When will Guyanese uphold their language rights?

Dear Editor,

As we move hopefully into a new year, I would like to put the issue of language before the public (again). I strongly advocate bilingual and multilingual education, emphasizing the right of people to learn in their mother tongues (really the only way to truly learn). But I have a real problem with prominent persons in society who are interviewed by media persons and appear in public to give evidence, opinions, information, etc, and simply do not speak English properly. What you hear a lot of the time is ‘piipl rongin op dem mout fu chrai song laik dem a taak Ingglish gud’ (People using false and unaccustomed accents and phrases in the attempt to speak English well). The end result in many cases is that their public presentations are unnatural and often riddled with English errors.

I often ponder on what our educational leaders think (especially those leading in the matter of language education) when they turn on the TV or radio. As colleagues, we speak of this issue at the university, but we don’t speak of it as though we acknowledged our mandate to come up with a solution. Perhaps with all that is wrong in our society, speaking English well in the media when one sets out to speak it is not a priority for our educators.

My colleagues at the university seem reluctant to accept Guyanese (Creolese) as a language of education. In fact some of them downright condemn even the casual use of it in the schools. Yet, it is the only language that the great majority of our people really do speak properly, precisely because it is their native language. But Guyanese is not being developed in the education system to do justice to our people’s intelligence in the academic arena. And if anyone knows anything about language teaching, the stifling of Guyanese as an academic language also compromises the chances of all our people really attaining competence in English at the highest possible level.

So, what we have is a hypocritical (or ignorant) educational elite (David Hinds isn’t this an interesting coincidence?) pretending that they want the majority of our people to learn English, yet barring them from the chances to do so by excluding the Guyanese language from the academic arena. The lip service to it as a mere ‘folkloric retention’ fu taak neem, tel stoorii, an skin tiit is not encouraging.

And so, this compromised learning in the schools continues to pervade our society. And the use of English ‒ There’s actually a whole programme at UG with that name ‒ bumbles and stumbles from the lips of Guyanese speakers who would very likely much prefer to just say what they mean freed of the inadequate straitjacket of pretence.

One example particularly irks me: We have high-level state and private sector functionaries saying things in the media like, “Their statements would have had some conflicting dates.” and “I would have reviewed the dates and discovered that I made an error in the schedule.”

Dearest Editor, I don’t know if I missed a century or two of English language evolution, but if I haven’t, then how come Guyanese are now using the English conditional perfect tense in place of a simple past tense? What would move us to change the simple:

‘Their statements had some conflicting dates’, and ‘I reviewed the dates and discovered…’ to a usage that takes so much more energy and is just simply wrong.

Some of these high-level functionaries are also educators. Or perhaps they would have been if…

Just to have a good laugh, one of my aunts used to keep an exercise book with all the English errors Mr Sharma made when he had his TV talk show on Channel 6, and attempted to speak English. She realized that I disapproved of her source of mirth, but remained unconvinced that Guyanese could be a valid language for use in serious media. What she did not seem to notice, or perhaps was in denial of, was the effectiveness with which Mr Sharma unconsciously used our native language to reach his very large and very responsive audience.

When will we Guyanese proudly and confidently uphold that most fundamental of all human rights? Language rights.

Yours faithfully,
Charlene Wilkinson
Department of Language and Cultural Studies
Faculty of Education and the Humanities
University of Guyana

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