Wednesday, 8 August 2007

More Challenges

Earlier on this week, I encountered two additional challenges to translating the Bible into Jamaican. The first relates to the fact that Jamaican is mainly an oral language; the second is a reminder of the fact that many persons have difficulties reading English – let alone Jamaican! I believe the person who raised these concerns has got the good of the Jamaican people in mind, and I do respect his/her opinion. However I offer the following quick responses.

1. Re Patois being an oral language. EVERY LANGUAGE YOU CAN THINK OF STARTED OUT ONLY IN SPOKEN FORM. Our beloved Jamaican/Patois is no exception to the laws of linguistic development. Caribbean creoles have been around for about 400. In comparison with most of the world’s languages, this is very young. Did you know that the Bible has had a remarkable/considerable influence on development of the German language, modern Hebrew, English and a host of other languages?!

My employer, Wycliffe Bible Translators, has translated the Bible into many languages which were only oral. (Many more are being done, and are yet to be done.) Wycliffe missionary linguists write down these languages with what is called the International Phonetic Alphabet. This alphabet has got a symbol for every sound possible to human beings. Using this alphabet, our missionaries work alongside local people and develop an alphabet for each unwritten language, analyse the grammar, produce primers and teach the speakers to read their own language! A lot of this work has already been done on our Jamaican language. In fact, Jamaican/Patois is one of the most studied Creole languages in the world! Bible translation no easy, however, it’s exciting stuff!

2. Re problems reading. The simple (??? Perhaps an overstatement!) problem is that Jamaicans are not being taught in their native tongue but in a language which is foreign to them; hence the crisis in our present educational system. English is not the natural (mother tongue), primary language of Jamaica; it should be taught as a separate language. Linguists believe that cognitive and linguistic skills are best acquired and developed in one’s “heart language.” It’s much easier then for the acquired skills to be transferred to the 2nd language systematically. I believe our present system is walking back ways! People have probs reading English because the present system is deficient.

A recent study, conducted by the Department of Linguistics, UWI, Mona, has revealed that nearly 80% of Jamaicans felt that Jamaican/Patois is a separate language and that nearly 70 % agreed that it should be made official alongside English! 71% of the population would like to have bilingual schools!

Much more could be said, but it’s good to leave room for discussion.

If you’ve got time (?), perhaps you would like to read the following online:
1. The Importance of Mother Tongue-Based Schooling for Educational Quality
2. Language Attitude Survey of Jamaica – Data Analysis and Summary of Results
3. Language Rights, Justice and the Constitution (Pt 1)
4. Language Rights, Justice and the Constitution (Pt 2) – I’ll get the link for this one asap.
5. Jamaican Creole Morphology & Syntax

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