The British have always been exceedingly proud of their language; so are the Americans, Russians, Chinese, and Indians etc; and it may not be farfetched to say that all languages have their origins in folk.
Just think for a moment that it was the Americans who owned our Kwéyòl as their native language. What would our Kweyol "bashers" think?
There are apparently at least two contending views about American(ized) English. One view is: American English is a “Kweyolised” version of Anglo-Saxon incorporating several dialects. Another view is, it is a “paradigm shift" from Anglo-Saxon to a simpler “rhotic” American language. In either case, it’s a matter of perception.
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What about St. Lucia? In the first place, do we have a language? And if we do, then what is it? We have been told over and over that we do not have a language; we have a vernacular! While the Jamaicans have preserved and developed their English “Patois’, many St. Lucia have attempted to tear our “little” Kwéyòl into tatters!
Naturally, being a country boy who knew no other language until the age of 5 or 6 years when I entered the Choiseul Infant School, I can’t subscribe or identify with any destructionist view. Kwéyòl is the de facto spoken language throughout the length and breadth of Choiseul/Saltibus and, for all intents and purposes, I regard it as our first language. It may also be the “X factor” attributable to our perceived “genius”.
Just think about the unknown young boy or girl dwelling in the deep hinterlands of Choiseul/Saltibus and whose first language was Kwéyòl; yet, sh/e went on to break "record" barriers - cultural and otherwise - to top Common Entrance or CXC or even to go on to win the prestigious island scholarship or even a University Scholarship to pursue a PhD.
Consider role models such as Tennisia Peter, Leonard Johnny and Gregory Louisy all from Mongouge; Tennisia topped the Common Entrance, Gregory won the island scholarship a couple of years ago and Leonard earned a UWI scholarship to pursue a PhD in criminology. All emerged from pure Kwéyòl backgrounds that were not necessarily blessed with any significant “socio-economic” endowments.
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The same can be said of the Lafeuillee, Saltibus, Anthony, Antoine, Isaac and Jean families from Choiseul/Saltibus who have elevated themselves to unprecedented levels of academic/professional excellence. All of them emerged from humble communities with strong Kweyol backgrounds and today they stand out (albeit unassumingly) as giants of St. Lucia’s intellectual world.
To make a long story short, the point is Kwéyòl may well have the main ingredient, that driving force behind the inexplicable “conceptual magic” of rural, Kwéyòl students; and the time may well be right to consider conducting deeper, scientific research into the impact of Kwéyòl on learning and achievement!
Kwéyòl adds new dimensions to creativity and imagination along both the linguistic and conceptual planes. Consider the a story told in Kwéyòl and then repeated in English: It is simply impossible to replicate the built-in Kwéyòl nuances in rhythm, pattern; the idioms, metaphors and other expressions of figures of speech etc in English! Kweyol is simply magical.
One of the greatest ironies about our Kwéyòl language is the fact that many of us still claim we can’t converse in it - our own language; yes, that may be a fact that we all understand – especially in the context of the tabooing of the language. (I can vividly picture Massa during the days of slavery seeking to destroy it to restrict communication among his slaves.) But in spite of the tabooing, I am betting my bottom dollar that perhaps 99% native St. Lucians understand it very well.It's in our blood!
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However, it is a sad fact that many St. Lucians appear to be genuinely “fluent" in English, French and Spanish but are left grossly wanting in Kwéyòl. How do we rationalise this? Is it pride or shame?
I submit that we are “quintessentially” a Kwéyòl society and we can’t run away from it. Although we romanticize and celebrate the Kwéyòl once a year, the reality is we live it every day. Even those who claim that they can’t speak it can’t run away from it. The fact that they understand it without difficulty is resounding testimony that they also “think in it”. Our daily lives, our “rhythm”, our heart beat, our thinking are all characteristically Kwéyòl. To pretend to be anything else is naively hypocritical.
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The FRC's slogan for our first Kweyol Day which was held in La Fargue, Choiseul was a well-crafted one . "Kwéyòl la en san nou” (meaning “Kwéyòl is in our blood”) as it was called, still rings in my ears. It was profound and it was relevant! Perhaps, that prototypic event was the best Kwéyòl Festival both in terms of the quality of the product and turnout. The annual event since then seems to have progressively changed its orientation, resembling more and more a massive “block-o-rama” with just superficial glimpses of genuine Kwéyòl.
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Another issue is: Is Kwéyòl Day now a festival for mostly commercial exploitation – just like many other festivals? Why is it arguably still Taboo in many households and even neighbourhoods? Although that seeming taboo appears to be more prevalent in the city, it is still "peripatetic" throughout the length and breadth of the island and perhaps gaining momentum in that regard. The fact that we may have been indoctrinated so badly into rejecting ourselves and our identities may well the reason for the wanton killings of our own brothers and sisters.
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The corporate area is perhaps the platform for the destruction of the Kwéyòl. If the rest of Saint Lucia had followed the example of the city, then St. Lucia today would be another Trinidad and Grenada; there would be none or just a trace of Kwéyòl left.
Well put Mr Editor, I believe our language is as much a part of our heritage , if not more so, than all the other things that make up our rich and diverse culture.ReplyDelete
Have you tried translating a joke or story eg Gwo Jol, Gwo Bouden ek Pat Fin into English.
Somehow what has one rolling on the floor laughing in Kweyol is not even funny in English.
Personally I would like to see St Lucia go the same way as the Welsh have done in Britain. ie every road sign , notice ,poster, government leaflet etc etc is in two languages with Welsh on top and English beneath.
All may not be lost though, I was recently involved in setting up Lekol Kweyol as there are people who want to learn Kweyol, the response to the advert was fantastic , so much so that classes in the north are being looked at. Our class in the south is full and has remained full.