Mon | May 27, 2019

Carolyn Cooper | Daniel Thwaites channelling Morris Cargill

Published:Sunday | October 28, 2018 | 12:19 AMCarolyn Cooper

Morris Cargill’s duppy must be very happy! Daniel Thwaites has turned himself into a medium. As the psychics say, Thwaites has opened up a channel between himself and Cargill’s duppy. His newspaper column last week shows that the spirit of Cargill is very much alive and well in Jamaica today. The headline, 'Patois activism and ulterior motives', is vintage Cargill.

I suppose Thwaites will take my opinion as a compliment. On June 1, 2014, The Gleaner published a rapturous column by him with this necromantic headline, 'Resurrecting Morris Cargill'. Thwaites reverently quoted his revived mentor at length. The devotee did concede that not everyone shares his passion for Cargill: “Now, I'm mindful that the mere mention of Cargill can evoke Pavlovian responses: ‘He was a colonialist! Plantocracy!’ Maybe. So what? He was also intelligent, humorous, charming, ironic, nationalistic, and big-hearted. I'm sure he didn't let criticism bother him too much, if at all.”

Thwaites’ choice of the adjective “Pavlovian” is a classic Cargillian diss. It is intended to signify that anyone who objects to Cargill’s backward politics is like the dogs on which the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov experimented. A negative reaction to Cargill’s name is just a conditioned reflex. It is certainly not a rational response to racist abuse.

Furthermore, there’s no 'maybe' about Cargill’s plantocratic pedigree. He owned a banana plantation and clearly aligned himself with the interests of Jamaica’s ruling class. And here’s what: Cargill had nothing but contempt for the culture of the black majority. He consistently ridiculed the Jamaican language, which is such a fundamental element of our identity. Incidentally, the headline of my column last week was changed by my editor. What I wrote was ‘Dem fi stop tek fi wi language fi joke'. But there were, apparently, space issues and so ‘Patois’ was substituted. I certainly don’t use that generic word for our language.

CARGILL’S DOGGED PERVERSITY

On February 25, 1999, The Gleaner published a column allegedly written by Morris Cargill's poodle. This is what the bright dog wrote: "One of the aims of my society is to develop a proper understanding of dog language. If people can propose that what my man calls yahoolish should become a second language in Jamaica, I see no reason why poodlese should not become a third one. It is, after all, at least as understandable."

Cargill got the idea to call our Jamaican language 'yahoolish' from the fictional travel journal, Gulliver's Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of the World, written by Jonathan Swift and published in 1726-27. On Gulliver's fourth and final voyage, he discovers a land of intelligent horses called the Houyhnhnms. They share the country with the Yahoos, a despised race of creatures that look like apes. 

By calling the Jamaican language yahoolish, Morris Cargill was perversely claiming that black people in Jamaica are like the Yahoos. We are a savage people, speaking a savage tongue. But we could be tamed if we tried our best to learn English, the language of civilisation. This brings us right back to Daniel Thwaites’ column last week.

Like Morris Cargill, Thwaites makes a mockery of those experts who understand the urgent need for bilingual education in Jamaica. Consider this irresponsible assertion: “But then there is another school of thought(lessness) where English is, if not dispensable, not so important.” There is no advocate of bilingual education in Jamaica who is arguing that English is dispensable or not so important! Bilingualism, by its very nature, is an affirmation of the value of both English and Jamaican.

‘ULTERIOR MOTIVES’

Then there’s Thwaites’ silly assertion that “hours and attention spent hacking through a 'Patwa' rendition of the Bible, or a textbook duly translated into Jamaican, is time and attention that would be taken away from other tasks”. Education is all about studying a wide range of subjects! It’s not either/or.  And Thwaites’ wrong-headed choice of ‘hacking’ suggests cutting through dense bush. Reading Jamaican texts is not an intellectual exercise. It’s brute labour.

Thwaites does admit that he has not “absorbed” much of the scholarship on bilingual education. But that doesn’t stop him from making simplistic assumptions. Like Cargill’s dog, Thwaites doesn’t seem to understand what linguists mean by first and second languages. It’s not a hierarchy of superior and inferior languages. The terms indicate the order in which languages are learned. 

For many Jamaican children, their first language is Jamaican. Their second language is English - if they are lucky! For a small minority, their first language is English. And they had better learn Jamaican if they want to survive here. Then Mandarin, for example, is a foreign language in Jamaica. But not for very long, the way things are going! And it is true that Hakka was the mother tongue of our early Chinese immigrants.

Most vulgar of all is Thwaites’ claim that ‘ulterior motives’ are causing academics to support bilingual education. It will create jobs for translators. That’s like saying it’s self-interest that makes engineers build bridges. Pure nonsense!  Daniel Thwaites should just let Morris Cargill’s duppy rest in peace. Time fi bakra day done!

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.