Ori is wrong about ‘native language’

Dear Editor,

While I thank Mr Ori for his rejoinder to my letter, I cannot agree with any of the points that he puts forward. His letters repeat many of the ‘arguments’ that have been raised and answered before. Mr Ori is simply and demonstrably wrong about “native language”, wrong about “national language”,  wrong about the non-importance of national pride, wrong about Creolese.

Firstly, it is well-established that a person’s native language is the language they began speaking naturally from early childhood. There is no definition of a native language which is based on ancestral languages from other countries.

A national language is that which is naturally spoken by the population. It gives them a sense of identity, creates coherence, encapsulates and transmits their culture, and allows them to function freely in their everyday lives. Creolese is both the native language of perhaps all Guyanese, and the national language of  Guyana.

Secondly, the point I made is that people in other countries and even here in Guyana do not think that they have to abandon their native languages in favour of English. They learn English as a second language and maintain their native language. Many people recognize the advantages of keeping both languages. Evolving language and culture does not mean abandoning one’s first language – it simply means normal language change.

Thirdly, it is again sad that Mr Ori puts down the value of national pride. National pride is not arrogance, but a sense of who you are, as an equal to any other person. Without national pride, we may as well abandon our anthem, our pledge, parliament, independent and republican statuses, hand over our land to others and accept whatever the world hands down to us. It is remarkable that Mr Ori can emphasize his colonial legacy, yet downplay “national pride”. What he means is that pride in being a colonial is good, but pride in being Guyanese is bad. This is the absurd division of the colonial mind which Naipaul dealt with in The Mimic Men.

Fourthly, the rank economic argument of Mr Ori’s first letter raises its head again. In any language there is variation.  But this has never prevented any people or country from implementing systems of language education. There is an opportunity benefit rather than cost in valuing Creolese. George Cave in his letter (SN, March 24) points out the importance of Creolese in education. Guyanese professor at UWI Mona, Hubert Devonish, reported (Gleaner, March 6, 2016) on an international UNESCO study that found that children educated in their mother tongue performed 15-30 per cent better than those who were not schooled in their home language.

Fifthly, not only in the last 20 years, but ever since the 1960s, there has been growing interest, study, acceptance and support for creole languages around the world. There are over fifty countries around the world in which creoles are major languages. Not only are these creoles in existence, but they are actively used and promoted. Guyanese Creole, which was supposed to have disappeared by now, is alive and thriving. It has found its way into all levels. The Haitian constitution declared Haitian Creole an official language alongside French as far back as 1983. Seychellois is one of the official languages in the Seychelles. Tok Pisin is, of course, an official language in Papua New Guinea, where it is used at all levels.  Papiamento is official in Curaçao.  As recently as 2015, the United States recognized Hawaiian Creole as an official language – along with the other languages that Hawaiians speak.  Recognition of minority rights, understanding of language, movement away from elitism, understanding of how people learn, globalization, and a host of other factors have replaced narrow colonial thinking and ideas, and have opened the way for creole languages to be valued.

Sixthly, I’m sorry to accuse Mr Ori of “old imperialistic” thinking. Perhaps he would be more comfortable with the description “continued imperialistic” thinking, given his astonishing statement that “We have been a colony of England which has shaped us. No amount of rebranding will change that” – as if time stands still and culture does not evolve. I perhaps should remind Mr Ori that this is the year 2018; that we are an independent country and a republic; that generations have been born in this land who have had no experience of British rule. Even the British have moved on ‒ institutions such as the Oxford English Dictionary recognize and include creole lexical contributions to English. The Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage, the work of our own Guyanese Richard Allsopp, was published in 1996 by the hallowed Oxford University Press.

Finally, Mr Ori concludes with his typical dichotomous thinking: suppress Creolese to ensure better English. Brother Bob advised us to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, but critically, he noted that “none but ourselves can free our mind”. At the heart of  Mr Ori’s letters is an unexamined fixation with a colonial past, which he confesses in his first and penultimate paragraphs, and an adherence to ideas that are fallacious or which have long been proven false.

Yours faithfully,

Alim Hosein

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