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John Rooms | The case for Patwa

Published:Monday | August 28, 2017 | 12:00 AMJohn Roomes

On the front page of The Gleaner, of Monday July 3, 2017, there were two articles captioned 'Illiteracy danger' and 'Ignorance driving up domestic violence'.

Permit me to suggest that there is a possible positive choice that can contribute to helping to alleviate some of the situations outlined in these articles, a lot of which suggest a struggle with comprehension on the part of many of us Jamaicans. So, that bold choice is to make Patwa (now known as Jamaican) an official language, equal with Standard English. This, we believe, will facilitate a better basis on which we can communicate with and fully educate our population on essential issues affecting our families and communities. Way too much is being shrouded in a language (English) that provides only limited comprehension for most Jamaicans.

It is now common knowledge among linguists and others that the majority of the Jamaican population at home and in the diaspora speak and best understand Jamaican. This mother tongue proudly defines us as Jamaicans everywhere and is fully accepted overseas, and thankfully, now gaining much appreciation locally, as underscored by our minister of education in a recent Gleaner report.

Extensive language development assessment and work on our indigenous language, by linguists associated with the UWI and endorsed by experts locally and internationally, have shown that there is a clear structure, phonetic system and grammar in Patwa that has resulted in a standardised writing system that more than adequately governs the language, making it equal with any globally recognised language.


Better understanding


One should make the effort to honestly test this by taking a close and unbiased look at the translated New Testament - simply as a text, if you please - to see whether this is a good written representation of "ou wi taak". This work has been faithfully done using the original Greek and applying the Jamaican and now professionally recognised Cassidy autography or writing system.

The results of tested use of the Jamaican New Testament (JNT) in both the written and audio forms have shown that persons do understand the meaning of the Scriptures better. The UWI Jamaican Language Unit (JLU), Bible Society of the West Indies, Wycliffe Bible Translators Caribbean and a number of other users can all provide data and testimonials to this effect.

This outcome suggests that it is time for us as a nation to accept that persons will be better off if they are taught first to read in the language that they speak and understand so absolutely well - essentially, a very smart process of beginning with the known and transitioning to the unknown.

The value of this is well documented in the pilot project conducted by the JLU and the MOE, at the primary level in a number of schools, between 2004 and 2010. The results provided hard to deny evidence of the high comprehension, English, maths and reasoning competences achieved by students, eclipsing national standards at the the grade four level, when Jamaican is made the primary language of learning.

Can we then begin to imagine the positive effect on our education, community and civil society when Jamaican is made official, as our first language, used to communicate vital information and is fully accepted without prejudice in our halls of justice? Imagine the positive impact on the self-esteem and dignity of our young men and women in otherwise, challenged families and communities?

Then let us kill the illiteracy and ignorance bugs from the high places as well as the least in our society, with this one bold step in alleviating domestic violence and other violent behaviour in Jamaica.

Jamaica is a bilingual society and the sooner we officially accept and work with this, the easier it will be to teach and explain things using both Jamaican and English - appropriately and not one at the expense of the other.

- John Roomes is CEO of Wycliffe Caribbean. Email feedback to