There is no superior language

Dear Editor,

It is with interest that I read the interesting debate on the pros and cons of Creolese as a legitimate Guyanese language. University of Guyana lecturer Alim Hosein, Sean Ori, George Cave and a few others have shared their views on this very important but sensitive issue. I remember a similar exchange between another university lecturer, Kencil Banwarie, Justin Defreitas and a few others, a few years ago. These debates will always be there and they enrich our understanding of the value of our different means of verbal and written communication.

I want to start with reference to an interesting experience I had in one of Mr Aubrey Overton’s classes at the University of Guyana in 2007. This student, most likely from an urban area, related an experience he had while travelling to a country area. He noted that he saw this very gorgeous girl coming out of a bus. He mentioned that he was instantly attracted to her but when she opened her mouth to speak he was terribly disappointed. Her dialect turned him off. I remember reminding him and the class that there is no superior language. Mr Overton fully supported my point. I also remember in Mr Hosein’s class, he would remind us of the importance of noting that our dialect, like the formal, standard English, serves the same function of effectively communicating  whatever the speaker intends to. He noted that there are words for subjects (nouns, pronouns), verbs, adverbs and more. This experience in Mr Overton’s class was a harsh reminder of the way many Guyanese, who speak and admire speakers of standard English, treat speakers of the dialect with contempt. As a result, they relegate these speakers of dialect to a lower social stratum.

Mr Hosein, in his two letters on this subject, highlights the importance that we should, as Guyanese, assign to our dialect. He noted in his first letter, (SN, March 22), that “We need to teach English and other languages but this does not preclude respect for Creolese.” This is a very powerful point. We tend to ascribe so much importance to the speaking of standard English that we shun those who are comfortable speaking the dialect.

The fact that the majority of Guyanese speak the dialect, is indicative of the need for us all to be more sensitive to how we relate to these speakers. Mr Hosein, in his second letter, (SN, March 26), noted,” Brother Bob advised us to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, but critically, he noted that “none but ourselves can free our mind.” This is so true. We need to be proud of what we have and as Hosein noted in his response to Ori, “Mr Ori’s letter is a an unexamined fixation with a colonial past…” Many of us are guilty of extolling the virtues of another culture, and in this case, the language of the English, to the detriment of pouring scorn on our own (dialect).

It must be noted that people in various parts of Britain still proudly hold on to their local dialect. On a BBC programme, (www.bbc.uk/insideout/series7/dialect), it was noted, “Despite the fading, old traditions and huge shifts in how we communicate globally, it appears that dialects and accents are still going strong in the East Midlands. The article also noted, “…talking to native Midlanders can be a mesmerising experience for outsiders.” The article touched on something important that Hosein is talking about, and that is our pride in our dialect which some of us lack, “…the East Midlands takes great pride in its distinctive dialect.” Hosein also noted that, “Guyanese Creole, which was supposed to have disappeared by now is alive and thriving. It has found its way into all levels.” We all need to appreciate this fact.

I want to end with an amusing experience I heard of about a Guyanese who returned to Guyana (Berbice) after spending some time in the USA and pretended ignorance of Creolese. He saw a crab and exclaimed, “What is that thing?” When the pinchers of the crab latched on to him, he screamed, “Ow a crab a bite mih.”

Yours faithfully,
Mahindra Persaud
Bahamas

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