Wed | Oct 16, 2019

Make peace with English and master it

Published:Wednesday | November 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM


The contentious issue of language is essentially about identity and self-esteem. Our politicians and other leaders just can't seem to get their heads around this one, yet they profess to be so wise. Doctors and lawyers can speak with authority and be heard, but linguists are subjected to scorn and ridicule.

Sad thing is, from where I sit as a language professional in an international organisation, I hear people every day whose first language is not English. They handle the language far better than our average university graduate who is supposed to have been taught in English.

Until we separate the two languages one from the other, many Jamaicans will be doomed to a life of one long slide up and down the continuum between English and Jamaican, never knowing exactly where they are and what they are speaking. It's a disservice to our people.

We need to make peace with the English language and embrace and master it for the supremely powerful tool it has become. We must make peace, too, with ourselves.

We must seek collective healing from our traumatic past and the subhuman identity foisted on us by our colonial masters. They have always estimated our worth only in terms of our ability to mimic them - the standard-bearers! We must meet their standards while neglecting to set our own.

No matter how clearly linguists like Professor Hubert Devonish and other experts on language like Professor Carolyn Cooper lay out the facts, even the most intelligent among us hear a dog-whistle calling our linguistic rights, national identity and place in the global community into question.

Influential opinion makers like Daniel Thwaites really need to set aside their biases and do serious research before muddying the waters. Sadly, it will probably take foreign experts to say the very same things our own scholars have been advocating, based on the same research and results, before our people will really listen. The colonial masters got us good - real good!"