Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Let's have Patois and English, not 'Panglish'

Published:Friday | September 11, 2015 | 9:00 AM

I am a strong supporter of the use of the Jamaican language (I am not referring to profane language); I use it often in this column, and when I preach.

For making us Jamaicans who speak the Jamaican language feel comfortable with ourselves, we owe Dr Louise Bennett-Coverley a huge debt of gratitude. Some years ago, I nominated her to be canonised as a Jamaican national hero. Subsequently, she was appointed to the Order of Merit. I still think she deserves hero status. There is still time.

As much as Louise was an exponent of Jamaican Creole (some call it patois), she spoke the Queen's English impeccably, and never confused the two. Regularly switching from one to the other, she never breached the rules of grammar or syntax of either. She was perfectly bilingual, as many of us of the old school have come to be. Despite my frequent use of the vernacular, I won the prize for English at my high-school graduation in 1968.

Over the decades, I have advocated for Jamaican Creole to be recognised as a separate language from English. I do not support a blurring of the boundary between the two.

 

unholy admixture

 

As I listen to the electronic media - whether to professional practitioners or to public figures - it is quite clear that many of us Jamaicans cannot distinguish between standard English and Jamaican Creole, and speak neither proficiently. News readers, Cabinet ministers, university professors, senior civil servants converse in what we can call 'Panglish', an unholy admixture of patois and the English language, which sounds tacky. It is either bad patois, bad English, or both.

What is worrying is that these highly educated professionals believe that they are using standard English, which they are not.

We are all familiar with 'speaky-spoky' Jamaicans whose first (and only) language is Creole - and who know it - but who also feel, on occasion, that they must speak 'prapahly'; and then they put on an atrocious (and usually quite comical) display of language assassination.

The thing is that we Jamaicans are an aural and oral people - we hear, and then we repeat, but we don't always get it right. We often prefer to verbalise familiar words or syllables, rather than mouth unfamiliar sounds. For many, 'cer-ti-fi-cate' has become cer-fi-tick-et, since we know the word 'ticket'. Is this good Jamaican Creole, bad Jamaican Creole or bad English? If 'cerfiticket' has become a Creole word, it is because of a mishearing or a mispronunciation, not because of the survival of an African word (and there are many African words in good Creole).

There are hundreds of these mishearing-mispronunciations common in Jamaica: 'X-tray' instead of 'X-ray'; 'Elles-ton' instead of 'Ellet-son' (sounds like Darliston); 'cocaine' instead of 'novocaine' (in the dentist's chair).

 

unfamiliar

 

I remember when green, leafy pak choi first came to Jamaica, the two Chinese words in its name were unfamiliar to the Jamaican ear, and we have ended up calling it 'pack chow' - words we know.

We must not do violence to our good Jamaican Creole by trying to normalise words like 'cerfiticket', 'X-tray', and 'Elleston'. Bad English must be called as such, and corrected.

Being an aural-oral society, we like to emphasise familiar syllables in a word, producing flawed and stilted English usage. [In the following examples, please place the stress on the syllable that is capitalised].

Many of us say 'Clar-IN-don' instead of 'CLAR-en-don', 'West-MORE-land' instead of 'WEST-mor-land', 'Man-CHESS-tah' instead of 'MAN-ches-ter', and 'Han-O-vah' instead of 'HAN-o-ver'. We say 'bur-GUN-dy' instead of 'BUR-gun-dy', 'mi-RACK-le' instead of 'MIR-a-cle', 'Cya-RACK-tah' instead of 'CYA-rack-tah', and 'PREH-fah' instead of 'Pre-FER'.

We say 'in-DUSS-try' instead of 'IN-dus-try' (but 'in-DUSS-tri-al' is correct), 'u-ROPE-e-an' instead of 'u-ro-PEE-an', 'pa-ra-MEE-ters' instead of 'pa-RA-me-ters', 'meh-CAN-is-im' instead of 'MEH-can-is-im'. We say 're-gu-LAR-ly' instead of 'RE-gu-lar-ly', 'Rih-CHARD' instead of 'RIH-chard', 'a-DOL-ess-sents' instead of 'a-do-LESS-sents', 'Com-MERSE' instead of 'COM-merce', 'an-CES-tors' instead of 'AN-ces-tors', 'Col-LEAGUES' instead of 'COL-leagues', 'con-DOLE-en-ces' instead of 'CON-doh-len-ces', and 'beau-ro-CRASS-y' and 'dem-o-CRASS-y' instead of 'beau-ROCK-ra-cy' and 'dem-OCK-ra-cy'.

English is not an easy language, for its rules of spelling, grammar and syntax have so many exceptions; and that is why so many Jamaicans end up speaking 'Panglish'; we just did not master English in school. When English is taught in primary and secondary schools, often, the focus is on the skills of reading and writing, rather than on proper pronunciation. And often our schoolchildren learn poor pronunciation in school from their classroom teachers, who are members of our oral-aural society.

I recommend that teacher-training colleges introduce classes in pronunciation so that more of our teachers can be weaned away from 'Panglish' and learn to speak English, so that they are able to pass on this skill to their students.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and former classroom teacher. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.