For many Creolese is an emotional subject

Dear Editor,

I had intended, after my last letter, never again to become involved in any “serious debate” on the subject of Guyanese Creolese. Long ago, I recognized that, for many people, it is an emotional subject about which they have entrenched beliefs, even in the face of the information and the evidence provided again and again and again.  Some people know not, and know not that they know not. Some stifle their conscience over what they know.   Some others again just do not want to know.  And so I stayed clear.

However, I thank Alim Hosein: ‘Ori is wrong about ‘native language’ (Stabroek News, March 26) for drawing attention to various Creole languages by name. It reminded me of the heady old days at UG when we had a course called Creole Language Studies in which we taught about Creole languages around the world, and, in particular, Caribbean Creole languages with special reference to Guyanese Creole. Those classes were often over-subscribed.  The writings of ‘Uncle Stapie Pon De People’ in the Sunday Argosy prior to, during and after World War II had come a long, long way.

Secondary school teachers who did the course, especially along with the courses in Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguis-tics, were able to gain greater insights into the languages their students spoke and wrote.  Those teachers were able to develop and employ certain teaching/learning strategies that often led to significant, measurable improvement of their students in their work on formal occasions such as written examinations.  Alas! I encountered so many of those teachers in other countries, in relation to the push/pull factors of economics, I suppose.  Other non-teachers who did the course as Special Students often came to say how much they gained from the course, as they came to realize that the workers they were giving instructions to were not stupid, but had been filtering the instructions through the prism of their Creole language background.

It is well over 40 years since I enjoyed helping to teach on those courses and over 20 years since I was last formally in touch with scholars in the Society for Caribbean Linguistics that had led the field in those days. I developed other interests and sojourned in other countries. I have no idea what work is going on at UG in the field of Creole studies now.  My knowledge is limited to what I read in the newspapers. I trust, however, that there are strong programmes to build on the work of Guyanese giants in the field such as Richard Allsopp and Dennis Craig, and Ian Robertson and John Rickford and Walter Edwards; and, more recently, Hubert Devonish.

Two more thoughts:  Firstly, I note the efforts of the Guyana Ministry of Educa-tion over the past few years to improve the performance of students in English A at the CSEC level.  The newspaper reports give the impression of a panic response to what researchers have been saying for years.  As I understand it, the CXC authorities, in awarding a student a grade for that student’s performance in English A, also award sub-grades for two features: Understanding and Expression.  I wonder whether UG staff and/or students would wish to undertake an in-depth study of the performance of a representative sample of those students who were graded Grade 3 and Grade 4, and, after careful examination of their scripts in relation to (say) Expression, identify those instances where the grammar and the communication strategies of the Creole language interfered with the student’s demonstration of critical thinking, in Standard English.  That could certainly lead to the production of teaching materials with greater specificity and particularity.

Secondly, I sense that the current and projected activities in the oil and gas sector – off-shore, coastland and in the interior – will, through population movement and improvement in economic circumstances, lead to a not insignificant change in the Creole language situation.  Relevant staff and students may wish to keep an eye on this evolving situation, perhaps through a longitudinal study.

I wish everyone – those in the discipline, the supporters out there, the sceptics out there, and the opposers out there – the very best.

Now let those who wish to do so, continue “the serious debate.” After all, where all men think alike, nobody thinks at all.

As for me, I gaan bak in gool!

Yours faithfully,

George N Cave

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