In this information driven century, it is important for societies to foster language consciousness among its people. In Jamaica, students from Creole-speaking background are discovering through vicarious and often traumatic means that their home language is not Standard English ‘gone wrong’ but instead, a different way of communicating using a distinctly different set of rules in phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics from that of the officially recognized language. In expressing the truth of their reality, some students argue that they ‘try’ to speak English whenever it is demanded of them while others only use English when they have to write. Increasingly, instructors are finding that many Creole users are not context specific in terms of the use of Jamaican Creole during classroom instructions. Consequently, the use of the native language at the tertiary level during classroom discourse seems to be more prevalent or commonplace as noted by some College Lecturers during a recent faculty discussion. Clearly, the influence of Jamaican Creole on spoken and written expression is often a challenge at this crucial stage where linguistic habits are already ingrained in the psyche of learners with Creole-speaking orientation. One needs to look at how students communicate on social media to see that a natural use of Jamaican Creole to interact in both formal and informal space is ubiquitous even among individuals who consider Standard Jamaican English to be their only language. What is also clear is that this native language acts as a unifying force for establishing regional as well as global links with members of the Diaspora as well as speakers across the rest of the English Speaking Caribbean. This common place application in the classroom is therefore an extension of its naturalness in the social space in which modern communication occurs most frequently. Again, citizens in a contemporary age need to have a critical consciousness of language as well as the role and function of each language during daily interaction in each defined space.
Today, Jamaica is faced with the dilemma of empowering the masses as resourceful communicators propelled by a well thought out language curriculum backed by conscious and clear language planning and implementation strategies and policies. Indeed, language policies must be guided by the fact that the current generation is not hampered or constrained by the prejudices of their immediate ancestors towards the de facto ‘National Language,’ the Jamaican Creole. The attitude of indifference, rebellion or anxiety towards learning English experienced by many is linked to the fact that English is presented to students as a subject to be learned from a text book then ‘passed’ for examination purposes rather than a lived experience. Consequently, for the average Jamaican, English is an agonizing task to be ‘done’ in a book or to be written in an examination. The more enlightened students are those from English speaking language background with many having prejudices towards the perceived ‘non-language,’ Jamaican Creole. The mesolectal speaking individual lies between both extremes but may develop feelings of ambivalence towards both languages without a clear mental separation of the intricacies of the two. The few who establish a healthy understanding of both are true bilingual speakers who can easily transition between both extremes. In the linguistic arena of present day Jamaica, this linguistic versatility can be seen as an act of self-actualization or a liberating linguistic experience. Bilingual conscious individuals represent the contemporary citizens that our school system should mould to have them fulfill active roles in all aspects of societal niches. This begs the question, to what extent are current language curricula nurturing positive attitudes toward both languages of the two extremes described.
It is clear that in an increasingly seamless world, Caribbean individuals should foster a multilingual focus to match the script of inclusion that exists in contemporary global spaces. Surely, in the case of Jamaica, a monolingual focus with hegemonic agenda does not fit the democratic ethos embraced in the essence of the National Motto, “out of many one people.’ A language curriculum for Jamaica should help to elucidate the history behind this motto, thus, accounting for all the people who ‘came’ to Jamaica to create the ethnic mix of the country. Access to Hindi, Mandarin or Cantonese by descendants of East Indians and Chinese should be seen as being of equal importance as access to the European or African linguistic heritage over which intellectuals and social gatekeepers have argued for over fifty years. A monolingual focus or script is indeed obsolete in a world where citizens must be prepared to interact both locally and globally. Moreover, it is crucial for individuals to be grounded in a strong sense of linguistic or cultural identity in this shifting globalized and digitized space. Countries built on immigration may have a different challenge in preserving their own language by operating on principles of assimilation where immigrants are expected to learn the dominant language of that country to be considered ready to integrate into a new culture. On the other hand, Jamaica as a country with citizens having the natural propensity to travel or emigrate need to have a global outlook or divergent view in forging a needs driven language curriculum and perspective.
Before an appropriate language curriculum can be forged, a social infrastructure must be formulated and implemented based on the linguistic conditions within the country. In the case of Jamaica, a National Language Policy that is still in its draft stage has been formulated since 2001 but is yet to be sanctioned by the government. This inaction or impotence may be partly due to frequent changes in political directions over the latter part of the decade. Lack of will, powerful social pressure groups as well as a lack of vision and focus by those mandated to approve this policy in Parliament may also be potent contributors. It is clear though, that until this crucial decision is made to elevate the language status of over 97% of the population to its rightful place of being a validated ‘National Language,’ the foundation to learn other languages cannot be laid. Once this policy is established, the next task would be to raise the consciousness of ordinary Jamaicans to the fact that in a knowledge based seamless global space where Standard English is the Lingua Franca or the language of science, global communication and commerce; it is an act of self enslavement to limit one’s linguistic knowledge to solely the native tongue. Clearly, for the Creole speaker, learning English well should be packaged as an enabling act that determines access to life opportunities and a stable quality of life in an ever increasing computerized age.
In formulating a relevant English curriculum, the notion that English is just a subject content to be taught and learned should be dispelled at all cost. There is the need to embrace and experience Standard Jamaican English as not only the language of productivity but also as an important legacy in the history of the people who settled in Jamaica as a result of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. In addition, the distinction between Standard Jamaican English and other world Englishes should be equally cherished as does the distinction between Jamaican Creole and Standard Jamaican English. The third act in formulating a language curriculum for contemporary Jamaica is to teach the internal structures of both Standard Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole as distinct languages with two separate grammars. This cognitive approach should alleviate the ‘hit or miss’ approach that many Creole-speaking students apply when they speak and write English. For the transitional mesolectal speaker, the ambiguity and ambivalence about language competence in both languages can be clarified. On the other hand, the English speaking Jamaican can develop a deeper appreciation for the Jamaican Creole; it being an exotic cultural good for which there is a global fascination. A relevant language curriculum would then allow access to other languages especially those languages used by neighbouring islands and Latin American nations. As a given procedure, such a curriculum should reflect those languages that represent the Asian and Middle Eastern origins of part of the historical makeup of the Jamaican people.
A wholesome understanding of self is linked to how language is packaged and managed in societies. This infrastructure will affect how speakers relate to self and others globally and locally. It will also affect the marketability of people in a space where cultural merchandising have replaced traditional sources of job creation and income stability. Language is the essence through which culture is expressed. For developing countries, the economic value of clear-cut language policies that inform relevant and current language curricula should not be slighted in the wider scheme of social and economic planning. Many examples from around the region and the rest of the world will corroborate the necessity for clear language vision and curriculum planning to secure social order, social integration, economic growth and a strong sense of solidarity and cultural identity among members of society.
Melva P. Davids