Assignment #1: Discussion on the Topic “Patois is Not a Language”
The use of the English language, which has been paramount to my development as a Jamaican citizen, has indeed created a tremendous impact on my life, thus enhancing my ability to communicate effectively within society as English language is currently recognized as the official language of education, international business, communication, media, the internet, technology, entertainment, instruction manuals and electrical and other appliances.
Knowing Standard English, the most global of languages, has afforded me the ability to comfortably interact and benefit from its multiple international possibilities as today, only the verbally advantaged speakers are considered trainable, employable and are accepted professionally.
While conducting my research, I noted very interestingly that over the years, there has been minor or no changes in the definition of language.
Language, as explained by Soanes & Stevenson in the Concise Oxford Dictionary 2008, 11th Edition can be defined as “the system of communication used by a particular community or country,” while a definition from the Book “Human Communication: Motivation, Knowledge and Skills, describes language as “a complex phenomenon whose meaning depends on where and when it is used.” It is further explained to be “a verbal symbol system that allows us to take messages and utterances in the form of words and translate them into meaning. (Morrale, Spitzberg & Barge, 2006). I also gathered from the website http://wordnet.web.princeton.edu/perl/webwn that “Language is the forms of speech, or the methods of expressing ideas, peculiar to a particular nation.”
The term ‘Patois’ is used widely in Jamaica, and can refer to any sort of indistinct or broken language in any country of the world. Patois is used to refer to a variety of creole languages. A creole language develops from the combination of two or more languages.
“Patois is any language that is not spoken in its original form. The patois that is spoken in the Caribbean is called creole. The creole patois was developed by the slaves in slavery days. The slaves learned their masters’ native language-French, and combined it with their African Language to form this dialect. This dialect was created so that the slaves could speak amongst themselves without their masters knowing what they were saying. The culture was passed down to many generations and is still spokenâ€¦”
(http://whattocook.com/what_is_patois.html- obtained from source – Friday, September 24, 2010)
Patois is not officially a language in Jamaica; I am able to state same based on research that it has not (yet) been made official by the Government of Jamaica. And, although most Jamaicans primarily use patois for daily communication, it is quite interesting to note that, if you ask a Jamaican citizen at this particular moment, what language he or she speaks, the immediate response would be “English.”
However, not all Jamaicans use patois. Patois is mostly spoken among the poorer class in Jamaica although many middle class people use patois as a casual language in various social settings.
The general feeling about Patois is that it is a ‘poor man’s language’ and it is considered in this way because no strict rules outlining the standard grammar of the English language are followed and this gives the appearance of the person using it to seem uneducated which is why writers are encouraged to stay away from dialect as it is often hard for their reading audience to understand.
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Based on my personal investigation, I have come to understand that patois has always been considered unacceptable and it has been debated that it should be kept informal and is not to be used for any official purpose. This, I have noticed, as there are always whispers, negative utterances and even scoffing at persons who are unable to speak Standard English, whether in a social setting or workplace; such persons have been labeled as socially and linguistically inferior.
Nevertheless, Patois is continuously being promoted daily via music (especially dancehall), poetry, for example those by Joan Andrea Hutchinson and Mutabaruka) and the media (newspapers, radio, television etc.).
Gleaner writers such as Jennifer Keane Dawes and Dr. Kingsley Stewart have been trying to keep Jamaicans connected to their ‘roots’ by writing columns about life situations or just for humour, strictly in patois, however, I don’t think that this is helping the patois vocabulary of the readers. I, myself, read the columns and find some of them interesting yet very hard to read and interpret.
Dr. Carolyn Cooper and Mrs. Barbara Gloudon, among others, also write articles in patois from time to time in the media, however, these are much ‘easier on the eye’.
It is an issue of debate as to making patois an official language, which some believe will help to increase the self-esteem of many Jamaicans and add more strength to their identity if patois is considered as valuable a language as any. It is also discussed that recognition of patois may also increase communication skills and social interaction in Jamaica.
In my opinion, most Jamaicans already know patois and, being that it is a form of language which is not considered appropriate for official purposes such as public functions etc., I don’t believe that this is necessary to make it official or to even teach it, as some propose.
I read an article where it is explained that in March 1999, a group of students from the UWI, Mona Campus put together a proposal in the hope of gaining “Jamaican Language” or patois, an official status. It is argued that this effort to make patois official is quite unnecessary because students are already having a hard time mastering Standard English in school, (Vascianne, 1999) much to my agreement.
I am also in full agreement with Mooris Cargill, a Jamaican columnist that “if patois continues to gain legitimacy, it will destroy English.”
Pryce (1997) states that the high illiteracy state is partially blamed by many Jamaicans on the presence of two languages in the country and outlined the belief of Professor Carl Stone that the reason students are having trouble with the English Language is more as a result of students not reading enough.
I don’t believe it is intelligent to implement certain changes such as food labels or even The Bible into patois. (N.B. Recently the book of Luke was translated into patois by a group of graduates of the UWI and became available in stores on 08/09/10) (http://wwww.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100809/lead/lead2.html- obtained from source on Sunday, September 26) 2010) and I think it is would be quite absurd to see road traffic signs in patois. Imagine for example: instead of “Buses only” you read “Ongle bus” or instead of “Reserved for handicaps” you see “Fi di andycap dem,” etc.
I work in a public educational institution, and at times am privileged to read some of the errors recorded by students at the advanced level in the secondary education system. Some of the students don’t seem to remember that English is the recognized first language of the society and often make their response in their own form of patois. I believe that some teachers are to be blamed for this because at times, they themselves do not use the Standard English in the classroom and this, I believe, may be the reason why the students feel it is okay to record their responses in the manner that most of them do. Most of the students at the institution hail from the small fishing and peasant farming community of Annotto Bay and most of their parents have never had the opportunity to learn Standard English and most times do not necessarily speak patois out of cultural pride, but as a result of a lack of education, therefore if the students are not taught proper English by their teachers at school, then they eventually become verbally disadvantaged and rely solely on what they have learnt from their uneducated parents at home and what they pick up on the streets, therefore, my point is that there will never be an end to illiteracy as far as this is concerned if the teachers fail to carry out their purpose.
While I embrace my home tongue, patois, I honestly have a strong rejection to it being allowed and accepted everywhere.
“No language is a uniform system in which everyone talks just like everyone else. People who speak a given language share knowledge of its’ basic rules. Such common knowledge is the basis of mutually intelligible communication.” (Kottak, 2002)
It is a fact that there are certain social situations that influence our speech such as
Cultural practices, and
and whatever phonological differences which are present are looked down on.
Whether it is fair or not, people judge you not only by the way you look but by the way you speak. “Proper language becomes a strategic resource, correlated with wealth, prestige and power.” (Kattak, 2002).
I believe that in order to effectively learn and properly use Standard English, it has to be practiced. Everyone needs to practice and learn Standard English in order to develop a career for if we should examine closely, we will notice that all academic institutions list English Language as a requirement for admission and all organizations, no matter what the job may be, requires Standard English as an asset for obtaining a job.
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Some of the most industrious people in society are those who are proud active speakers of patois, yet are not limited to learning and using the English language and encourage their children to do so. The Clergy, Lawyers, Doctors, Chief Executive Officers, Lecturers, Teachers and the rest of Jamaica’s ‘learned’ class primarily use English, not because they have access to the enlightened ‘larger’ world, but because we continue to stigmatize the language that is used for official purposes all over the world.
I will never look down on patois or scoff at persons who are unable to speak Standard English because, to me, some persons are simply not able to express themselves fluently no matter how hard they try, and I another reason is that I am aware that many Jamaicans feed their families from work done in the informal economy (eg. Factory, beauty shop, taxi service, vending etc.) where patois is the main language used not necessarily because they are illiterate but because that is what is available to them in this country.
Everyone, at some time or another say words in patois. I cannot imagine any single Jamaican who I interact with on a daily basis who does not use it. Our Jamaican everyday language, as I affectionately call patois, when used by certain professionals gain them a respect or a certain cooperation and I believe that is the main reason why it is really used – to get cooperation. I enquired of my brother who has been a Police Officer for seventeen years (who speaks mostly English when around friends and family) why they use patois when accosting ‘bad men,’ and he explained to me, that some of the things they want to say may not have the same effect when said in Standard English. He shared some examples with me:
“A ded you waa ded” instead of “Do you want to die?”
“Stap gwaan like you bad” instead of “Stop behaving badly”
and I could go on.
I have also observed the Dean of Discipline at my school on several occasions handling certain situations, and for a situation with a very unruly child, especially boys, I realized that patois is often used. When I asked her why, she told me that at times, it is the only way to control them – by speaking to them in the way they understand and as most times administered to them at home. She confirmed that whenever patois is used, “they know that there is no joking.”
Other persons, such as vendors in a craft market, use patois to promote their wares to tourists; radio talk show hosts and media personalities use it to add ‘real Jamaican vibes’ to their presentations; teachers sometimes use it to get across a point in class or to reprimand an unruly child; and children/students, oftentimes as they prefer, mostly because of peer pressure.
I, myself, at work, interacting with my co-workers use some amount of patois, and from time to time, the members of my department, and students whom I supervise, have made me put aside all English (which I mostly use) and level with them in the language which they know and can easily relate to.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with patois. I grew up in a home where it wasn’t looked down on, however, I was strictly required to address my parents (and everyone else whenever in their presence in Standard English). Most of the English Language I know and speak fluently today has been taught to me in my home, and this has often caused me to wonder about those children whose parents are uneducated and are unable to teach them.
I am not saying that patois doesn’t qualify, but I don’t believe that one should be limited to learning only patois, because then, one may not be able to expand or move on to the world scale. I know that many Jamaicans are very foreign minded and this limitation would impact very negatively.
In the meantime, I continue to embrace our beloved ‘Patois’ and believe that as Jamaicans, it is not intelligible to want it to be made official so that other nations may be able to buy a manual or dictionary and learn it and be able to take advantage of it. I want patois to remain unique to us as Jamaicans. Other countries have their own creole which has not been made official and for example, even though I speak a little Spanish and can understand when spoken to in the language, if a native Spanish speaker wants to make disparaging comments about me in his native Creole right in front of my face, I would not be able to understand what is being said about me.
Although I admit to hearing patois rather than poor English, I do believe that there is a time and place for patois. As a Jamaican, I like the humor and versatility our everyday language. And while I remain in agreement that patois is an effective medium of communication through which countless traditions and life skills have been passed, I emphasize my position nevertheless, that it is not necessary to teach patois or to promote it because Jamaicans naturally acquire the . patois necessary for cultural expressions and social and informal occasions.
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