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Guarantee freedom from language discrimination

Published:Wednesday | April 13, 2011 | 4:00 AM

This is the second instalment in a two-part series. Part One was published yesterday.

The Bilingual Education Project (2004-2008) was a Ministry of Education-approved project to implement, from grades one to four, an education project which was intended to use both Jamaican and English fully, as mediums of instruction, mediums for literacy, and as subjects to be taught via language arts.

This involves a) redesigning instruction to support bilingualism with Jamaican and standard Jamaican English enjoying equal status in grades one to four; b) providing learning/teaching materials in both languages; c) training teachers in the specialist area of Jamaican language instruction.

The students engaged in the project completed that project when they left grade four in 2008. They did Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) in 2010 and are now in grade seven in high schools. They are fully literate in Jamaican and English, in the case of the former exercising their literacy in the Cassidy-Jamaican Language Unit (JLU) writing system, the same one being popularised by the JLU.

The Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI) in Legal Contexts

Jamaicans in Jamaica and overseas often suffer by being treated by the legal system as speakers of English. There have been many cases of injustice as a result of this. The way forward is simultaneously raising the awareness of Jamaicans that they are entitled to the services of an interpreter if they do not have a sufficiently high level of competence in English and to ensure that they have properly trained and qualified interpreters to assist them.

The Institute of Linguists (IOL) is an international examining body certifying interpreters in a range of contexts, including those involving the law. In 2010, in collaboration with the JLU, the IOL has examined a group of Jamaicans engaged in a programme to train them as interpreters in legal contexts, involving interpretation from English to Jamaican and Jamaican to English. The first set of examinations were held in June 2010, and it is expected that the first batch of internationally certified interpreters in legal contexts will complete their certification in November 2011.

The International Conference on Language Policy and Language Rights in the Creole-speaking Caribbean was held in Kingston from January 13-14. This conference, attended by the governors general of Belize and St Lucia, by the minister of education of Antigua, and by representatives from at least 10 Caribbean countries, including those under Dutch and French administration, agreed on a Charter of Language Policy and Language Rights in the Creole-speaking Caribbean. This spells out the rights which speakers of languages in the Caribbean, in particular Creole and indigenous languages, can and should expect in relation to their respective states.

There is great stress on the requirement that the State not discriminate against its citizens on the grounds of language, and of the right of every citizen who is a speaker of a territorial language to receive service from the agencies of the State in the language in which the citizen is most comfortable.

The actions summarised above, and in Part One of this article published yesterday, make a compelling case for the inclusion of the freedom from discrimination on the grounds of language within the Charter of Rights to the Jamaican population.

Hubert Devonish is professor of linguistics and coordinator of The Jamaican Language Unit. You many send feedback to hubert.devonish@uwimona.edu.jm.