We need to teach English and other languages but this does not preclude respect for Creolese

Dear Editor,

Because of the issues of self-value, culture, understanding of language and other issues which it reflects, the letter from Mr Sean Ori about teaching Creolese at UG (SN, March 20) deserves an in-depth response, but at this time it also requires a timely reply which might necessarily be brief but more pointed to the fallacious reasoning on which it was built.

First of all, no one has to teach Creolese in Guyana. All Guyanese are already expert speakers of Creolese. What we do not have is a widely accepted system of writing Creolese, although this has not prevented many persons from writing poetry, fiction and non-fiction in Creolese.

We do have to teach and raise awareness about Creolese, so that we can understand that it is a language, to understand how its systems work, how it is different from English, how it encapsulates our culture, and the value of having a language of our own.

Secondly, the University of Guyana does have courses in a number of foreign languages. I thank Mr Ori for pushing foreign-language teaching at UG, but why does this have to be at the expense of our own language Creolese? Other non-English speaking countries have not abandoned their languages.

Thirdly, what is wrong with building national pride? Can’t we use a lot of that? Isn’t the love and understanding of one’s culture an indispensible building block of development? Or is development only to be seen in terms of money and material things?

Fourthly, why should the number of “various Creolese dialects” be a hindrance to any education programme that focuses on Creolese?  This is perverse thinking, because the fact that English has a number of regional and social dialects, including marked class dialects, never prevented it from being studied, taught, used and revered around the world. It never prevented English from becoming the language of commerce, science, diplomacy, technology and even the world’s language.

Fifthly, it is not true that the rest of the world is not interested in learning Creolese. Mr Ori might be surprised to know that large corporations invest in the learning of native languages, because they realize the potential benefits of doing so. While we expend energy denying our own culture, others realize its value and position themselves to benefit from it.

Sixthly, Mr Ori’s letter reflects the old imperialistic thinking, and this is sad. He is calling for a repeat of the past: capitulation to the language and culture of a foreign power in order to hope to gain some economic advantage.  This is the doctrine of ‘working for the Yankee dollar’ all over again.

Yes, we need to teach English, and other languages. But this in no way precludes the understanding and respect for Creolese, or any other native language in the world.

Universities were made to expand our minds and horizons. The University of Guyana was founded so that we can escape the imperialism that accompanies education, and to allow ourselves to discover ourselves among the other peoples of the world. It is when we are able to do this that we can trade as equals with anyone anywhere.

Yours faithfully, 

Alim Hosein

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