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LETTER OF THE DAY - Fait a Yaad, Daans Abraad

Published:Thursday | April 14, 2011 | 12:00 AM

(While we disagree at home, there is joy abroad)


I am uncertain how the debate came to be understood as replacing English with Patois as the 'official language' in schools. It would seem to me that this is not the direction in which Professor Hubert Devonish is heading. Rather, he seeks to illuminate the fact that Jamaicans are bilingual, i.e., we are able to use two languages with equal, or nearly equal, efficiency. Both languages coexist and we are able to use both, perhaps one more than the other.

The argument, therefore, follows that while English is the official language, Patois is our mother tongue, born and bred on this soil. English and some African languages influenced its creation, but as all things in life, it eventually took on a life of its own, morphing into what it is today. Bilingual education, according to Professor Devonish, refers to the use of both languages within the classroom, sequentially to teach a specific topic.

Children are also taught the basic vocabulary and semantics of each language separately so they will be able to separate English from patois in communication. (Patois has long surpassed its days of being referred to as 'broken English', with the introduction of the Dictionary of Jamaican Creole, the Jamaican writing system by Cassidy and the publications of authors like Miss Lou).

The mastery of English cannot come from the repression and degradation of Patios, and indeed has not. Rather, the use of Patois within the classroom as an educational tool, as the professor proposes, may do us greater justice: we will properly educate our children on the differences between the two languages and the appropriate time to use both, without eroding our culture.

going international

There is an interesting scene in the film Meet Joe Black where Brad Pitt engages in an entire conversation in Jamaican patois. Though he is undoubtedly an amazing actor, it was strange to hear him capture the accent and words of the language to almost perfection. Many Jamaicans, I believe, feel the same way I do when they hear the language attempted in Hollywood, by non-native speakers.

We are critical and perhaps humoured, maybe even angered. Yet, it seems Hollywood, or a place like it, always will be the purveyors of our language as we fill the cinemas, criticise and be entertained. For example, the popular (and world-leading) social-networking site Facebook recently added a category under Profile Information called 'languages you speak' and, intriguingly, Jamaican Patois is listed among them. Needless to say, the creators of Facebook, 'foreigners', recognise our language, while we squabble.

As with everything else, we will be content to sit in the passenger seat and allow ourselves to be chauffeured powerlessly. Miss Lou turns in her grave!

I am, etc.,

Susanna Campbell