The Jamaican Charter of Rights, now available in patois

Inside Parliament

Alicia Dunkley

Sunday, October 30, 2011

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The new Charter of Rights, passed by Parliament in March this year, has been translated into the local dialect or patois, courtesy of Professor Hubert Devonish, Head of the Department of Language, Linguistics and Philosophy at the University of the West Indies, Mona.


On Friday, representatives of the Jamaica Language Unit in that department presented copies of the new patois version of the Charter to Parliament moments ahead of the scheduled sitting of the Upper House. President of the Senate Dr Oswald Harding; Clerk to the Houses of Parliament, Heather Cooke; Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Dwight Nelson; and Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, AJ Nicholson, as well as Opposition Senator Naval Clarke were on hand to receive copies.


The document, which was presented on Compact Discs, is titled "Excerpts from the new chapter three of the Constitution".


Professor Devonish, who had proposed that the Constitution should guarantee freedom from discrimination on the ground of language, had been unable to make his case to the Joint Select Committee of Parliament during its deliberations on the new Charter.


At the time, Dr Harding along with Senator AJ Nicholson had voiced disappointment that Professor Devonish had not been allowed to make his presentation to the committee. Senator Nicholson had held that the Senate reneged on its promise to Devonish and his group to allow them to present the work which they had been asked to do. He had urged that the Senate apologise to the professor and explain that it was too late for the proposed amendment at this point, but encourage him to continue his work to help Jamaicans understand the Charter.


Public Defender Earl Witter had taken the matter a step further by asking for the passage of the Charter to be delayed for that inclusion to be made.


In dogged fashion and despite the failed appeal, Professor Devonish nonetheless took the initiative to complete the translation.


Speaking with the Sunday Observer following the handing over Friday, Senator Nicholson said "we can't be less than grateful and proud about the work the Language Unit has done. They promised, even without any push, to do this some time ago and I know that Professor Devonish and his team have been working assiduously at it, and we are more than pleased and Jamaica should be gratified that at this stage we are well on the way for the work to be completed," he said.


He, however, noted that the cementing of the translation was at the mercy of the present administration.


"In truth and fact, it really depends on the Government. For my part, I would hope that it be introduced, for example, into schools. And when I say schools, I mean institutions of learning at all levels, not just primary or secondary, tertiary included. Teachers' colleges as well, because the teachers are the persons who are going to bring the children along," Senator Nicholson told the Sunday Observer.


"So I would hope that the Language Unit will approach them. Of course, the Government should sign off on it, very important. We don't want to do anything behind the back of the Government. The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice and the like, for example, should be alerted to what is going on here so that they would sanction this movement into the schools," he added.


The university's Language Unit, in making the case for the patois version, said it had found "on empirical grounds that approximately 30 per cent of the Jamaican population could not use or has difficulty comprehending standard English (in which the Charter is written), while nearly 70 per cent have positive attitudes to the Jamaican Creole being embraced as a formal language".


Debate on the new Charter, which replaced Chapter III of the Constitution, had crossed both political administrations, with the Bruce Golding-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government being the latest to resume the dialogue in October 2009 and bring it to conclusion.


It provides for the protection of property rights; protection from searches; respect for private and family life; privacy of home and of communication; and the entitlement of every child who is a citizen to publicly funded education, in a public education institution at the pre-primary and primary levels, among other things.


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