Sat | Dec 7, 2019

Patois official status not abandoning English

Published:Monday | December 2, 2019 | 12:17 AM


I am by no means a linguistic expert; however, I do teach a foreign language at the tertiary level. Recently, when marking mid-semester tests, I was frustrated at the numerous incorrect spellings that persist in the students’ English responses to the reading comprehension: ‘intelegent’ in place of intelligent; ‘there’ in place of their; ‘proffesser’ for professor; and ‘fourty’ instead of forty.

What in the world? Why are these errors persisting? Why is it that simple examination instructions written in standard English are not comprehended?

The students’ continued inability to produce proper English is a common complaint among my co-workers. The essay questions are atrociously written, replete with incorrect or missing punctuations, misspellings, incorrect sentence structure, and the list goes on ad infinitum.

Notably, there is some concern about what were to happen should Jamaican Creole be given the status of official language alongside standard English.

It would be tantamount to lunacy should I treat this as a simple linear matter. However, complexities aside, I’d like to proffer that ungrammatical English is more dangerous than the use of Creole! Furthermore, should Creole be given the status of official language, it by no means lessens the status of English, nor is it synonymous to abandoning English.

If our students are struggling with acquiring standard English, how then can we ask them to learn a foreign language? What I have been doing in my own classroom is use Jamaican Creole as a bridge. A bridge, by definition, carries us over an obstacle or across a body of water.

As such, I would like to strongly suggest that Jamaican Creole can be used effectively to help our students learn English, and then it might be easier for them to learn other languages.

Oftentimes, when learning a foreign language, the comparison is made to English; but if the students are not competent in English, the comparisons which should facilitate language acquisition will not work! We cannot compare the foreign language to a language that they do not know!


What then could happen if the Government should grant the petition and give Jamaican Creole the status of official language? Firstly, I believe that the negative stigma associated with our beautiful language should decrease. Persons would not be labelled as “chat bad”.

 Secondly, English could then be taught using second language teaching methodologies. Particular attention could be given to the structure of the language, especially where it intersects with and diverts from Jamaican Creole.

Thirdly, language teachers should be required to have a basic or working knowledge of linguistics. How can we teach what we don’t know?

Lastly, we would need to further research how this could be implemented. This aspect could begin as pilot programmes in schools. The expectation is that the data are meticulously and rigorously analysed in order to create policy that could be championed nationally.

I agree we need to be multilingual in order for us to be globally competitive. Let us help our students attain multilingualism by first honoring our own language with the status it deserves, using it as a means to achieve greater language competence.