Thu | Jul 2, 2020

‘Move fram yasso!’

Published:Monday | March 30, 2020 | 12:15 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer

“Move fram yasso!” Anord Sichinsambwe told his grade-four teacher at Moravia Primary School in Clarendon. And, of course, she was very upset. Sichinsambwe had told her to get out of his sight.

But he had done so inadvertently.

He was practising Patois (Jamaican Creole) and had absolutely no clue what he had told her to do.

“However, she proceeded to correct me,” he told The Gleaner recently.

“I had just had break with my friends, where I heard them use the phrase … . That phrase stuck on my lips. However, I did not know the meaning of it. I went to class and happily used the phrase … to the teacher.”

He was in Jamaica for only three months, and did not even speak English. His family, including his Moravian minister father, had just moved from the East African country of Tanzania. That was 14 years ago. They had lived in the community of Ngorotwa, Sumbawanga, in the Rukwa region, where Sichinsambwe spoke Swahili and his parents Swahili, Fipa, and English.

It was “very difficult” for him to communicate with his teachers and classmates. The language of instruction was English and his peers spoke Creole, which was what he said he eventually learned first. Because of the similarities of the vocabulary of both languages, Sichinsambwe was able to easily translate Creole into English. Yet, when he spoke Patois, he was told by the adults around him to “speak proper”.

“I did not know that Patois was not the ‘proper language’. I had to learn to translate from Patois to English,” he explained. And, though he has also mastered English, Jamaican Creole is the language he speaks on impulse. His parents try to speak it, but they find it difficult to grasp.

Sichinsambwe is now a final-year student at Bethlehem Moravian College, where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Secondary Education degree, majoring in English and literature, and is “disappointed” with the negative attitude some Jamaicans have towards Patois.

“The semantics of Patois can easily identify with, therefore there should not be any difficulty in understanding the words of Patois,” he told The Gleaner.

“The issue is not with the language itself, it is with the originators of Patois.”

Sichinsambwe was making reference to the enslaved Africans who combined their native languages with English to create a new language, Jamaican Creole. He believes it should be an official language.

“It represents the Africans’ need to be unified through language … . Its international prestige overshadows the attitude towards the language in Jamaica. In order to preserve this cultural delicacy, it needs to be recognised as a national language,” he said.

From a non-speaker of both languages, Sichinsambwe has evolved into a Jamaican Creole advocate and a teacher of English language, a poet, and an actor.