Thu | Dec 5, 2019

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Communication isn’t the key to success

Published:Tuesday | November 12, 2019 | 12:21 AM

This push to have Patois as an official Jamaican language is nuanced and complicated. Language has been one of the great dividers on this little rock. As people open their mouths, impressions are formed and judgements are passed about education, status, wealth, and, ultimately, worth.

Having heard the stories of people feeling discriminated against because of how they speak, I 100 per cent see the utility in making language more inclusive. My training has taught me that communication is the transfer of intended meaning. For that to happen in my media profession, it’s not uncustomary for me to meet my guests where they are. It’s been easy for me while doing interviews to slip into Patois when I want my subject to feel more comfortable and to clearly, without ambiguity, understand the question I am asking. I’ve also found it gives them the freedom to answer me in Patois, if that’s how they feel most comfortable expressing themselves.

I’ve also shifted to Patois in tertiary lectures, more for colour than comprehension. Especially when the lectures are long, I’ve found that switching from standard English to Patois makes both me and the material I’m teaching more relatable. Immediately, the classes feel less stuffy and the students are more at ease and alert.

This code switching is a tool I’ve learnt to lean on over time. I can tell when I’m losing someone I’m speaking to. Their eyes gloss over with a vacant stare, their face has this quizzical expression, or they nod … a lot. Once I switch things up and begin to punctuate with Patois words for emphasis, it’s an entirely different exchange between the two of us.

Many polished, well-spoken children have parents who they mirror – parents with a good grasps of English who reinforce that English must be spoken at home. They express their thoughts freely in English, and communication and idea exchange form a big part of their households. In many of those houses, Patois is forbidden, at least until cognitive language skills are formed and the children know the difference between the two languages and the appropriate time and place to use each.

So many Jamaicans feel inadequate expressing themselves in our official language. I secretly believe it’s part of why we are so violent. People ridicule the clumsy communicator. They make ‘bite of the week’ because they don’t feel comfortable communicating innately, so you end up with Rosie’s “Many water like Hellshire” or ‘Cliftwang’, or that ‘speaky spoky’ scammer asking, “Do you married?”

BIGGER ISSUE

The issue sparks a bigger language issue. Some people were just never spoken to – in any language – and were never encouraged to speak; had never been given a voice. And so many in society can barely string an English sentence together. To compensate, they adopt a heavy quasi-American accent as if that will somehow mask the grammatical errors.

Standard English can be off-putting to some Jamaicans. But I also don’t think English has been given a fair shot. When I was being taught Spanish in high school, orals were a must! Equal emphasis was placed on both writing and speaking the language. You stood up in class and had exchanges with your peers in this language you were learning. My language immersion travelling to Spanish, speaking countries did a world of difference in improving my speaking and comprehension.

I never benefited from any of that in English class. English orals are a must.

Communication isn’t the key to success. Comprehension is, and if Patois will increase comprehension, I’ll add my signature to the petition. What two official languages won’t do is erase the classist divide that we can’t be blind to. We run the risk of institutionalising the position that those who speak Patois are less than those who speak English. That change will require much more than signatures on a paper.

Patria-Kaye Aarons is a confectioner and broadcaster. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@gmail.com.