Fi Wi Nation, Fi Wi Language

Anthony B

‘Talk like Miss Lou, mi no talk like foreigner’.  A so Anthony B seh inna fi im song, ‘Nah Vote Again’.  Im a one conscious DJ weh know seh how im talk reveal im history an im culture.  Im naa put on no twang an a try gwaan like seh im come from foreign.  Im naa try fi cross over.  Anthony B know seh fi im language a ‘nation language’ as di one Kamau Brathwaite from Barbados seh.

Professor Brathwaite a one big-time historian an poet weh did teach right ya so pon di Mona campus a University a di West Indies.  Im gone a New York University. Professor Brathwaite call fi wi Creole language dem inna di Caribbean ‘nation language’.  Becau im know seh yu language talk yu nation; it mek people know weh yu come from, who yu be an weh yu a defend.

Kamau Brathwaite

Professor Brathwaite write one lickle book weh im call History of the Voice.  It come out inna 1984. An im livicate di book to Mikey Smith, one dub poet weh wicked people did stone up a Stony Hill.  Kill im dead.  One a Mikey well-beknownst poem a di one weh him call ‘Me Cyaan Believe it’.  Im dis a bawl out fi all a di people dem weh a suffer.  Yu fi hear im seh ‘Lawwwwwwwwd’. It stretch out same like how people a suffer, long-long time.

An Mikey talk bout di belly-pain woman ha fi bear:

Doris a modder of four

Get a wuk as a domestic

Boss man move een

An bap si kaisico she pregnant again

Bap si kaisico she pregnant again

An me cyaan believe it

Me seh me cyaan believe it.

Dreaming of a white Christmas

Inna History of the Voice, Professor Brathwaite call up di ancestor dem.  Im go back inna di 1950, dem time, an im go a Carriacou, one lickle island, part a Grenada.   Di people dem kip up one celebration every year weh dem call di Big Drum.  Dem honour dem old-time people.  One Black American writer Paule Marshall, who fa people dem come from Barbados go a New York, she write one nice-nice story bout di Big Drum ceremony.  Di novel name Praisesong for the Widow.  Mi teach it inna dat deh same course mi did a advertise – ‘Looking for hot sex and romance’.

Di people dem pon di lickle island a Carriacou know dem nation an dem nation language.  Inna fi har novel, Paule Marshall show wi seh di people dem from Carriacou weh live inna Grenada, dem know English good-good.  But as soon as dem go dong a wharf, fi ketch di boat go a Cariacou, a so-so patwa dem a chat.

Conquistador at work

Brathwaite talk bout how di system never set up fi mek wi member fi wi owna African language dem.  Hear how im put it: ‘What our educational system did was to recognize and maintain the language of the conquistador – the language of the planter, the language of the official, the language of the Anglican preacher.

‘It insisted that not only would English be spoken in the anglophone Caribbean, but the educational system would carry the contours of an English heritage.  Hence . . . Shakespeare, George Eliot, Jane Austen – British literature and literary forms, the models which had very little to do, really, with the environment and the reality of non-Europe – were dominant in the Caribbean educational system. . . .

‘And in terms of what we write, our perceptual models, we are more conscious (in terms of sensibility) of the falling snow, for instance . . . than of the force of the hurricanes which take place every year’.  A true.  Christmas a come an plenty a unu a go buy Christmas card wid snow pon Christmas tree.  And unu a go sing Christmas carol bout ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.’ So unu no bodder gwaan like all a di foreign culture no deh ya pon top a wi, a beat wi dong inna di grong.

Hard core stuff

Earl Lovelace

Still for all, mi know seh tings an times change.  An wi a study plenty Caribbean writer inna fi wi school inna dem ya time.  Tek for instance Earl Lovelace.  Im a one storyteller from Trinidad and im spend time inna Tobago when im a pikni.  Im write one deep-deep novel, The Wine of Astonishment, weh deh pon di CXC syllabus.  Pure patwa inna dat deh book.  It sweet yu see!

 If yu a read dis ya blog soon a morning, yu can ketch Mr. Lovelace up a Philip Sherlock Centre fi di Creative Arts a UWI. Im a gi di Edward Baugh Distinguished Lecture dis morning, 11:00 aklak. Di lecture set up fi honour EddieBaugh, di fos West Indian professor inna di English Department a UWI.  Lovelace a go talk bout ‘Reclaiming Rebellion’.  An im new novel, Is Just a Movie, a go launch.  Pon Tuesday, from 11:00 aklak to 1:00 aklak, Mr. Lovelace a go talk to literature student bout  The Wine of Astonishment under di big tent, side-a di undercroft. All di school dem weh waan come ha fi email di Department a Literature inna English fi book space:  Di phone number a  927-2217.

Den mi get one good joke last week from one man weh email mi bout ‘Governor General Gives Throne Speech in Patois’:  “I am extremely disappointed in you when you wrote that ‘there’s no Jamaican I know who makes love in English. In the height (or depth) of passion, no self-respecting yardie is going to moan and groan in English’. OK, so far so good. What I was expecting to hear from you (as an experienced person in this area) are some of the types of sounds that are made by people making love. Hard core stuff. That’s my disappointment. Can we your loyal readers expect it?  LOL. Have a wonderful day”.

Hear weh mi tell im seh, “DWL.  How about ‘woi, woi, woi’ for starters”.  Im send back one sweet-sweet answer.  Not like some a dem sour people pon di Gleaner website weh always a complain bout mi column.  Mi no know weh mek dem ha fi a nyam up demself so.  Hear weh my faas friend im write back seh: ‘You are a delight. I can always rely on you. You’re simply the best. I almost died laughing. You will kill me, I need not hear anymore. (Although).  You’ve shut me (to hell) up. Period’.

Governor General Gives Throne Speech In Patois

That will be the day. This is Jamaica, after all, one of the most backward places on Earth when it comes to acknowledging the value of the Creole languages created by African people who were colonised by Europeans. Forced to learn the languages of our supposed masters, we adapted English, French, Dutch, Portuguese, etc. to suit the structures of our own mother tongues.

Dame Pearlette Louisy

The governor general of St Lucia, Dame Pearlette Louisy, gives part of her throne speech in Patois each year. The GG is a linguist, so she fully understands the psychological power of the mother tongue. In her talk at The International Conference on Language Rights and Policy in the Creole-speaking Caribbean, hosted last January by the University of the West Indies, Mona, Dame Pearlette conveyed the excitement her throne speech always generates. St Lucians look forward to hearing the traditional language that reminds them of the distinctiveness of their history and culture.

Because the vocabulary of St Lucian Patois comes mostly from French, the language sounds quite different from English, the official language of the island. By contrast, the vocabulary of Jamaican Creole is largely of English origin. So that’s where a lot of the confusion starts. It’s popularly assumed that Jamaican Creole is nothing but ‘corrupt’ or ‘broken’ English.

But there’s far more to Creole languages than the European words. African linguistic features are evident in the grammar, syntax and pronunciation patterns of the new languages which have emerged far and wide: in the Caribbean; North, South and Central America; Mauritius; the Seychelles Islands; on the continent of Africa – wherever Europeans forced Africans into intimate contact.

Making love in Patwa

International Creole Day was celebrated all over the world on October 28. In Jamaica, the day passed with no notice in the national media, as far as I can tell. This is not really surprising. Patwa, Patois, dialect, Jamaican Creole or just plain Jamaican, whatever you call our local language, it has low social status.

True, there’s no Jamaican I know who makes love in English. In the height (or depth) of passion, no self-respecting yardie is going to moan and groan in English. The ‘heartical’ language of both love and war is ‘hard-core’ Jamaican. Incidentally, the spellchecker kept on changing my ‘heartical’ to heretical. I suppose it is heretical for me to claim that Patwa really is the heart language in which most Jamaicans live and move and have our being. Even if we do know other languages.

Many Jamaicans are in denial, refusing to accept the fact that Patwa is their mother tongue. English is the language in which they step up in life. Or so they think. So they try desperately to cultivate amnesia. ‘Dem no chat Patwa.’ But if you ‘jook’ them, you can bet your last dollar they would immediately remember their heart language.

In denial or not, if most Jamaicans were to track our use of language over a 10-minute period, many of us would probably be surprised to see just how much of our thinking is spontaneously done in Jamaican. A few years ago, I used to teach a course in Business English for a communications company. At the end of the module on bilingualism in Jamaica, I would give a little test: I asked participants to see how long they could speak only in English. The majority of them didn’t even make it out the door!

Jamaican Language Unit

Cover of Luuk

On International Creole Day, the Jamaican Language Unit (JLU) at the University of the West Indies, Mona, hosted a most entertaining and informative forum on a wide range of social issues. Bertram Gayle of the Bible Society of the West Indies spoke about the great controversy over the translation of the Bible into Patwa. Some Christians see this project as a sacrilegious enterprise. They hope Jesus will come for His chosen people before all of the translating is done. Despite opposition, the Bible Society is pressing on the upward way, gaining new heights every day. So far, the Book of Luke has been published, along with a CD.

Kadian Walters, a lecturer at UWI, reported on the bilingual education project pioneered by the Jamaican Language Unit. Students in grades one to four in selected primary schools were taught in both English and Jamaican. They learned to be literate in both languages, as they demonstrated with complete self-confidence in a CVM TV news report on the successful experiment. I speculate that many parents would choose the bilingual programme for their children, if they were routinely given that option.

Andre Sherriah, a graduate student in the JLU, gave an exciting presentation on translating legal language into Patwa. He demonstrated the creativity that is needed to ensure that the technical language of the law does not become a weapon that beats down citizens. I gave a talk on the use of Patwa in the arts. This theme was also addressed by Nickesha Dawkins, who confirmed that our language is honoured abroad as foreign DJs and singers, like Bazil from France, just ‘tek it over an gone’.

Dr K'adamawe K'nife

Dr K’adamawe K’nife, an authority on social entrepreneurship, illustrated the ways in which his students efficiently translate the language of management theory into their mother tongue, demonstrating the flexibility of Jamaican Creole. All of this research makes me optimistic that one of these days our governor general will be empowered to utter even a few sentences of his throne speech in Jamaican. Better yet, one day, one day, a British monarch will no longer be Jamaica’s head of state. And that will be that. And ‘dat’.