¿QUE? Spanish cannot be our official second language, rebuts Dr Stanley Niaah


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

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Cultural expert and senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah, has fiercely voiced her disapproval at education minister Alando Terrelonge's initiative to make Spanish the second official language of Jamaica.

In a statement issued last week at a graduation ceremony held at the Shortwood Teacher's College, the Minister of Education, Youth and Culture reignited the debate about whether the island should focus on making Spanish it's second official language.

In a statement, Terrelonge said that living in a multilingual world has forced the education sector to make strides in order to adapt to this demand and set its sights on helping Jamaica to become a bilingual or multilingual society. However, Dr Stanley Niaah has stated that the move to make Spanish our official second language is unfathomable.

"I have read reports of utterances from both the Honourable Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister Terrelonge on the wish to declare Spanish a '2nd language' in Jamaica,” she stated. “These statements are unfortunate because while they are seeking to advance the advantages of multilingualism in a Spanish-dominated region, they ignore that Jamaica already operates with two distinct languages.”

She added: “Jamaica operates with diglossia, where two languages (English and Jamaican) are used by the same people, even in the same sentence. My point is that the privileging of English has distorted the objective reality which demands that English be taught formally as a second language to increase advantage in that language. Consequently, any other language introduced should rightfully be acknowledged as a third language."

Dr Stanley Niaah pointed out that Jamaican or Jamaican Patois is already an established language, highlighting that it is currently being offered as a course all over the world, where graduate students in tertiary institutions have an option to choose Jamaican as a foreign language.

She reiterated her disagreement that making Spanish the country's official second language would be implausible, but also added that the government would be making a grave and nonsensical mistake if the ambition is actually fulfilled.

"It would make us look stupid, weak and lacking in self-confidence as a people,” she said. “While linguists have established that Jamaican is a language and many nations assert identity and preserve their cultures through native language instruction, we are seeking to adopt other languages and place them on a pedestal above our own which many beyond our borders are seeking to learn."

Niaah, however, agrees with Minister Terrelonge in that having Spanish as one of our languages could prove to be very beneficial for many Jamaicans.

“Multilingualism, be it inclusive of Spanish, Swahili, or Chinese will reap benefits for Jamaicans who have always been outward looking and have been cosmopolitans for centuries. I took Spanish, French and German in High School. Jamaican schools have always had Spanish instruction and this is important in the context of our region. There is no intention to reduce the importance of multilingual education," she said.

Terrelonge stated that the ministry will ensure that schools have specialized teachers equipped to train students at the primary level for what he states is the “revolution that will take Jamaica into the future.”

While he focuses on taking the nation in that direction, there are many individuals who share Niaah's stance, and have been advocating that Jamaican become more accepted and institutionalized, helping the nation's people to have a better understanding and appreciation of the language.

She said that while the government seeks to implement a program in which Spanish will be introduced more comprehensively in schools, similar efforts should be made to teach the Jamaican language to students.

“This has been recommended by linguists and piloted in Jamaican schools but still today there is scant regard for these recommendations," she lamented. "There are advantages to be gained in cultivating a multilingual educational environment in which Jamaican is taught in schools, English is taught as a second language, alongside any foreign language deemed a priority."


--Brian Pitter


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