Mon | Jan 22, 2018

Patois a sure ticket to poverty

Published:Friday | June 24, 2016 | 12:00 AM


I was born in Westmoreland in 1950 and, like most kids in Jamaica, spoke patois on the playing fields and at home. We easily switched to standard English once the teacher entered the classroom. No patois in the classroom! With large doses of First Aid in English and West Indian Readers Book 1, 2, etc., we clearly understood and established a demarcation between English and patois.

Additionally, there was no patois on the two radio stations, unless it was a Louise Bennett production. (TV did not arrive until about 1963). I entered Manning's School in January 1962 and was informed by teachers and students not to bring comic books to school because they did not want us to learn 'bad American English'. In school, our English was constantly being corrected by any teacher. Marks were deducted for English language errors by teachers of any subject.

I recall a Saturday morning when I ran in to my Spanish teacher, in front of the Savanna-la-Mar court house, and in conversation I used the patois term, 'dead-lef'. Mr Evans immediately burst out laughing and said, "Norman, the word you want is 'legacy'. More than 50 years later, I have not forgotten. I don't remember discussions about use of patois. Everybody knew that English was the official language and we certainly knew where use of patois was 'verboten'.

Of interest, Spanish was compulsory for all of us entering Manning's in 1962 and in second form a second language (French or Latin) was optional. All the students studying foreign languages did very well in English language and English literature.

My burning question is, if the linguistic model to which I was exposed was so successful in the 1950s and '60s, why does Jamaica have to reinvent the wheel? Emphasising patois 24/7 is a sure ticket to poor education and a low standard of living.