiny nations like Finland, Corsica, the Netherlands and Sweden maintain, support and teach their local languages in schools and still manage to produce students who, for the most part are fluent in at least one other European language.




Voulez-vous parler au monde? Do you want to talk to the World? Yuh waan fi chat to di worl ?


I did not learn to write the Jamaican Creole in school. This is a pity because a comparative analysis of Creole and English structures would help to prevent unfortunate illusions typified by the now infamous outburst of a Jamaican woman who exclaimed some variant of the following: "A wa unoo a sey? Unoo no see sey a Henglish mi a chat!" Indeed if we are really concerned about the nefarious impact of globalisation and the role that language deficiencies may play in our marginalisation then, instead of trying to eliminate Creole, we should promote active, structured bilingual or even trilingual education in our schools.


To this end, Dr Hubert Devonish spearheaded the very ambitious and proactive Bilingual Education Project which aims to provide answers for a new framework strategy for the official use of both languages in our primary schools. The results of this pilot project are very promising. Indeed, teaching our children both Creole and English at school will valorise their first language (for many, Creole is indeed their first language), while providing scaffolding which will make the acquisition and mastery of English that much more attainable. In this way they will be able to enjoy the social, economic and cultural rewards of English without shedding their identities in the process. Our education stakeholders should therefore pursue the recommendations set out in this project in order to produce students who are truly bilingual and at peace with their local language.




Two Languages... One Love


Even though I readily admit that the co-existence of both Jamaican Creole and English in the same geographical space can be challenging, we should accept that culturally and linguistically all languages are equal. Accepting this fundamental truth should prevent us from fighting the wrong battles. Creole should have pride of place in our society and should unite us; it should not be the object of divisions and discord. Our language policy therefore should enshrine the principle of the cultural, historical, human elements of our two languages.







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