I note three recent letters in Stabroek News on the topic of Guyanese Creolese. They are, firstly, ‘What is the merit of learning Creolese at university level?’ by Mr Sean Ori (March 20); secondly, ‘We need to teach English and other languages but this does not preclude respect for Creolese’ by Mr Alim Hosein (March 22); and thirdly, ‘Creolese is not our national language’ by Mr Sean Ori (March 23).
Two particular points from Mr Ori struck me. He says (March 20): “There has not really been a serious debate about the merits of learning Guyanese Creolese at university level.” He also says (March 23): “Creolese is not our national language nor is it our mother tongue as the vast majority of our ancestors came from different parts of the world.”
Well, my ancestors came from Barbados, and France, and Africa and from wherever else before that. But Creolese is my mother tongue, the language in which I was first nurtured. You see, Editor, when people in linguistics use the term “mother tongue,” they are referring to the language that we were first exposed to, the language that people around us readily spoke, the language that we learned from them and, in our turn, readily spoke. It has nothing to do with ancestry.
If a lady from Port Mourant, and a lady from Buxton, and a lady from Aishalton go to a village in China, have their baby there and (for whatever reason) leave the baby there and return to Port Mourant and Buxton and Aishalton, then each of those babies will learn and speak the Chinese language that surrounds them there. That Chinese language will be their mother tongue (or L1, if you care).
I think that there is merit not only in learning Creolese at university level, but, much, much more importantly, learning about Creolese. Hopefully, you can learn that Creolese is not broken English as so many people seem to think. Creolese is a language that is systematic and rule-governed, just as English, or French or Spanish (say). It is possible to make mistakes in it, just as it is possible to make mistakes in English, or French, or Spanish (say).
Hopefully, you can learn of the influence of Creolese on your own attempts at producing what we tend to call Guyanese Standard English. Not every collection of words from the English language strung together is really Standard English. Just pick up any Guyana newspaper and read critically the letters to the Editor and the news stories written by local writers.
Hopefully, you can get to appreciate some of the cultural dimensions, so that you no longer feel ashamed (if you ever felt ashamed) that you are a Creolese speaker.
Hopefully, you can get to appreciate circumstances in which Creolese is absolutely appropriate, and other situations where Standard English is required.
Hopefully, too, you can get to appreciate the heresy of taking Martin Carter’s famous line: “Is the university of hunger the wide waste” and putting a question mark at the end.
Hopefully, if you are a teacher in Guyana, you can get greater insights into what you think are errors that the children are making – in speech and in writing – and get to understand and develop teaching methods (eg, contrastive analysis) to help them.
I learnt and spoke Creolese as a child. I learnt about Creolese, at university level. I thank The Great I Am for that “about”.
Now let “the serious debate” continue. Where all men think alike, nobody thinks at all.
George N Cave