JG - Away with language bigotry
Away with language bigotry
published: Sunday October 26, 2008
FileMiss Lou took Jamaican Creole to the BBC and the broadcasting entity has never been the same again.
Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
Two hundred years after the abolition of the slave trade, and 170 years after the abolition of slavery, some descendants of slave masters and some of the self-hating offspring of slaves are still telling us how to talk. They want us to banish Jamaican Creole (JC) to the backstreets of the inner cities because in their 'elitist' minds, JC, the greatest symbol of our cultural identity, is inferior and, by extension, so are the residents in these communities.
They are language bigots, believing that they are better than speakers of JC. They call it a 'bad' language, but there is no such thing as a bad language. Therefore, why should we keep JC only on the streets? It is the language that the mass speaks. Why should we hide it from the classrooms, offices, boardrooms, the media, the world? In essence, it is an embarrassing part of our Jamaicanness. No wonder some of our athletes, ashamed of their Jamaican tongue, acquire phoney 'transatlantic' accents as soon as they see television and video cameras.
This negative attitude towards JC is part of the discrimination that exists in this country. There are people who use certain silly idiosyncrasies to exclude others from their social circles, believing that they are superior. Language, just as skin colour, is one of them. The language 'elitists' and their wannabes define you by how you look, talk and sound. Some students in our high schools will tell you how much they have been discriminated against and derided by some teachers and classmates because of how they talk. They are made to feel ashamed of their idiolect, and as such, some have resorted to the affected 'upper St Andrew accent'.
Miss Lou did not keep JC only on the streets. She took it to the studios of the BBC. And the BBC has never been the same. The cultural icon has carried Jamaican 'street talk' into the halls of the 'proper' English empire. What audacity! Imagine how some Jamaicans squirmed.
Personally, to tell me not to use Jamaican Creole is tantamount to telling me to get rid of my black face, for like my face, it is a part of me that will only die when I die. It identifies me wherever I go. So for me to cease using it or to discourage the use of it is akin to denial of self. I will never regard it as being lower than the English language. And it has never prevented me from speaking and writing Standard English.
Because, the existence of one language is not, and cannot be, the reason for the non-performance in the other. You have many people, right here in the Caribbean, who are fluent in a combination of many languages - their native Creole, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese. Go to the Netherland Antilles or any of the French islands and you will get the picture. Many persons can switch effortlessly from one language to the other. Competence in one does not affect mastery of the other. So, in addition to the inferiority complex surrounding JC, the view that it should be banned from classrooms because it negatively affects the learning of English is balderdash.
The problem, thus, cannot be JC. It is the attitude to and methods of teaching and learning English language that we need to spend time addressing. Teachers of English must be retrained to find better and more effective ways of imparting their lessons. They need to get creative and make the English classes more interesting. They need to go back to teaching the rudiments of English language, the rules and exceptions to the rules of English grammar and usage. They must stop giving students essays/compositions to write until students know the intricacies of English grammar and sentence structures. And the sad commentary is that some teachers themselves do not know such.
At the end of the day, the lessons are not well taught if the student cannot identity what part a particular word or phrase plays in a sentence, or construct an error-free sentence. Teachers need to help students to use the language creatively. They need to write and produce their own work to show students what is expected of them. Teachers must write a poem, a story, an essay, a letter to the editor. Get them published, showing students that their work too can get published.
Then, they need to work on students' attitude to learning English. Let them be aware of the need to know English. Give them assignments that they must report to the class in English. Let them stand and read it aloud. If there are errors, discuss them as a group. Word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, they will learn. Empower them. Our children are not dunces; they just need nurturing, motivation and attention. Do not give the impression that English is hard to learn, because it not. French and Spanish demand much more, and people have gone to school right here in Jamaica and are fluent in both.
While knowing English is essential in the global village in which we exist, Jamaican Creole has its place, in every aspect of our lives, in every nook and cranny, and must be embraced. It belongs to us. The reality is that, it is here to stay. Unless some bigots out there are willing to cut out the tongues of over 2.6 million people, and of those in the diaspora. But then, how will we speak 'proper English' with our tongues gone?
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