(No. 5)




Pace in the UK

The discussion of issues concerning pidgins and creoles in education that we find today in Australia, Canada and the USA has been going on for many years in the UK. Large-scale immigration from the West Indies to the UK began after World War II, and rose rapidly in the late 1960s. By 1971, there were over half a million West Indians in Britain, a large proportion speaking varieties of Caribbean Creole English.

Problems in the education system related to this immigration existed from an early stage, but they did not come to the attention of the general public until the early 1970s. Statistics were released showing that non-immigrants did much better than immigrants in the schools, and all other immigrants did better than West Indians. Also figures showed that West Indian children were highly over-represented in schools for the educationally sub-normal.

This information is detailed in an influential book by Viv Edwards: The West Indian language issue in British schools: Challenges and responses (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1979). In the first chapter, the author considers factors which might be responsible for this poor performance, such as social adjustment and educational expectations. But language – the Creole spoken by the students – is singled out as the most important factor, both in the problems of acquiring the standard used in the schools and the very negative attitudes of teachers towards any nonstandard variety. The general picture is described on page 14:

Language is a subject about which West Indians tend to be very defensive. Because they have been told repeatedly that Creole is “Broken language” and that those who use it must be very backward, their reaction is often to insist that they speak standard English and deny any knowledge of a distinct West Indian variety. Similarly, the British expect West Indians to speak English – they come, after all, from former British colonies where the official language is English. And the British reaction when they are confronted with speech which is clearly not standard English is often not favourable.

In Chapter Two, the author gives a detailed description of West Indian Creole and its patterns of use. Following the work of William Labov in the USA, she then devotes a chapter to verbal skills of West Indians. The next chapter details how Creole may actually interfere with the acquisition and use of Standard English, thus disadvantaging children in the schools.

In Chapter Five, Edwards discusses research findings on negative attitudes of teachers towards Creole-speaking children. She concludes (pp.97-8):

The interrelationship between language differences and attitudes to these differences can now be seen to be a highly complex one. The teacher who does not or is not prepared to recognize the problems of the Creole-speaking child in a British English situation can only conclude that he is stupid when he gives either an inappropriate response or no response at all. The stereotyping process leads features of Creole to be stigmatized and to develop connotations of, amongst other things, low academic ability. The teacher is then more likely to allow the stereotype to determine her behaviour towards the child, and low teacher expectation will very probably lead to low pupil performance. The child, for his part, feels threatened, especially in the early stages, by comprehension difficulties. These and the teacher’s behaviour towards him produce a state of linguistic insecurity and he is very likely to seem inarticulate as a result. This reinforces the teacher’s preconceived ideas and so the cycle is perpetuated.

Chapter 6, “Practical approaches to language”, shows the undesirability (and impossibility) of dialect eradication, and describes two other approaches: the bidialectal approach and dialect appreciation. It concludes with descriptions of more innovative approaches. The final chapter argues for a curriculum change for a multicultural society.

Another book by Viv Edwards covers the issues of multicultural education more generally: Language in multicultural classrooms (Batsford Academic and Educational, London, 1983). But it does contain a chapter specifically on language in the British Black (ie West Indian) community.

Caribbean and African languages: social history, language, literature and education (Karia Press, London, 1985) was written by Morgan Dalphinis, a speaker of St Lucia Kwéyòl who migrated to England at the age of 11. Part IV of the book (pp.187-280) is on Creoles and Education. After an introduction in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 presents the arguments for and against teaching English as a second language to speakers of creole languages. These revolve around differing points of view as to whether English-based creoles are separate languages or merely dialects of English. According to the author, the main problem is lack of recognition of Creoles as distinct varieties which are learned like any other.

Chapter 3 analyses the different approaches to creole languages both in the Caribbean (focussing on St Lucia) and in England, keeping in mind the issue of political power with regard to development of these languages. In the Caribbean, the change of status of Patwa (Kwéyòl) to a written language is described, and the work of the Folk Research Centre and the Society for Caribbean Languages is outlined. In England, three organizations dealing with Creole speaking immigrants are discussed. The first two were within the educational system: the West Indian Supplementary Service (WISS) and the English Language Service, both of the London Borough of Waltham Forest. The third is outside the educational system: the Caribbean Communications Project.

WISS was established in 1971 in reaction to the large number of Caribbean students being sent to schools for the educationally subnormal. It was finally realized that the low intelligence attributed to Caribbean immigrants and their children was largely the result of differences in Caribbean uses of English. Dalphinis points out (p.214):

“WISS, in its initial stages was, therefore, an organisation mainly geared to providing supplementary educational help to Caribbean pupils, as well as to make schools in which their numbers were high, more sensitive to their special needs as people from a different culture.” WISS teachers aimed to teach Standard English, but by supplementing rather than trying to replace students’ home languages. In other words, they emphasized appropriate language use in different contexts in British society.

The English Language Service began teaching English as a second language to immigrant students in 1965. However, this organization dealt mainly with Asian immigrants because Caribbean Creoles were not considered to be separate languages.

The Caribbean Communications Project was established in 1975 to promote literacy among adults. It organized literate Caribbean people to teach adults to read and write and provided input into training programs run by established institutions.

The chapter ends with some recommendations for the use of Creole literature in the schools and the teaching of some grammatical aspects of Creole languages. Creoles should be accepted as part of the culture of Caribbean people and should become part of mainstream education in Britain and St Lucia.

The fourth chapter examines how features of Creole languages affect the oral and written English of adult learners. Finally, Chapter 5 relates some educational methods for overcoming the problems of Caribbean students in British schools. These include using Creole languages in story telling, teaching language awareness, and running courses specifically about Creole languages.

The situation in the UK has been complicated by three other factors. First, in the Black community there has been large-scale language shift away from Creole. But the shift has been to nonstandard varieties of English, such as London working class English, rather than to standard varieties. Second, many Blacks of West Indian descent are still learning Creole as a badge of social identity, but they are learning it as a second language (or second dialect), often in their adolescent years. Third, many Whites are also learning Creole from mixing with their Black peers.

The Language and Literacy Unit of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), aware of these complications as well as the issues pointed out earlier by educators such as Viv Edwards, started the Afro-Caribbean Language and Literacy Project in Further and Adult Education in 1984. The culmination of this project was the publishing of a book of language materials for students in multilingual and multi ethnic classrooms: Language and power (London, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990). The teachers involved in the project, such as Roxy Harris, took a wide ranging approach, aiming at all students who speak nonstandard varieties of English. They point out (p.iv):

…[T]he issues surrounding the use of Standard English are of concern to all students, not just those of Caribbean descent. Standard English is the language of education and authority but it is not the first language of the majority of population.

A key aspect of the book is “language awareness”. This is described as follows (p.v):

The book is based on the belief that a key part of the language curriculum for all students should be an outline of the social and political factors which helped to determine the development of Standard English. It is also necessary to make available to both students and teachers as much information as possible about languages in general and about the history and development of Caribbean Creole languages in particular. This includes an understanding of their grammatical structure, pronunciation patterns, vocabulary and idiom. The students themselves can contribute a great deal of this information, and their confidence will grow when their expertise in this area is acknowledged. Students’ own knowledge and understanding of different languages and language varieties are an invaluable resource for language teaching. It is in this context that progress on the language issue in the multilingual classroom can be achieved, not just for students of Afro-Caribbean origin, but for students of all races and backgrounds.

The book is divided into three sections: (A) The history of Standard English (with four chapters), (B) Language in the world (six chapters) and (C) Caribbean Creole languages (six chapters).

A useful earlier book that came out of the project is My personal language history compiled by Roxy Harris and Fou-fou Savitzky (London, New Beacon Books, 1988). This is a collection of students’ narratives about their language:

The book aims to allow students to express their perceptions of their own linguistic situation with all their uncertainties, ambiguities and pain. The book is intended to be read and enjoyed and to provide discussion and writing among students in their classes and amongst teachers in an in-service training context.

Another publication produced for the Afro-Caribbean Language and Literacy Project is Language writing and publishing: Working with Afro-Caribbean students by Irene Schwab and Jud Stone (Hackney Reading Centre – City and East London College, London, 1986).

The ILEA was abolished in 1990, but a scaled down Afro-Caribbean Education Project continues, primarily working in the classroom with teachers and students, and in the training of teachers. Also, more use is being made of Afro-Caribbean literature.

Three chapters dealing with creole and education in Britain are found in The language of Black experience edited by David Sutcliffe and Ansel Wong (Blackwell, Oxford, 1986), described in PACE Newsletter 2(1991). [Please note that the author of one of the chapters, John Richmond, was incorrectly given as John Richard.] A chapter by Roger Hewitt in another book (1989) is also described in that issue.

A more recent book chapter by Morgan Dalphinis appears in Multilingualism in the British Isles edited by S Alladina and Viv Edwards (Harlow, Longman, 1991) [not available to the editor].

Mark Sebba’s book, London Jamaican (Longman, London, 1993), is the most recent detailed description of the language of London’s Black community. The book shows how most adolescents are now actually bilingual, speaking a type of London English, similar to that of their White peers, as well as a type of Creole (London Jamaican), based on Jamaican Creole, but not identical to it. This Creole is spoken by Caribbean adolescents even if they are not originally from Jamaica. Detailed conversational data show frequent code-switching between the two varieties in everyday interactions.

The book also contains a short chapter on Creole as a language of education (pp.138-45). Some of the past controversies are described as follows (p.141):

In the early 1980s it was possible to discern two largely separate groups who favoured the introduction of some sort of Creole element in classroom work. On the one hand some teachers, in a spirit of multiculturalism and linguistic liberalism, sought to provide black pupils with a positive view of “their own” language, by discussing its historical background and encouraging the use of Creole in creative writing.…On the other hand, some parents, perhaps influenced by black consciousness ideology, wanted Creole to become a school subject.

The author describes some of the problems with the idea of introducing London Jamaican as a subject, like the mother tongues of other ethnic minorities. First, it is not the mother tongue of a large proportion of the Caribbean population. Most of those born in the UK speak London English, and of those born in the Caribbean, many are not from Jamaica but from other countries such as Guyana and Dominica, where different creoles are spoken. Second, there is no accepted written standard in Britain for the English-based creoles.

However, Creole is being introduced into the schools in other ways (p.144):

An increasing interest in “language awareness” in English lessons in the 1980s, and especially the emphasis on linguistic knowledge in the Kingman Report (1988), together with the introduction by some Examining Boards of new A-level examinations in English Language as an alternative to the existing English Literature A-levels, made it possible for teachers to include units on Creole as part of a wider study of “language varieties” aimed at all pupils. A number of textbooks for use at GCSE or A-level have responded to this possibility.

The Language and Power materials, described above, are also discussed. But the author concludes that the future of Creole in the UK lies with its use as a spoken language, not a language of education.

Finally, the entry in The encyclopedia of language and linguistics (Pergamon, Oxford, 1994) on “Black English in Education: UK”, written by Morgan Dalphinis (pp.366-8), is a good summary of the historical trends, educational issues and cultural and identity factors with regard to Creole and education in Britain.


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