Language Rights and Wrongs/ Langgwij Raits an Rangs

The Maroon, Haiti

The Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica is convening an international conference on Language Rights and Policy in the Creole-speaking Caribbean on January 13 and 14.  Here’s the link to the conference website:

For far too long, the Creole mother tongues of the vast majority of Caribbean peoples have been dismissed and devalued by the formal educational institutions in many countries across the region.  An outstanding exception is Haiti where Kreyol is recognised as an official language.

In Jamaica, for example, we desperately maintain the fiction that English is the mother tongue of most citizens.  It is not.  English is a second language that is inefficiently taught in schools and inadequately learnt by many students.

In a newspaper article, “Whose class are you in?”, published in the Jamaica Gleaner on  October 24, 2010, I raise the disturbing question of how children in primary schools are ever going to learn anything at all if teachers try to communicate exclusively in English, a language that most students do not understand.  Here’s the link to that article:

Even at university level in Jamaica, many students need to take remedial classes in English.  Our school system has simply failed students all the way up; and just passed them on.  If we were to take the Creole mother tongue seriously as a language of instruction in schools we would do a much better job of teaching English.  At the very least, students would learn how to distinguish between the two languages.

The Jamaican Language Unit’s historic conference will address the pressing issue of a Charter on Language Rights and Language Policy for the Caribbean region.  As noted in the press release for the conference, the draft charter that will be on the agenda of the two-day meeting was designed by a group of “30 international experts on Caribbean languages and their roles in education, the law and culture.”

The target audience for this far-reaching conference comprises Ministers of Education, Justice and Culture.  The question of language rights is serious business even though many elites across the region think that Creole languages are a big joke.  Language rights are, ultimately, a matter of social justice.

Langgwij Raits an Rangs

Old Bailey, London

Di Jamieka Langgwij Yuunit op a Yuunivorsiti a di Wes Indiiz, Muona, Jamieka a kip op wan outanashanal konfrans pan Janieri 13 an 14 bout Langgwij Raits an Palisi ina di Kyaribiyan konchri dem we piipl taak Kriyuol.  Si di link tu di kanfrans websait ya so:

A lang taim nou dem a dis an luokount di Kriyuol mada tong we muos a di piipl dem ina di Kyaribiyan taak.  Dem naa tek di langgwij dem siiryoz ina skuul ina plenti a di konchri dem aal kraas di riijan.   No Haiti.  Dem av plenti sens.  Fi dem Kreyol langgwij ofishal.

Tek Jamieka far instans.   Wi a fuul op wiself an a gwaan laka se Ingglish a fi wi mada tong.  Notn no go so.  Ingglish a wi sekan langgwij.  An dem naa tiich i gud ina skuul; an plenti a di pikini dem naa kech i gud.

Mi rait wan nyuuspiepa aatikl, “Whose class are you in?”, we Gliina poblish pan Aktuoba 24, 2010.  An mi aks wan siiryos kweschan:  Ou di pikni dem iina praimeri skuul a go laan eniting at aal, at aal if di tiicha dem a taak to dem iina suoso Ingglish?  Wan langgwij we muos a di pikni dem no andastan.  Si di link ya:

Aal a yuunivorsiti ina Jamieka, plenti a di styuudent dem ha fi a tek ekschra lesn fi fiks op dem Ingglish.  Fi wi skuul sistim naa chriit di pikni dem rait.  Dem dis a fiel, aal di wie op.  An di sistim dis a paas dem aan. If wi did av di sens di tek fi wi Kriyuol mada tong siiryos, an yuuz i fi tiich pikni ina skuul, dem wuda laan Ingglish.  If notn els, dem uda nuo di difrans bitwiin di tuu langgwij.

Di Jamieka Langgwij Yuunit big-taim kanfrans a go diil wid siiryos-siiryos bizniz.  Wi ha disaid wa wi a go du bout langgwij raits and palisi fi di Kyaribiyan.  An wi ha fi rait i dong ina wan dakument.  Di aaganaiza dem sen wan leta tu aal a di nyuuzpiepa an riedyo stieshan.  An dem se di dakument we dem a go diskos a di kanfrens staat fi rait op.   A 30 outanashanal aatariti pan Kyaribiyan langgwij – we nuo ou di langgwij dem fi yuuz ina skuul and kuort-ous an ina di kolcha jineral – a dem kom tugeda an rait op di dakument.

An dem waan di Minista dem fi Edikieshan, Jostis an Kolcha fi kom a di kanfrans.  It big an it braad.  Yu si dis langgwij raits bizniz.  A siiryos ting.  Plenti a di tapanaaris dem aal bout gwaan laik se fi wi Kriyuol langgwij dem a wan juok ting.  Hmmm. Ina di lang ron, langgwij raits a diil wid jostis fi puor piipl.


2 thoughts on “Language Rights and Wrongs/ Langgwij Raits an Rangs

  1. My Dear Carolyn:
    Yesterday morning (01/12/2011) this very issue was discussed in my walking party. I reminded my friends that as a professional teacher of the English language and literatures, your credentials cannot be questioned on this particular subject.

    You helped me to listen to our DJs with an ‘inner ear’ so that I could really appreciate what they were saying. And on this subject, you have not only educated but continue an heroic struggle, in keeping with our finest tradition!

    Finally, at last, another outlet for your voice. Long may it continue.


  2. Hi Carolyn:
    I read your article “Whose Class are You in?” and though you wrote specifically to the Jamaican context, to some extent, the same can be said for Canadian children living abroad and are of Jamaican parentage. A case in point, just a few years ago, my sister and I were helping my neighbour’s eight year old granddaughter with her English homework and we came across the word teet in her story. My sister and I giggled (not making her aware) and asked her what word she was trying to spell. Pointing to her teeth, the little girl confidently exclaimed, teet! Knowing what she really meant to write, I interjected and said “oh you mean, teeth”. Looking at us both with wide eyes as if we were mad, she again insisted “no, teet!” Anyhow, we corrected the word and I gave her a short lesson in Patwa and English because it was obvious that this Canadian born child did not know the English equivalent for teeth.

    I can also recall a few years ago when the same neighbour’s fifteen year old nephew failed English and the mother was furious because she could not understand how her nephew could fail such a subject and he was coming from a country that spoke English. Bear in mind that neither the aunt nor nephew spoke “proper English” as she professed. You see, the nephew had spent most of his childhood life in Jamaica and he migrated to Canada at age 11. Although the aunt resided in Canada for over twenty years, she too had still not “mastered” the English language. So, while many of these children do speak and understand English for the most part, it is not uncommon for them to make this confusion between the two languages.

    Unfortunately, very much like Jamaicans at home, Jamaicans aboard are unaware of the linguistic differences between English and Patwa and are therefore unable to teach their children otherwise, except that Patwa is “bad” or “broken” English. Coincidentally, just last week, after a long debate over the said subject, a friend concluded to my sisters and I that people who spoke Patwa had a language deficiency and my argument of going back to enslave Africans creating the various forms of Creoles was sheer nonsense.


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