Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Jamaican Patois Bible: Some Thoughts

This morning I had the great pleasure of reading this article published in the BBC News Magazine online about the translation of the bible into Jamaican patois. I felt the need to share my thoughts on Twitter and it spiraled into a need to make a blog post.
My tweets read (abbreviations were made due to the 140-character limit on Twitter):

“Wow. The bible being translated into patois. All those linguists n they spell "wey" as we. No one sees the problem here?Perfecting the spelling of patois is a very important issue to me. Spelling is key in the written word as I’m sure we can all agree

“Are we unaware how difficult it would be on this side of the world for a country to have creole as its first language?

“The parents and children have a hard time reading and writing English. Do we really think they'll be that much better doin it w patois?

“Unless the Bible is an audio version, I don't see how it's useful to anyone except the linguists who want to find purpose for their degrees”

"Also, if you are trying to make a language standardized, one would think you would keep the spelling of words constant”. The reason for my gripe here was based on the fact that happy was spelt two different ways in the article based on excerpts from the same book. eg: ‘appi vs api

“Ok, so you want to cater to the potential esteem problems of a child who only knows patois. Teach him English”. The esteem issue was brought up in the article in relation to children who enter school with only a proficiency in Jamaican patois who are then mocked by peers or whoever else. Seemingly, teaching them patois would be a step towards solving this esteem issue.

“Is it not clear that we will be limiting our children? Are they only to be able to function in Jamaica? I need to speak to someone abt this

“Who worries about the esteem issues of the child whose parents are strict about them speaking only English?

“The White English man? WHUCK?! So the black English man speaks patois? That's what you're telling me? Look here nuh!”. This was in reference to a sentiment shared at the end of the article about the patois-speaker feeling inferior due to the fact "…the model is the white English man, his language and educational standards… and we have not been able to attain it…”
Whuck is a word that is the hybrid of two other words which I will not elaborate on.You may seek clarification here though- it’s the post from the blog from whence I borrowed the term. Note my use of both English and patois in one tweet. But maybe I didn’t exaggerate my patois enough because it seems that that is necessary for our language to be differentiated. I’d just like to point out that some words are the same in English as they are in other languages eg: cul-de-sac (same in French as it is in English though literal translation may be slightly off). But I digress…

“Changing the spelling of Mary to Mieri? Well, we're just going all out, aren't we?”. Ok, this tweet does correspond with the point I made above but it was not intentional.

At the end of the article, I was left with these thoughts:

I don’t see this will make the learning of any child easier. I thought the point was to help our citizens but clearly it is to cater to the ego of the linguists who, no doubt, still see English as a superior language. Clearly, I was upset.

In French-, German- and Spanish-speaking countries, they realize the importance of also knowing English and being fluent in it. Instead, we are looking for a cop-out so we can be lazy. It’s that attitude that will cause us to be left behind, not our lack of creole as a standardized language.

Someone needs to step in before my future children are left to fight their way through patois-only education as their mother will not be condoning a patois-only household.

It is all fine and well to celebrate patois. I am a black woman confident in my ability to fluently read and write both languages. However, to ever lead people to think that knowing patois alone is okay beyond the age of a basic school graduate is a no-no in my humble opinion.

I had shared the article with a couple “tweeps” of mine, one of whom is my dear friend Karen Lloyd (@Mz_KARizma). I will now post snippets of our conversation as some of Karen’s views differed from mine.

Editor’s Note: Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of a patois bible! Bashy u fret! Anything that makes my country stand out in a great and positive light, I am all for it!- Nas

But my issues lied with the unfilled gaps left with the inconsistency in spelling and such as you saw from my previous tweets.

Editor’s note: “I get that they want patois to be a substitute for English” was to say that that was what I took to be the intention of the linguists. Whether that is the intention or not is another story. My opinion is not fact and I know that.- Nas

To my question after her reply, Karen responded (you see my replies below hers in the picture):

Karen followed up with this point: “what I get is that it may be an alternative, not quite a substitute. Sort of different.” Alternative means the choice between two mutually exclusive possibilities. To me, that means you will be able to choose Jamaican patois OR English.

So I said “Alternative means you can do it alone and be fine. I am not okay with that. English is a very important language

Karen’s response: “that's the thing, I don't believe they are saying patois alone is fine. English will still be taught alongside the patois.This would then mean that patois would be taught as supplementary or complementary rather than as an alternative, yes? Tell me if I’m off track here. I may be blinded to rational thought due to annoyance with the article.

My next point: “Karen, u know that when u are new n trying to establish urself, u have to do MORE than the already established (ones)”

Karen: “and that's all good & well but do we then just throw it away & not give it a chance to improve?”

Karen does make some good points and I run the risk of sounding harsh and pig-headed when I just charge ahead with my views on a topic if they are fueled by passion. This is why people like Karen are always needed- people to look at things from another point of view. Truth is, this concept is easy to mock and it is just as easy to swallow up simply based on the notion that it is a Jamaican patois bible. Many decided the side they will take just on hearing or reading those three words. Few thought of what it meant in terms of far-reaching and long-standing impact locally and globally as well as on the pathology of our people.

After calming down some, I reviewed my thoughts and this is where I stand in the moment this post is being written (about two hours or more after reading the article):

I am okay with pronouncing the words when I read them despite the exaggerations. It's a bit odd at first but I'm sure English was also odd for me when I was first introduced to it in written form. Phonics is a hell of a thing. Once it does become standardized, we would all find it much easier to grasp. Or we’d criticize it with the same amount of disdain yet respect that we do with other unfamiliar but significant languages. I'd just like more consistency. Learn from the languages before you. Children grasp patois better because they hear more of it. It is reinforced more on a daily basis so they will write like they speak or how they hear others speak. But they will still have the same difficulty learning to write (spell) and read based on phonetics. It is not for us to teach a child more of what he knows (patois) because he is already comfortable with it (Please note, some children are actually not great with patois), it is for us to figure out better ways to get a child comfortable with what he needs to know to excel locally and internationally. Find other ways to build a child’s esteem because, in case you haven’t realized, all children have esteem issues one way or another. I will not even begin to address Karen’s point about parents and teachers or any other adult mocking a child for a deficiency in any area. I simply cannot right now. Back to my point- Don’t teach me what I already know; teach me what I need to know. I believe that it is easier for a child who has mastered English to grasp patois than it is for a patois-only speaking child to grasp English. After all, our creole IS based on English.

Oh, I hold steadfast on the issue that until patois does become a standardized language recognized the world over you should not try and tell me that being proficient in patois alone is okay.

P.S. Shoutout to @SadeSweetness for her help with the whole Print Screen issue.

P.P.S No offense is meant toward the linguists mentioned in that article.


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