Leave patois alone, focus on English

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Leave patois alone, focus on English

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, November 01, 2019

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Patois is the Jamaican soul, born by the will of the people. It needs no input from Government, academics or busybodies. Miss Lou's patois needs no aid from English etymology, phonetics or syntax, and parents, kids will not abide by new grammar, spelling of made-up patois.

Recall the patois Bible? A vanity item which reportedly “wasted funds” which might have helped the ancient church in Baghdad under siege? Self-absorbed blacks using white folk's tithes to down-press poor people. Every Jamaican can hear the Word daily in church, at the gospel tent, gate callers, or prayer group in a district. Hell has place for those who waste alms on a patois Bible.

The fact is most people can't read or write patois or English but understand both when spoken. Do you know we speak English when we land in America? Farm workers twang brilliantly to keep the work and athletes fail 'CXC English', but speaky-spokey well in college abroad to keep scholarships. As a sports manager I saw male and female body builders, not from uptown, speak English abroad — a few missing aitches, but who's perfect? With incentives, insistence, all can master English.

India has some 600 languages, but English and Hindi prevail. Africa has over 2,000 languages but English and Swahili rule. After 57 years, waste no more time, to hell with patois activists; use your own kids to experiment. We the people are on the prosperity agenda. If patois is so good, teach French, Spanish too. Will kids study new patois, carry Cassidy & Le Page in their book bag? Parents, arise!

Speech is rote and learnt at home, so our challenge is to get parents to use English around kids. They correct sums “2+7 is 9, not 10 dunce boy”; why not English? To brush teeth is not innate, but learned. Mom insisted, made it fun, now we brush without thinking. Can mom handle English? Yes!

Patois is a dialect of English. Africans don't understand it, save those who speak English and all British do. Patois is rigid, you have to speak as we do, or get laughed to scorn a la Cool Runnings actors. So it's more an argot; has no vocabulary for intellectual pursuits; STEM, music, instruments, arts but lots of brio and attitude. Patios brooks no variation, vide 'How to Speak Jamaican'; no German, Bajan, or English accents work; it's an argot akin to Teddy Boys, Hell's Angels, or Scouse.

By contrast, English is flexible, so America, Canada have their twang. Spanish too-Mexican, Castilian, Cuban vary, but written the same. Foreigners love our melodic English even if we say “voilent” and “Prince Arry”. Australian English is curt; the skirl of the Scots is harsh and when Indian, Nigerian speak sight unseen our ears know them different. Some, like our finance minister, speak Oxfordesque, and you can't tell if he is black or white until you see him. To be called “coconut” is inadvertent praise from envious blacks; big up roast breadfruit too!

Polish, Romanian migrants arrive in the UK with no English, but in weeks a cleaner or scullion knows the money, welfare office, transport system, and communicate. Polish kids function in English after the first term. Polish prisoners in the UK learn English to qualify for Kawasaki training, but incarcerated Jamaican drug mules taught English here for years can't. So what can we do?

First, Miss Lou is not honoured by made-up, rules-based patois; the opposite of her spontaneity. Next, if patois is best for teaching then use it for geography, mathematics; every darn subject! We teach railway cross docking and students say, “Doc, we have no railway here; why? I tell them, “so you can work globally, in America, Europe, where rail freight and passenger logistics rule.” Don't limit kids to Jamaica or patois! Next, most kids fail English, so is it teacher, resources, or student readiness? But we have 30 per cent mastery now, so target another 30 per cent by 2022, and the full Monty by 2026?

Next, we need a campaign to enlist parents to use and insist on English in the home as proficiency grows with use. Make it homework. Pressure for patois from a small group which will gain financially is noted; mind corruption. Finally, give experts a pilot patois school and us an English immersion school — equal funding for proof of concept. Then judge both against the regular system (year 1, 2, 3 results). Patois vs English argument done! English does not cuss well, but to cuss in patois is rapture; to reel off yardage — some bloody; with rhythm, rhyme, and energy is cathartic! Patois is alive and well; let it be. Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.


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