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Letter of the Day | Dichotomy of Jamaican Creole and socialisation

Published:Friday | August 12, 2022 | 12:06 AM


I write in response to Professor Carolyn Cooper’s Sunday Gleaner article of August 7, titled ‘Emancipating the Jamaican language lickle-lickle’. Her argument is on point. In addition to what the learned professor has highlighted, I however think that one of the reasons why people tend to laugh and perceptively appear not to take the Jamaican Creole as a serious language of communication in formal settings lies primarily in how we Jamaicans have been socialised.

Fundamentally speaking, the bastardised version of the so-called Standard English, which is the Creole, is the main medium of parents’ communication to children, especially at home. Patois, the common vernacular of the masses, is therefore accepted as normal and usually not ridiculed in this primary institution. In contrast to this fact though, other agents of socialisation such as the education system and the Church, which are seen as more formal settings, emphasise the use of Standard English.

Indeed, while this kind of linguistic dichotomy is now being seen as dysfunctional to our people’s social and economic progress, as in the now debate over the accepted language of commerce, researchers such as Schweighofer, 2016; Burke, Kuczynski 2018; Rothe, 2018; Washington, Fritz, Crowe, et al, 2019, have all however proven otherwise. Accordingly, their investigations have shown that inherent to the cultural identity of the broader Caribbean region is the centrality of a bilingual and multilingual phonological structure.

As a result, early icons like Hon Louise Bennett and Ranny Williams captured the attention and imagination of their audience by provoking them into much laughter and excitement during their many performances. Consequently, as Miss Lou’s poems were taught to thousands of students over the years, it would appear that not much effort was made by teachers, however, to put a serious spin to the presentation of her work. Instead, many students have been socialised to interpret the seriousness of these award-winning poems as nothing more than fables to laugh at, instead of been analytical, serious and academical in how they are presented.

Importantly though, it was only after the UWI started teaching West Indian poetry; and in later years, Caribbean Examination Council began including Creole poems in the Literature syllabus, as well as a new genre of poetry and music form the ‘Dub poetry’ and ‘dancehall music’, respectively, had given birthright in Jamaica, that a more serious academic investigation had begun to emerge regarding the importance of the Patois language as a tool of communication within the broader and more formal spaces of our Caribbean cultural landscape.

In many ways, therefore, our medium of socialisation and education systems have to be blamed for how the society as a whole perceives the use of the Jamaican Creole. Ironically also, even though our first National Hero Marcus Garvey has been credited with the famous phrase of “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery”; he, too, seemed to be trapped in the vortex of colonialism. Garvey the pan-Africanist had very little ‘Jamaicaness’ in him. As the historical records show, he was schooled and cultured mainly in Eurocentric values of the so-called Queen’s English, mode of jacket and tie dress and general British mannerisms. Truly, the jailer and the jailed were both in jail.

As Jamaica celebrates its 60th anniversary of Independence, it is imperative that we deconstruct the narrative surrounding the acceptance and use of not just our Creole language, but all aspects of our cultural heritage. That is the only way we will be able to decolonise and emancipate ourselves from economic, cultural, religious and mental slaveries.


St Andrew