Belgian interpreter lays the smackdown on opponent of Jamaican Patois / Creole

Saturday, August 09, 2008

There's a letter to the editor here in response to an article on patois, which apparently made the claim that patois/creole is not a real language, isn't suitable for high-level communication etc. - the type of view you normally see from those that don't particularly like creoles. One point I particularly liked in the response was this one:
...He is putting the cart before the horse: it is language that comes first, since it is the marker that defines a people, who make and later write their history and leave their monuments to posterity. When the ancient Greek peasants sang the songs and recited the tales which, centuries later, were written down and called The Iliad and The Odyssey, they did not do it in an "ancient" language - it was merely the everyday language of farmers, shepherds and fishermen. A language doesn't suddenly emerge as "ancient" - the songs of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and many others will only be "ancient" to generations far in the future.
That's something to remember with Bible translations as well. The King James Version is often preferred by people that like the archaic sound to the text, but this archaic tone didn't exist when it was first translated, because at the time people really did use thee and thou and all the rest. The same point is also brought up by the proponents of Latin revival, that thieves and prostitutes and all the rest also spoke Latin, so it wasn't always a purely scholarly language.

It's also quite ridiculous that a person would make the claim that a language people use every day somehow isn't a real language. If people use it every day, if there are correct and incorrect ways to say it, and if it isn't usable by people of other linguistic backgrounds without some amount of study, then it's its own language:
Instead of examining the absurd prejudices with which we have all grown up in our post-colonial situation, people like Mr Johnston bury their heads firmly in the sand, loudly denying that Jamaican Creole is a language. Well, if it isn't a language, how is it possible for people to communicate in it? Or does he think the Jamaican people walk around making arbitrary noises with their mouths?

When Mr Johnston feverishly denies that Jamaican Creole is a language, what he really means to say is that, in his opinion, it is a language of no account, and by extension those who speak it are of no account either - for how else could it be possible to maintain with a straight face that the majority of a population should be deprived of the right to receive their education in their own language?

Finally, the very apt comparison is made between Jamaican Creole and other versions of German that you'll find in Switzerland and Austria. Nobody is telling them that their version of German is not a real language.
No-one is denying the current importance of English as a world language, nor that when it comes to learning foreign languages, English needs to be given priority. However, just as no-one in their right mind would demand that Swiss German children, for example, abandon their mother tongue (Schwiezerdeutsch) on the first day of primary school and function in Hochdeutsch, a language which they have not yet been taught, so it is outrageous to maintain that Jamaican children should as a matter of policy be deprived of the possibility to learn in their mother tongue and to be taught English thoroughly and properly.

In Switzerland, switching between the dialect and the standard form of German is the norm, since the Swiss realised long ago that with bilingualism you get the best of both worlds. Miss Lou made the same point many years ago, as Mr Johnston himself acknowledges, so why the resistance to bilingual education in Jamaica?

By the way, Wikibooks has some material (just a bit though) for those that want to learn Jamaican Creole.


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