Submitted by Beverley Bryan on January 10, 2012
Let us examine an extract of an interaction in a Grade 7 class:
Teacher: What did I say the family is?
Student 1: Miss the family is a group of people living together and caring for each other
Student 2: Mis dis bwai tomp mi aa push di des paa mi
Teacher: Last week we looked at members of the family
Student 3: Yes Miss. Mother, children, father, sister, brother
Teacher: Last week we looked at the roles of the father
Student 4: Mii tiicha/go out an werk/ an ern di moni tu bai fuud
Teacher: Now we are going to look at the roles of the mother
Student 5: Mek shuor di fuud iz kuk/mek shuor shi pripier di chiljren far skuul
Focus Question: How does this interaction help us to characterise the language situation in Jamaica?
First, children enter the school system with English or Jamaican Creole (JC) or a mixture of both (students 1, 2 & 5). Buried in this statementm, is a number of controversies on which you might want to comment. One we might want to consider is whether Jamaican Creole is a language. I think we can accept that it is a language with its own consistent phonology, syntax and lexicon. It is a sociolinguistic truism that a language is a dialect with an army: designations are political, rather than strictly linguistic. In this extract note the use of the Cassidy script to convey the Jamaican language Mii tiicha. There is script that is preferable to the "eye Creole". My eye is different from your eye!
The second point to note from the extract is that JC is used within the classroom. It is in fact used quite widely, broadly and freely in schools almost all the time. What is your attitude to this development and what it says about the language situation? Most of the time, our sociolinguistic discussions are about the low status of Jamaican. Do you agree that attitudes towards Jamaican have evolved? Which language has dominance? Some might say that English is the language under threat because we have embraced our language and have become careless about the value of English. Is it a resource that we should throw away?
The third point is that many teachers do not use English – note the lack of verb sequencing (did/is) in the extract. Shields (1989) was one of the first to describe the 2 "englishes" that have emerged: with one group expanding as learners acquire English through schooling and thus in a mono style.
Fourth, Jamaican has a range of varieties that some linguists refer to as a continuum: im a nyam im dinna/im a iit im dinna/im iiting im dinna/him is eating him dinna/he is eating his dinner
Last, a peaceful co-existence is displayed in this extract. The teacher accepts the children’s language but is this helping the students to acquire competence in English? It could be said there is no collision but is it collaboration?
I look forward to your response to the questions posed and to your own conclusions from the extract or any of the related resources.
School of Education