Sat | Jan 19, 2019

LETTER OF THE DAY - The miseducation of Carolyn Cooper

Published:Wednesday | December 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Professor Carolyn Cooper


Carolyn Cooper's contribution in The Sunday Gleaner dated December 21, 2014, 'Dem think Obama easy', would not have seen the light of day if such powers were vested in me. I say this not to be malicious, but I think it would be the responsible thing for me to do.

I browsed through the article, which appeared to be in two versions of Patois. Although I was able to get the gist of what she was trying to communicate, it proved difficult at times trying to figure out what certain words were, as I tried (naturally) to use knowledge of proper English to pronounce them.

One of the reasons I've heard put forth by Ms Cooper and some of her other 'Patois-formalising' advocates is that if Patois is presented, for instance, in the newspaper (maybe in a similar fashion as her article), Jamaicans who have a deficiency in learning the formal English language may be better able to understand such a presentation.

I would strongly disagree, as I believe that it is the strength of your formal English language training that will determine how well you will be able to read Patois (or what is purported as such).

I'm not sure who her intended audience was, but unless one has a reasonably good grasp of the English language, it would've made no sense to even attempt to read the article. This is where I believe the pointlessness comes in, as such a person would not need a Patois article to understand what Ms Cooper was trying to say.

Patois is an audible language, and there exists no standard in how certain words are spelt or pronounced. This is due, in part, to the fact that Patois varies from parish to parish in Jamaica, as Patois in St Elizabeth has differences from Patois in St Thomas, Kingston from Westmoreland, etc.

I've been referred to as being backward, narrow-minded, illiterate even, whenever I express my annoyance at the call for the teaching of Patois in schools, or printing articles such as Ms Cooper's. Outside of school, I believe the press and media should be one of the leading entities in helping Jamaicans, especially children, with becoming better able to learn and properly use the English language.

We don't need to 'teach' Jamaicans Patois, as that would be like teaching a fish how to swim. I think the country would be best served if Ms Cooper focused more on trying to have more Jamaicans properly learn and use the English language. It was ironic to read the notes at the end of the article, which states Ms Cooper as being "a teacher of English language and literature", and not a teacher of Patois, even after writing the article in two different versions of the language.