Justice fi patois speakers!

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Justice fi patois speakers!

Louis E A Moyston

Monday, November 25, 2019

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During the early days of National Heritage Month (October), and also during the celebration of the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, there were some discussions on patois. There was a call for a patois translation competition to salute Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett-Coverley, one of our cultural icons.

Quite surprisingly, there was the view that “there is money in patois”. The last opinion was repeated and emphasised by professionals in that area during a television news report on November 17, 2019. The advocate argued that “50 years ago the argument could be made that there was no economic value in the language (patois), that is not so today”. The position offered to justify the money-making vision of patois is linked to the connection between the music and the language.

The marketing of patois is a dangerous thing. The continued call for the official recognition of patois must be commended, but there is so much more to patois than money-making projects. The first outcome of the official recognition of patois must be the curricular response involving the teaching of English to patois speakers as a second language. There are major studies conducted by Jamaican scholars revealing that the linguistic clumsiness is responsible for poor academic performance, especially in areas such as language, mathematics and science. There is the observation that the inability of many of our students to grasp effectively the meaning and practice of English language is responsible for the awkwardness that is associated with their inability to grasp areas of logic, critical thinking, and reasoning. The continued neglect in responding to the crisis confronting patois speakers has led to the development and maturation of a defective method of teaching and learning. Hence, it contributes immensely to our state of arrested development.

The major problems associated with poor academic performance in Jamaica, from my point of view, are associated with the colonial philosophy of education firstly, and secondly the language problem. They combine to comprise the taproot of the academic crisis, while the other obstructions are subsidiary roots. Recommendations have, therefore, been made for the language of education, innovation and business — English language — to be taught as a second language, very much like French, Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish.

The learning of English as a second language will be more than being trained in the operational skills of a language; it will also help to develop higher intelligence in the related weak areas, thereby strengthening the capacity of patois to contribute to an advanced level of cultural development. In fact, this approach of teaching English as a second language was employed by Lee Kuan Yew in a former British colony, Singapore, in the development of an emancipatory and innovative educational system. That method of teaching and learning contributed to, in part, the lifting of that mosquito bog-filled city State out of poverty in 30 years.

Sociologists define language as a system of symbols that permits communication among all members of the society — it exists in spoken and written forms. Embedded in language are critical thinking and reasoning skills, also the power of emancipation, freeing oneself, and the command to create. It enlightens the learner to be able to answer the question: Who am I? The characteristics of language and ordering words are what inspire and guide “the human propensity to create order out of chaos”.

Indeed, language is more than grammar, sentences and paragraphs. There is the need for further development in the patois language, and new policies to respond to the predicament of patois speakers in school. The Government, particularly the ministers of justice and culture, and the Opposition shadow speakers, should not have to be ordered by letter writing petition to do the right thing. Justice fi patois speakers!

Louis E A Moyston, PhD, is a university lecturer. Send comments to the Observer or thearchives01@yahoo.com.


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