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    ARTICLES


    BELIZE CREOLE

    Silvaana Udz

    October, 2011

    Belize Kriol is one type of Caribbean Creole English-lexified language. It is the most prolific language of Belize, a country of 313,000 people situated in Central America and historically and culturally linked also to the Caribbean. Kriol is Belize’s lingua franca, the mother tongue of about a third of the population and the second or third language of almost all others; as one popular radio talk show host calls Kriol in Belize, “di gloo weh hoal wi tugeda [the glue that holds us together]” English is the official language and Spanish is a mandatory school subject, with Spanish also being one of five other national languages are recognized, along with the presence of several immigrant languages.

    The reality is that, like in other countries with Creole languages, the Belize Kriol language continues to be denigrated as “bad” or “broken” English to varying degrees today, despite the overwhelming scientific and educational evidence to the contrary. Times, though, are changing, and attitude shift towards more embracing of the identity and pedagogical implications of accepting Kriol as legitimate as any other language in the lives of its citizens is clearly indicated. This is seen in today’s use of Kriol in the media, in the language of policy, and in the growing publications of the Belize Kriol Project, inclusive a weekly newspaper and Web article, retrievable at http://www.belmopancityonline.com/kriol-language.aspx.

    In large part, the work of the National Kriol Council of Belize has assisted in the shifting attitudes in Belize. The Council was formed in March 1995 as a not-for-profit cultural organization and today continues to be one of the cultural bodies included in country’s National Institute and History (NICH) registered members of Belizean civic society. The Council’s Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association were incorporated on April 29, 1996. Part of the Council’s objectives include:

    • to promote, preserve, revive and enhance the awareness of Kriol culture and to establish a National Kriol Day for all Belizeans
    • to promote the understanding, appreciation and awareness of the Kriol culture
    • to promote and sponsor the Kriol culture through festivals, assemblies, rituals, dance, arts and crafts, exhibitions, expeditions, public and private for a and galleries
    • To promote, publish, write or undertake literary works, writing of glossaries, audio-visual material to promote the Kriol culture.
    • To promote harmony among all ethnic groups in Belize

    Over the years, the Council has contributed to the formation of a national culture policy, has become the umbrella organization for all the Kriol groups that were in existence at the time of its formation (Belize Kriol Project, Punta Gorda Creole Group, Creole Association for Retrieval and Promotion and the Creole Society); has established a Website site where a listing of available publications can be found at www.nationalkriolcouncil.org; has published several literature books and the signal publication of the 2007 Kriol-Inglish Dikshineri [Kriol-English Dictionary]; has held numerous outreach public booths at fairs and village events, and schools.

    Belize had representation in the January 2011 Creole language rights conference in Jamaica when a charter was ratified (see www.caribbeanlanguagepolicy.com) that seeks to have more public domain institutional support for language rights of all territorial languages. Belize appears poised to take a leadership role in the discussions. In its 1999 School Effectiveness Report, the Belize Ministry of Education acknowledged Kriol as having meaningful importance in the lives of schoolchildren countrywide. Even more instructive of successive Belize government’s apparent general will to accept a role for Creole and other indigenous languages in education is that the 2008 national curriculum for the upper division of primary school contains what is labeled the “Language Education Policy.” While specifically pointing to English proficiency desirability, it equally concurs with prevailing views on the positive effects of mother tongue use. Thus, policy components do acknowledge the meaningful role of mother tongues, even if specific training templates for its use are not available. (see Belize national standards and curriculum web for Language Arts, upper division, retrievable from http://www.moe.gov.bz/index.php?option=com_rubberdoc&view=category&id=101%3Aprimar
    y-curriculum&Itemid=103
    .

    It states in part, “In accordance with international best practice as outlined in the International Reading Association’s policy statement on second language literacy instruction, it is recommended that teachers of all students its citizenry deem as meaningful in their lives” (pp. 3 – 4). Today, data-driven results are emerging in Belize that can be used to help drive further policy enactment, such as would enable Kriol to be instituted as a medium of instruction from initial schooling. Results emerging from regional initiatives point to success in both grade improvements, even if not conclusively for all, but unanimously for attitude, participation and overall literacy improvement. (See reprots on recent Jamaica and Nicaraguan projects using Creole in schools, and updates on the Papiamentu educational use in the former Netherland Antilles, in Creoles in Education: An Appraisal of Current Programs.

    On July 12, 2010, the Belize Ministry of education granted approval for one, onesemester, Kriol-in-schools dissertation study in two schools that have remedial English classes. At the time of this submission, results are being analyzed with a view for concluding the research and making recommendations that can add to the growing body of literature that can be used to shape educational decisions. The question, then, is this: is Belize ready to take the next step up the ladder of language rights? Is Belize now ready to stop talking about a role for our Creole and other indigenous languages in education and to strengthen policy commitment to our Creole languages as, for example, mediums of instruction? Train translators for use in the Courts? Have court reporters record testimony in a standard Creole orthography? To have schoolchildren share their thoughts, their prayers, their hopes and their fears, not only in the language of international communication but in the language used at home and at play. Truly, these are exciting times.

    [Profile: Silvaana Udz (sudz at ub.edu.bz) is Secretary of the Belize Kriol Project, which is the literacy arm of the National Kriol Council of Belize. Silvaana is also a lecturer at the University of Belize, and a doctoral candidate with Nova Southeastern University on the dissertation “Improving Kriol Language Attitude and English Accuracy: An Exploratory Study” [in this research underway, the Jamaica Language Unit’s survey has been adapted to get the responses of 300 teachers to, among other language attitude indicators, Kriol as a medium of instruction in Belizean schools; additionally, a 30-lesson Kriol-English workbook is being developed, with 3 Belizean English teachers trained in Kriol metacognition and the effects of this training on their students attitude and grades in the English class are being studied. A mixed methods design, focusing on convergent triangulation, is being used. Silvaana Udz was also formerly Silvana Woods and has several articles published under that name; in 2009, she officially changed her name to reflect the Belize Kriol spelling.]