(No. 2)



The Caribbean

Here is some information on several book chapters concerning Caribbean Creole and education in Britain (some not so recent):

The language of Black experience, edited by David Sutcliffe and Ansel Wong (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1986) contains three chapters about creole and education.

In Chapter 6, “Creole as a language of power and solidarity”, Ansel Wong describes how among Blacks in London, Jamaican Creole has “gained prominence as the most concrete expression of the community’s power and sense of solidarity” (p.114). He goes on to describe the “dogmatic attitudes” of educators in the UK, keeping Creole out of the classroom and not giving it any linguistic status (p.120).

[B]y refusing to legitimize its use as a language in its own right, schools negate the black child’s linguistic competence. The effect of this is that the teaching of English in most schools has become a process of dismantling the child’s linguistic competence rather than adding a second language to his London Jamaican dialect.

In Chapter 7, “The language of Black children and the language debate in schools”, John Richard outlines three positions concerning the education of Creole-speaking children (p. 124):

Black children must, according to one view, abandon nonstandard forms of English, at least for the purpose of education, and concentrate entirely on learning to write and speak standard English, in order to maximize their success in examinations in access to post-compulsory education, of desirable and well-paid employment. This view is optimistic about social mobility…A second position proposes the same course of action for a very different purpose. Black, ethnic-minority and white working-class children must realize their common identity as a class and must learn to write and speak standard English in order not to be divided and ruled, in order to challenge the inequalities of power, wealth and knowledge and eventually in order to transform society…A third position asserts that our language is a crucially important part of what we are, of our history and of our culture, and that schools’ ignorance of, or hostility to, languages and dialects other than standard English is a form of oppression which must itself be challenged and transformed. Black children, it declares, will overcome the conditions of their oppression not by adopting the very language of the oppressor but by being strong and confident in their own voice. Their own voice, whatever it is, has been marginalized, caricatured, insulted, declared unfit for any reputable use. It is time that it reclaimed its authority.

The author’s own point of view is a more general one. First of all, he says, we should admire children who have ability in more than one variety of language. Second, “schools and teachers have a vital responsibility to value and celebrate the dialect of a child’s community and culture” (p.129). Third, “we should help our pupils towards a fluent grasp of the dialect of literacy, of written standard English” (p.130). What Richmond advocates is basically an “awareness program”. He says (pp.133-4):

[T]he study of language offers us a way of giving our pupils reasons for the celebration of variety in language and a more objective awareness of dialect differences, a way of helping them to feel proud of their natural speech and enthusiastic about becoming literate in standard English. It offers us a chance to investigate together, among other things, why languages and dialects exist, the wealth of languages in the world and the connections between them, how people came to write, how English has emerged, the rise of standard English, the connection between language and class, the effect of the mass media on attitudes to language, matters like style and register… etc.

In Chapter 8, “Language attitudes: the case of Caribbean language”, Petronella Breinberg deals with relationship between language attitudes and “person perception” from the perspective of social psychology. The author concludes that British teachers’ negative attitudes to and stereotyped perception of black children of Caribbean background correlates with their negative attitudes toward their language in the schools.


Another point of view appears in the more recent volume, Social anthropology and the politics of language, edited by Ralph Grillo (Sociological Review Monograph no 36, Routledge, London, 1989). In a chapter entitled “Creole in the classroom: political grammars and educational vocabularies”, Roger Hewitt shows how the approaches to the use of creole in education in the UK since the 1960s have been “shaped by a range of political ‘grammars’ evident in educational debates” (p.126). In the 1960s, Creole was considered to be merely broken or bad English in the context of the prevalent “deficit/deprivation” point of view and that “the business of educational institutions is to promote high standards and that the presence of Creole or other dialects in the school could only contribute to their decline” (p.128). The 1970s brought a more “democratic” approach, emphasizing the equality of different varieties of language, from both a socialist and a liberal pluralist political point of view: “a conscious attempt was made to advance the prestige of dialect through classroom work and an emphasis on the ‘validity’ of oral forms” (p.128). In the 1980s “linguistic egalitarianism” had become well established: “It found concrete realization in what became known as the ‘repertoire approach’--an approach which emphasized the range of different kinds of language necessary for communicative competence and allowed non-standard varieties of English a place in that range” (p.129).

Hewitt goes on to describe two other positions, mainly articulated by black rather than white commentators. The first is the Marxist libertarian point of view, which stresses the avoidance of Creole in the classroom, as part of the struggle against the dominant classes in the capitalist system: “those who advocate Creole in the classroom are the unwitting dupes of the system and their educational practices serve above all to blunt what is for black youth a primary weapon of resistance” (pp.130-1). On the other hand, the black radical position, as articulated by Ansel Wong, supports the use of Creole in the classroom, not as a dialect but as a distinct language. This is part of the promotion of the linguistic and cultural legitimacy of Third World languages in reaction to the underlying racism reflected in the education system.

Hewitt then describes the actual use of Creole in south London by youth who are not necessarily of Caribbean extraction. He shows that there is a great deal of code-switching and use of mixed forms. Rather than being a community language, he says, Creole and the mixed “Creole-inflected London English” are used strategically as an “anti-language” or language of resistance against established racism. As there is no simple relationship between Creole use and ethnic identity, and the author says that “much of the political and educational debate is now misplaced” and describes “the need for a deconstruction of essential notions of ‘ethnicity’ which introduce politically contradictory elements into what were intended as liberatory education strategies and positions” (pp.126-27).


Another interesting book chapter is about the use of Haitian Creole in education in the Caribbean: “The use of Creole as a school medium and decreolization in Haiti” by Albert Valdman in Literacy in school and society: multidisciplinary perspectives, edited by Elisabetta Zuanelli Sonino (Plenum Press, New York, 1989). The author begins this chapter with the following statement (p.55), similar to Richmond’s point of view (see above) on English Creole in the UK:

Education in a multilingual context must have a dual objective: on the one hand, it must respect the dignity of the student and promote the vernacular culture by raising the status of the native language; on the other hand, it must allow students a certain level of participation in modern life and insure that they have some chance of social betterment by giving them access to their society’s dominant language to the major languages of international communication used in their region.

He goes on to say (p.55): “Recourse to the vernacular language for basic instruction and free access to the dominant language are particularly difficult to harmonize in creole-speaking communities.” This is especially true when a creole is used alongside its lexifier language–ie, the language that has provided the bulk of the vocabulary of the creole in its early stages of development. Valdman points out that in such a situation (pp.56-7):

(1) the creole language is perceived as a deviant form of the lexifier language...(2) the creole language is subject to structural pressure for the lexifier language, eventually disintegrating and thus losing its independence as an autonomous linguistic system; it ultimately forms with its lexifier a range of continuous variation called the post-creole continuum. This process, known as decreolization, makes any clear division between the creole and its lexifier impossible...

The rest of the chapter is about the decreolization of Haitian Creole (French-lexifier) since it has been used in the education system. It covers variation in Haitian Creole, various orthographies that have been proposed and other problems in standardization. The author concludes that the extension of Haitian Creole into new domains such as education has led to decreolization and has threatened its autonomy with regard to French. He recommends (p.73): “The decreolization of Haitian Creole could be checked by a vigorous program of standardization and instrumentalization.” Valdman concludes (p.74):

Otherwise, the written forms of Haitian Creole are apt to decreolize, becoming too distant from the varieties spoken by monolinguals. They then may begin to wonder whether their interests would not be better served by educating their children directly in the dominant language, rather than by the transitional use of a version of the vernacular language which they no longer recognize as their own.

Language planning and education in Australasia and the South Pacific, edited by Richard Baldauf, Jr and Allan Luke (Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, 1990) has several chapters relevant to pidgins and creoles in education.

In Chapter 6, “Controllers or victims: language and education in the Torres Strait”, Joan Kale discusses the potential use of Torres Strait Creole in the formal education system. Here is her own summary of the chapter (p.107):

[I]t is first argued that pidgins and creoles are, linguistically speaking, languages with equal status to other languages and not merely broken forms or second-rate varieties of some other language. Then it is proposed that there is no well-founded reason why a pidgin/creole could not be part of a school program, and there are probably very sound reasons why in some instances much is to be gained educationally by its inclusion. Next, information is presented about the specialized nature of classroom language required by the academic processes of mainstream schooling. Further, it is proposed that there are valid reasons why English and only English as the language of instruction in Torres Strait schools may not be an appropriate response to the intellectual and educational needs of Torres Strait children. Finally, it is argued that on the basis of all the evidence, a well-planned program of bilingual education incorporating English and TSC would be feasible for Strait schools.

Roger M. Keesing outlines his chapter (8), “Solomons Pijin: colonial ideologies”, as follows (p.149):

I will sketch the history of the ideology that views Pidgin [in Solomon Islands] as a debased form of English and impediment to modernity: an ideology primarily the product of decades of British colonial rule. This in turn will underline how ironic is the perpetuation of this ideology in the postcolonial period. For the denigration and misunderstanding of Pidgin English in the Solomons continues despite a sociolinguistic situation where Pidgin has become the primary vehicle of an urban culture which increasingly reaches into the countryside...Some Solomon Islanders, and some expatriates, now realize that the colonial ideology was deeply flawed, both in misinterpreting the nature of Pidgin and in misjudging its place in the life of Solomon Islanders and its potential as a vehicle of communication in a young country; but theirs remains a minority view.

In Chapter 9, “Solomons Pijin: an unrecognized national language”, Christine Jourdan expands on some of the themes of the preceding chapter. With regard to education, she points out that “despite the fact that Pijin is the most widely spread language of the archipelago, and certainly the main language of the urban centres, it is not recognized as being an asset in the education process” (p.169). However, she describes the widespread use of Pijin among school children and its unofficial use by teachers in the classroom (p.170). Jourdan advocates the legitimization of Pijin in the Solomons and the establishment of “Pidginophony”, an association of pidgin-speaking countries in Melanesia to promote the language, analogous to Francophony (p.178-9).

In Chapter 10, “Language planning and the language of education in Papua New Guinea”, Joan Kale describes “the diversification of Tok Pisin” (p.187) and shows how it “appears already to be functioning as a national language, serving as a vehicle for the expression of national aspirations, promoting national unity as it provides a viable interface between the traditional culture and that of the former coloniser” (p.191). She then relates how “universal literacy through the medium of English became the goal of education” (p.192). Finally, she proposes that at present the time is right to reconsider the English-only educational policy and to think about using Tok Pisin and vernacular languages as languages of instruction, alongside English, in the education system.

In Chapter 12, “Tok Pisin at university: an educational and language planning dilemma in Papua New Guinea?”, John Swan and Don J. Lewis present the results of surveys showing widespread use of Tok Pisin by students at Papua New Guinea’s two universities.

Finally, in Chapter 13, “Language planning in Vanuatu”, Andrew Thomas outlines recent developments in Bislama, especially with regard to the use of the language in education. He reports (p.244):

During a debate on the question of Bislama in schools, in April 1982, a majority of members of parliament favoured introduction of Bislama as either a medium of instruction or as a subject. Support for the teaching of Bislama in schools came from government and opposition members alike.

He also reports a similar point of view from participants at the 1981 Vanuatu Language Planning Conference and the Vanuatu National Council of Chiefs (p.245):

The final resolution which the Language Planning Conference adopted showed strong support for the use of Bislama. It recommended that Bislama should be taught at least as a subject in the first four years of primary school and used as the medium of instruction for classes five and six.

But nothing came of these recommendations, and the author concludes with his own “proposals regarding a language-in-education policy for Vanuatu” (p.253-4). These include making Bislama the primary medium of instruction for the first four years of school, with the vernacular used where possible in the first two years, and joined by English or French in the fifth year.



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