Stop demonising Patois -From a semi-lingual to a bilingual Jamaica - Commentary - Jamaica Gleaner - Sunday | August 26, 2012 | Metaglossia: The Translation World |

By Hubert Devonish, Guest Columnist

The minister of education is reported in The Gleaner of August 22, 2012 as lamenting the fact that in the CSEC English A examination, Jamaican students fell woefully short in critically assessing a passage. He suggests that too much emphasis has been placed on memorisation. Correspondingly, he feels, too little attention has been given to the higher forms of intellectual activity, analysis and critical thinking.

When one has difficulty understanding and processing information, one memorises it. In the Jamaican situation, what stands in the way of understanding and processing knowledge and information presented in English is the language barrier. Most Jamaicans, be they adults or children, are native speakers of Jamaican, a Creole language with a grammatical structure which is quite distinct from English.

In recent days, a wide range of voices, from the principal of Campion College to the president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association, are proclaiming a self-evident fact: that English is not the native language of the vast majority of Jamaicans. They state that Jamaican/Jamaican Creole/Patwa/Dialect is.

A visitor from Mars would think that these proclamations are the result of some new situation that has developed. In fact, this has been the state of affairs from the 17th century. And, for the record, the native speakers of Jamaican were never restricted to the black and oppressed masses. British visitors to the island in the 18th century bemoaned the speech of the white daughters of plantation owners, their drawl and their use of good old Jamaican words such as 'nyam' (eat) and 'bobi' (breast) at the dinner table.