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Kids, Creoles and Classrooms Symposium

Kids, Creoles and Classrooms: A symposium held 7-8 April at Charles Darwin University, in the Northern Territory of Australia, co-convened by Charles Darwin University, The Association for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, NT (ATESOL NT) and The University of Melbourne.

The aim was to provide targeted professional development for educators and student teachers, raising awareness of and mapping the profession to the recently developed Capability Framework for Teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander EAL/D Learners.

Symposium sessions were designed to provide the professional knowledge described in the Capability Framework:

  • about language (development and language as a system) and about the language(s) students speak and learn, i.e. students' home languages and language ecologies, and Standard Australian English (especially Capabilities 1 and 2);

  • about the particular language demands in the curriculum for EAL/D learners and the professional knowledge and practices (in particular Capabilities 3 and 4), in planning and implementing effective teaching and learning, and creating and maintaining supportive and safe learning environments.

The Symposium program was designed to provide a combination of presentations and workshops. The workshops were scheduled in parallel sessions to allow smaller groups, and each workshop was repeated on the second day in a different time slot so participants could take part in all workshops over the course of the two days. Around 90 educators, curriculum support staff and education researchers attended the two-day event. Video recordings of the key note sessions will be made available on the ATESOL NT website.


Introduction to symposium
Gillian Wigglesworth, University of Melbourne


The Capabilities Framework published last year provides a sound guide which will encourage and assist all those involved in teaching to develop their professional skills so that they are able to provide a more tailored approach to the teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who come to school speaking a language other than standard Australian English. 

Often this is a creole, Aboriginal English or a new mixed language.  Some of the children coming into the school system may also speak some amount of the traditional language of their land. As a result the language that children come to school with can vary enormously from one place to another. This workshop is designed to offer you some insights into the best ways to teach these children, particularly, in this case, those in remote communities across Australia.

Language Journeys
Robyn Ober, Trish Chisholm, Kym Davidson, Glenys Collard, Pansy Rose & Annette Patrick

The invited speakers talked about their journeys as Indigenous learners, educators and researchers.

Workshop: Ba Lenlenbat Namba. Learning about Number. Ngurru-marrbuydhina-yinyung a-Namba (Kriol-English-Wubuy). Numbulwar's experience with using first language in implementing Talking Namba
John Bradbury, Melanie Wilkinson, Hilda Ngalmi, Josephine Numamurdirdi, Faye Manggurra & Joanne Pickering, NT Department of Education

Workshop: Teaching with a language perspective
Denise Angelo and Courtney Farley, Education Queensland

In this workshop participants experienced the process of planning and teaching a unit of work that addresses students' language learning needs in addition to – and to enable – their curriculum learning.

Continuities and Discontinuities Affecting Aboriginal Learners
Ian Malcolm, Edith Cowan University


It has often been observed that the English used by Aboriginal speakers, and the way in which they use it, show continuity with traditional Aboriginal culture. This presentation pursued this matter by illustrating, with respect to a number of features at the grammatical, lexical, conceptual and pragmatic levels, how the English which has been maintained by Aboriginal speech communities embodies linguistic, social and conceptual features which are part of the cultural memory of Aboriginal people even where they now live their lives in urban contexts.

Continuities are seen, in this presentation, as inheritances which help to form our primary discourse and our identity. In some cases, the continuities represented in Aboriginal English link their speakers to their more remote past and in other cases to the period of contact, where pidgins and creoles emerged from diverse linguistic encounters.

Education, necessarily, involves a degree of discontinuity, in that it always involves the learner in going beyond familiar experience. An important question for educators of Aboriginal students is how to introduce, as an effective secondary discourse, the standard Australian English, which the students will need for their future, without threatening the primary discourse, which carries their identity.

A number of suggestions were given for further exploration in a later workshop.

Workshop: Continuities, Discontinuities and Interdependence in Learning
Patricia Königsberg, Glenys Collard & Kathi Dixon, Western Australia

This workshop followed on and picked up from the lecture presented by Ian Malcolm, entitled “Continuities and Discontinuities Affecting Aboriginal Learners”.

As shown in the lecture, Aboriginal English, despite regional and stylistic variations, is one dialect which has much in common with Aboriginal languages and creoles in that it “embodies the collective consciousness of Aboriginal society.” This is in stark contrast with the collective consciousness of Western cultural perspectives permeated throughout the Australian Curriculum. This poses dilemmas for educators. Do we ignore these differences in consciousness and hope that learners will just ‘pick up’ and learn the differences or do we accommodate them? If we accommodate, how do we do this? Can we move from a system favouring independence to one which favours interdependence in the community of learning?

This workshop built on the examples provided in the lecture and used the Tracks to Two-Way Learning materials to explore:
• How to Learn from Prior Knowledge
• How to build on prior knowledge
• How to deal with discontinuities
• How to bridge to standard Australian English

Workshop: Making the Jump with Aboriginal English in Darwin Schools
Gayle Raymond and Rebecca Green, NT Department of Education

Workshop Presentation: Mathematics and spatial language in multilingual classrooms
Cris Edmonds-Wathen, Charles Darwin University

Growing up Talking: a window to child language development
Samantha Disbray, Charles Darwin University, & Evonne Thompson, Canteen Creek

Children everywhere develop language in similar ways and at a similar rate. Through interaction in their social setting they acquire the sub-systems of the language(s) spoken around them with apparent ease, and this language development continues through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. This is true for children whose first language(s) is (are) or includes a creole or Aboriginal English variety. Teachers of such students rarely get a glimpse into this developmental process. This talk drew on longitudinal data collected through the Aboriginal Child Language Acquisition project (ACLA ), to give teachers of Indigenous students an insight into this developmental process and a deeper understanding of the language repertoires of their students and the language learning needs of these students in school.

How communication practices affect learning in early years Aboriginal schooling
Rod Gardner, Griffith University

In recent research the speaker has been working at a primary school in a Central Queensland Aboriginal community. The focus of this research has been on the early years schooling (Prep to year 3) and the role of language in the success (or not) of interactions between the Aboriginal children and their predominantly white, middle class, standard Australian speaking teachers.

In this presentation, there was some discussion of the language variety of the community, but the main focus was on classroom interactions between the white, middle class, standard Australian teachers and the contact variety- speaking children. The questions asked were about learning the curriculum, and how the content of the curriculum is taken up by the children: how is knowledge transmitted between teacher and children. This presentation focused on three classroom practices. First, if a child has a question or needs some information, she or he first needs to have the teacher's attention, and ways were shown in which children attempt to secure teachers' attention. Second, teachers pass on their knowledge to children not through telling them, but through questioning. Third, it was shown how a math assessment failed to pick up knowledge that children demonstrably have.

Teaching in linguistically complex and dynamic classrooms
Denise Angelo & Courtney Farley, Education Queensland

In linguistically complex and dynamic classrooms educators need specific language teaching skill sets. On-the-ground work with classroom teachers has shown that a useful teacher toolkit includes how to

  • learn about local language ecologies and celebrate multilingualism
  • monitor and assess second language acquisition
  • analyse and explicitly teach the language demands of the curriculum content
  • foster language learners' access and participation in classroom learning

These understandings and practices enable educators to teach "with a language perspective" and to support their students' (incipient) multilingualism.


Joint conference of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics (SCL), the Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics (SPCL) and the Associação de Crioulos de Base Lexical Portuguesa e Espanhola (ACBLPE), held in Oranjestad in Aruba from 5-8 August 2014.

Papers that dealt with Creoles in Education (click on link to abstracts below):

General issues:

BARRIERE, Isabelle, Blandine JOSEPH and Prince GUETIENS:
Developing and piloting the first language sssessment tool for Haitian Creole-learning toddlers [abstract]

CROES, Régine:
Reaching beyond the Scol Multilingual project: Overhauling the whole education system toward a meaningful multilingual learner-centred education [abstract]

DIJKHOFF, Marta (Keynote):
Language planning and political restructuring in Curaçao: What's new? [abstract]

Teachers' attitudes towards the creole language in Antigua [abstract]

JACKSON, Samantha and Valerie YOUSSEF
Screening for language development among Trinidadian English Creole-speaking children [abstract]

McPHEE, Helean
The Minor and Certificate in Linguistics at The College of The Bahamas: An examination of Bahamian Creole content [abstract]

NERO, Shondel
Raising awareness of de facto language education policy in Jamaican schools [abstract]

WIEL, Keisha
Identity personified through education: The case for raising awareness of Papiamento [abstract]

Panel presentation on Applied Linguistics and the language of instruction in Dutch Caribbean schools:

FARACLAS, Nicholas
Class observations and stakeholder interviews in St. Eustatius [abstract]

KESTER, Ellen-Petra
Language attitudes and language use in St. Eustatius [abstract]

Applied Linguistics in St. Eustatius and the rest of the Dutch Caribbean: How can linguists contribute constructively to debates concerning the languages of instruction in Caribbean schools? [abstract]

Narrative proficiency in Dutch and English among students in St. Eustatius [abstract]

Developing and Piloting the First Language Assessment Tool for Haitian Creole-learning Toddlers

Isabelle BARRIERE, Blandine JOSEPH and Prince GUETIENS

Linguistic studies of Creole languages make many claims with respect to their learnability, i.e. whether and to what extent their structural characteristics facilitate their acquisition (e.g., Lefebvre, 2006 and references cited therein). Paradoxically, except for Mauritian Creole (Adone, 1994), Creoles have not been the focus of comprehensive acquisition studies, and Haitian Creole is no exception. This is not only problematic for theoretical reasons. Haitian Creole (HC) is the most widely spoken Creole, with 12 million speakers and it is the language of a fast increasing proportion of the population in the US: it is the second Language Other Than English in Miami (Buchanan et al., 2010) and the fourth one in New York (American Community Survey, 2007, Table B16001). It is also among the top 10 languages other than English spoken by students aged 5 to 17 labelled as having 'Limited English Proficiency' (Migration Policy Institute, 2010).

The aim of this study was to address the gap experienced by educators and clinicians, who have to administer developmental screenings to pre-schoolers, and to develop an assessment tool adapted to HC-learning toddlers. A parental questionnaire adapted to both the language and the culture of HC-learning toddlers was developed, first piloted in Haiti and administered to 50 children (with no developmental issues) between the ages of 18 and 36 months enrolled in Head Start programs and other day cares and preschools in New York.

The assessment follows the structure of the Communicative Development Inventory (CDI) (Fenson et al, 2007) that has been adapted to 63 languages from different language families and tied to distinct cultures ( It consists of three sections that tap toddlers' vocabulary, language use and sentence structure.

The HC questionnaire contains 602 words: parents indicate whether their child understands and/or produces each of them. In a few cases different words that refer to the same concept are presented to accommodate dialectal differences among speakers, i.e. 'tanpri/silvouplŹ/souple' simply means 'please', and yet different speakers from different regional or social background might choose to say 'tanpri' instead of 'silvouplŹ' even when they understand the meaning of all three. A section on religious concepts not typically found in CDIs has been added. Words such as 'Jezi Kris' meaning 'Jesus Christ' and 'ougan/ bėkė' referring to 'voodoo priest' were also incorporated as they reflect the combination of Christian and Vodoo cultures of Haitians (Michel and Bellegarde-Smith, 2006) and the early linguistic experience of the HC-learning toddlers. The use of different lexical items, as in 'gėm' (gum) and 'pouding' (pudding) in the section on food and beverage borrowed from the English language were also added, to ensure we did not underestimate the lexical development of the children living in the US.

The section on language use is similar of that of the American English CDI (Fenson et al., 2007). It focuses on how children use words to talk about events that either happens in the present, past, and future. It includes 5 questions, e.g a). 'ťske pitit ou janm rakonte bagay kite rive ou pale de moun ki pa la?' (Does your child ever talk about past events or people who are not present?) b) 'ťske pitit ou janm rakonte bagay ki pwale rive?' (Does your child ever talk about something that’s going to happen in the future?)

The grammatical section of the CDI incorporates the complex Tense, Aspect and Mood markers that characterize Haitian Creole (Damoiseau, 2005, DeGraff, 2007). For example the progressive marker 'ap' that sometimes indicates future, as in 'l’ap malad' (s/he will be sick), or it can be used to mark the progressive aspect as in 'M’ap pale' (I am talking). The marker 'ap' can also indicate immediate future, as in 'l’ap wŹ’w' (s/he will see you). The marker 'te' indicating past, as in 'li te fŹ’l' (S/he did it) was also included.

In addition to the HC language assessment questionnaires, parents also completed a detailed questionnaire on the demographic and linguistic contexts in which their child was raised that considered the complex sociolinguistic linguistic landscape of the Haitian community in the US (BarriŹre and Monereau-Merry, 2013). Haiti has two official languages, French and Haitian Creole. Although French co-exists with Haitian Creole at a societal level, only 10% of the Haitian Population speaks it (DeGraff, 2009). In contrast, all Haitians speak and understand Creole. New York City is home to more than 180,000 residents of Haitian ancestry who belong to different social classes and come from different regions of Haiti (BarriŹre and Monérau-Merry, 2013). Toddlers of Haitian descent in the US may be raised learning only HC or they may also be exposed to French and/or English (and/or Spanish, if they come from areas close to the Dominican Republic), which is why it was important to collect detailed information on their linguistic backgrounds.
The analyses of the results focused on number and types of words and grammatical structures understood and produced by the toddlers in relation to their age, the age at which they were exposed to different languages, the proportion of use of different languages with their parents, siblings and other relatives and caregivers, and the language(s) in which literacy-related activities are conducted. The first results obtained on 50 toddlers enable us to a) gain insights into the complex linguistic contexts in which HC-learning toddlers are raised, b) identify their early language acquisition milestones and c) determine the contribution of contextual factors to the language development of HC-learning toddlers, which will inform clinicians and educators serving this population. [back to top]

Reaching beyond the Scol Multilingual project: Overhauling the whole education system toward a
meaningful multilingual learner-centred education

Régine CROES
Departamento di EnseĖansa Aruba

Ten years ago a group of linguists, educational specialists and policy makers got the task to write a new language policy for primary education, but we were summoned to do this behind closed doors. There was a lot of tension and debate about the language of instruction and this topic was highly politicized back then. After proposing a multilingual education model with Papiamento as the language of instruction throughout primary education we got the support of the Minister of Education to introduce this model until the fourth grade. Unfortunately at that time we couldn’t get the support to continue this model until 6th grade, but we took the challenge and set up the Scol Multlingual Project to develop all conditions necessary to introduce this model in all primary schools in the near future.

As we are advancing we can now demonstrate the benefits of multilingual literacy and the winds in public opinion and politics have obviously changed in our favour.

Now, ten years later, in 2014, we are ready to move on to the next level. In this paper I want to share my personal vision on how I think we can take on the challenge to open the public debate again and continue the multilingual model throughout primary and secondary education, keeping a major role for Papiamento throughout our education system and building upon the other languages in a realistic, challenging and meaningful way. [back to top]

Language planning and political restructuring in Curaçao: What's new?

Marta DIJKHOFF (Keynote)

Aruba, Bonaire and Curaćao (ABC islands) were colonies of the Netherlands until 1954 and part of the Netherlands Antilles (along with Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten, the SSS islands). In 1954, autonomy was officially granted to the Netherlands Antilles. Shortly afterwards, the country started disintegrating. The ABC islands are at present three separate entities within the Kingdom. Aruba obtained an autonomous status in 1986. In 2010, the Netherlands Antilles itself ceased to exist. Curaćao obtained an independent status within the kingdom, whereas Bonaire became an overseas municipality.

Schools in Curaćao (and also those in Aruba and Bonaire) follow the Dutch educational system, despite the political restructuring of the last decades. According to Devonish 1986, “The education system has been a major means of protecting and perpetuating the role of Dutch as the official language, although the majority of the inhabitants of the ABC islands speak Papiamentu as their mother tongue c.f. able 1 (courtesy of the Central Bureau of Statistics of Curaçao and Aruba).Description: Macintosh HD:Users:Jeff:Desktop:Dijkhoff-Table.tiff
In this paper I want to discuss the challenges that we face as a linguistic community in this phase of our history, with special reference to the social and educational context in Curaćao. These challenges are comparable to the issues Aruba has been grappling with concerning the role of Papiamentu in education, since it left the Antillean political constellation in 1986 cf. Croes 2010, and Pereira 2010. Bonaire, where Dutch has been re-established as the official language of public administration and education in 2010, is facing related, yet greater difficulties, cf. Bak-Piard 2009. For a review of the changes on the ABC islands before this date, cf. Dijkhoff and Pereira 2010 (“Language and education in Aruba, Bonaire and Curaćao”, in Creoles in Education, Bettina Migge et al., John Benjamins, pp. 237-272). My present contribution can be considered an update of the situation described therein. Some issues in language planning which we were contending with are still inconclusive today, whereas others have shifted based on a different political reality. [back to top]


Class Observations and Stakeholder Interviews in St. Eustatius

Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras

This paper is part of a panel presentation on Applied Linguistics and the language of instruction in Dutch Caribbean schools. It reports on the results of a year-long study concerning the language of instruction in the schools of St. Eustatius which was conducted by our research team from 2012 to 2013.

With the goal of attaining a qualitative understanding of the lived experiences of the people of St. Eustatius in relation to the language of instruction used in the schools on the island, our research team conducted 19 observations of regularly scheduled classes at all levels of primary and secondary education and 49 focus group interview meetings, including 9 meetings with groups of teachers, 12 meetings with individuals and groups involved with educational management, 22 meetings with groups involved in activities associated with the educational system (youth and family services, etc.), 5 meetings with groups of students, and 1 general meeting with parents.

The classroom observations revealed that students and teachers at all levels perform better when English is taught as a first language and used as the general language of instruction and when Dutch is taught as a foreign language and not used as the general language of instruction. We observed that while students enjoy learning Dutch when it is taught in an informal and playful way as a foreign language in the early years of primary school, their enthusiasm for learning Dutch diminishes as the transition is made to Dutch as the main language of instruction at the end of primary school, and evaporates when Dutch becomes the main language of instruction in secondary school. In early primary classrooms, we witnessed uniformly high levels of class participation among all students in classes where English is used as the main language of instruction and Dutch is taught as a foreign language. But in later primary and secondary classes where Dutch is taught as a first or second language and used as the language of instruction, we almost invariably observed a ‘core/periphery effect’ whereby a few students, most of whom have some significant exposure to Dutch outside of school, constitute an engaged ‘core’ that actively participates and interacts with the teacher, while the majority of the students retreat into the disengaged non-participating ‘periphery’ of the class.

What we observed in the classrooms was confirmed during our focus group interview meetings. While all stakeholders agreed that the schools on St. Eustatius should be producing students with high levels of competence in both English and Dutch, none thought that the schools were actually achieving this for either language. All agreed that for the great majority of the people on St. Eustatius, Statian English is a first language and Dutch is a foreign language. A number of stakeholders commented on growing levels of hostility among students (and some parents) toward Dutch language and all things Dutch. Even some of the few students who speak Dutch at home now refuse to speak Dutch at school. [back to top]

Teachers' attitudes towards the creole language in Antigua


The present study constitutes a sociolinguistic approach to the language situation of Antiguan Creole (hereafter AC) at school settings, in order to delve into the linguistic educational problems of the creole community in Antigua. Formerly a British colony, Antigua, the larger entity of the twin-island State of Antigua and Barbuda (West Indies), has kept English as its official language, although AC is the native language of nearly all Antiguans. Thus, AC confronts one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, English, and the creole is consistently viewed as manifesting illiteracy and poverty. Notwithstanding, the system of values surrounding AC is highly complex and its study may shed light on issues such as language education policies as well as linguistic rights, identity, and nationalism.

In the Anglophone Caribbean, similar sociolinguistic studies include early works by Le Page 1968, Craig 1971, 1976, Winford 1976, Devonish 1983, 1986 and Carrington 1989, among others. Since then, subsequent research has continued, e.g. Morren 2001, Collins Hebbert, García Wilson and Koskinen 2009, Léglise 2010, Carpenter and Devonish 2010, Wilkinson 2011, but there is a need for more analyses of language situations in educational settings of less well-known creole languages, such as AC. Following an enquiry among teachers carried out in 2012-2013, this study aims to fill this gap by presenting research on teachers' attitudes towards the creole, the language situation they confront, and the results of an «English only» policy in the classroom.

The study draws some conclusions regarding language education with regard to AC. It sheds light on the students’ and teachers’ use of AC, their knowledge of it, their viewpoint toward its use, and the language policy held at schools. This is important as the students’ progression in language skills acquisition may well be determined by the attitudes toward both AC and English which predominate in the educational community. There is room for concern in the way subjects must be taught exclusively in English, especially in the formative years of the young students, whose native and everyday language is creole, while English is neither a native nor a foreign language. [back to top]

Screening for Language Development among Trinidadian English Creole-speaking Children

Samantha JACKSON and Valerie YOUSSEF
The University of the West Indies, St Augustine

Screening of pre-school children for speech and language development is normative in metropolitan countries where it is recognized that early intervention is crucial to maximize elimination of potential deficits. Where a potential speech or language difficulty surfaces in screening, children are then referred for full assessment, diagnosis and treatment. This kind of intervention is needed throughout the Caribbean and some progress is being made.

This paper reports on the results of a language screening exercise carried out in the island of Trinidad between January and March 2014 as a precursor to fuller language assessment in both Creole and Standard Trinidadian varieties. The investigation was carried out among one-hundred and twenty (120) four- and five-year- old children in seven Early Childhood Care and Education Centres throughout Trinidad. These Centres are managed or assisted by the Trinidad and Tobago Government to give children without the socio-economic means to attend private pre-schools, the chance to develop educationally and obtain the phonological awareness necessary to pre-literacy before entering mainstream primary schooling.

For Creole-speaking children the American screening measure, The Kindergarten Language Screening Test, Second Edition (KLST-2), proved challenging since the Standard English questions included several vocabulary items and grammatical structures with which, as Creole speakers, they were unfamiliar. In addition, some of the questions required a level of phonological, grammatical and cognitive preparedness which might be expected from a middle-class, educationally-oriented US family environment but which would not likely be the focus of a Trinidadian lower-class domain.

The paper documents the nature and extent of these problematic items, and the responses they invoked, and suggests measures for adaptation of the materials which could then be tried and tested in this Caribbean linguistic milieu as a precursor to establishing norm-referenced screening tests suitable for Caribbean Creole speakers. [back to top]

Language attitudes and language use in St. Eustatius

Ellen-Petra KESTER
Utrecht University

This paper is part of a proposed panel presentation on Applied Linguistics and the language of instruction in Dutch Caribbean schools. It reports on the results of a year-long study concerning the language of instruction in the schools of St. Eustatius which was conducted by our research group from 2012 to 2013.

In order to collect quantitative information regarding language use and attitudes toward language and education in St. Eustatius, we designed a survey which was administered to all of the stakeholders in the educational system on the island. The survey consisted of four parts: 1) a set of general questions designed to investigate attitudes toward language and education; 2) a more specific set of questions concerning opinions about the importance of the Dutch language in different domains; 3) another set of specific questions about the use of various languages in specific settings; and 4) a final series of questions on the demographic characteristics of each respondent. 432 questionnaires were collected from a representative sample of primary and secondary school students, parents, teachers, other education professionals, and the general public.

Statistical analysis of the responses indicate that while St. Eustatius is a multilingual community, Statian English (a continuum of varieties ranging from Caribbean Standard English to Statian English lexifier Creole) is the most widely used language across all domains. The majority of the population is only exposed to Dutch in very formal domains, mainly in the classroom. Dutch is nonetheless considered by most to be a very important language. Most respondents feel strongly that the education system should ensure that students have high levels of competence in both English and Dutch. Attitudes toward bilingualism are positive as are attitudes toward both English and Dutch. That being said, students (as well as their parents) in secondary education, where the use of Dutch as the language of instruction is most systematically and rigorously enforced, express less positive attitudes toward Dutch and education in Dutch than do other groups. . This suggests that the obligatory use of Dutch at school is having a negative impact on attitudes toward Dutch.

In general, the results of the survey indicate that what has been a very polarizing debate over language of instruction on the island over the past decades actually conceals remarkable levels of agreement by all stakeholder groups about what is happening linguistically on the ground at present and about how the education system should be equipping the students linguistically for the future. The statistics on language use clearly indicate that for the great majority of the population, Statian English is a first language and Dutch is a foreign language. The statistics on attitudes reveal that everyone wants students to achieve academic competence in both English and Dutch at school. In other words, nearly everyone agrees on where they are now (A) and where they want to go (B), with the only serious differences of opinion centring on how to get from A to B. [back to top]

Applied Linguistics in St. Eustatius and the rest of the Dutch Caribbean: How can linguists contribute constructively to debates concerning the languages of instruction in Caribbean schools?

University of Wisconsin

Debates regarding language of instruction at the primary and secondary levels have been raging for decades in the Caribbean in general, and in the Dutch Caribbean in particular. Most of the students on the Statian English- lexifier Creole-speaking Dutch island of St. Eustatius (and in most of the rest of the Dutch Caribbean) find themselves in a situation at school where Dutch is used as the language of instruction, even though the overwhelming majority of them almost never encounter written or spoken Dutch outside of the classroom. The use of Dutch as a language of instruction has effectively limited the numbers of Dutch Caribbean students who manage to succeed at school to the small minority whose parents are willing and able to speak Dutch at home, whose families are willing and able to pay for special tutoring in Dutch after school; and/or who have very exceptional levels of capacity and motivation for learning. The rest of the students are left behind.

In order to help find solutions to this problem, our research group was approached toward the end of 2012 by the educational authorities in both St. Eustatius and the European Netherlands to study the question. We accepted the challenge, well aware of the fact that, despite our best intentions, when we linguists and specialists in language education have gotten involved in such controversies in the past, our input has more often than not proved to be very polarizing and, in the final analysis, counterproductive. In order to avoid making a bad situation worse, we adopted a community based approach that would actively involve all of the stakeholders in the education system on the island in the process of identifying, analyzing, and finding solutions to the problem at hand. We also decided to complement this approach with a multi-pronged set of research strategies including: 1) a language attitude and use survey of a representative sample of all of the stakeholders; 2) a narrative proficiency test to gauge students’ levels of productive competence in Dutch and English; 3) in depth interviews with members of all stakeholder groups; 4) numerous classroom observations at all levels in all of the schools on the island; and 5) a review of the scientific literature about societies who face similar challenges regarding language of instruction as those found on St. Eustatius.

In this panel presentation, we will present the results of this year-long study, which were finalized, accepted, and presented to the stakeholders in January of 2014. In general, it appears that the community based multi-strategy approach adopted in this study has made it possible to recast the debate around language in education in more scientifically grounded and less polemical terms, thereby facilitating a process of community mobilization to better meet the educational needs of Statian students. [back to top]


The Minor and Certificate in Linguistics at The College of The Bahamas: An Examination of Bahamian Creole Content

Helean McPHEE
The College of the Bahamas

As in many other creole-speaking territories of the Caribbean, the struggle for recognition of the creole in The Bahamas is a long and difficult process. Views about Bahamian Creole range from those who propose its non- existence to those whose academic research has successfully argued its existence. While the linguistic research carried out on Bahamian Creole is limited in comparison to that of other creoles of the region, from an academic perspective, there is no denying its existence.

In June 2011, after 37 years of existence, The College of The Bahamas approved its first linguistics programmes – a Minor and a Certificate in Linguistics. Both programmes share seven identical goals, four of which focus on Bahamian Creole and are as follows. The Minor and Certificate in Linguistics:

● [build] awareness of the differences between Bahamian Dialect/Bahamian Creole and Standard English, especially among future educators, and prepares them to resolve critical sociolinguistic issues in the Bahamian speech communities arising out of the socio-historical context(s) of the Caribbean region;

● [build] awareness of and respect for Bahamian Dialect/ Bahamian Creole, both among future educators and among the student population generally;

● [build] knowledge about Bahamian language and culture and Bahamianist scholarship by having students work with faculty on original research projects;

● [introduce] students to the history and the historical developments of both Standard English and Bahamian Dialect/ Bahamian Creole as social, historical constructions, and their typological characteristics or genealogical affinities; (Minor Programme of Study in Linguistics, 2011; Certificate Programme in Linguistics, 2011)

This paper presents an overview of the Minor and Certificate in Linguistics paying particular attention to those courses that have Bahamian Creole as their primary focus. Further, an examination of programme goals and course content confirms a strong correlation between them; that is, the content of lower- and upper- level courses reflects an emphasis on Bahamian Creole in keeping with the goals of the programmes. The paper concludes that the introduction of the Minor and Certificate in Linguistics is a seemingly small, but significant step in gaining recognition for Bahamian Creole. [back to top]

Narrative proficiency in Dutch and English among students in St. Eustatius

University of Aruba

This paper is part of a proposed panel presentation on Applied Linguistics and the language of instruction in Dutch Caribbean schools. It reports on the results of a year-long study concerning the language of instruction in the schools of St. Eustatius which was conducted by our research group from 2012 to 2013.

In order to obtain a general idea of the productive competence of students in St. Eustatius in both English and Dutch during and after the transition is made from English as the main language of instruction in the first four years of primary school to Dutch as the main language of instruction in secondary school, a Narrative Proficiency test was designed by our research team. The test was then administered to 177 students aged 10 to 15 in the final two years of primary and the first years of secondary education. In the test, students were asked to write a story based on a series of 6 images that represented a chronological storyline. One randomly selected half of each participating class was asked to write the story in English first, then in Dutch, while the other half of the class was asked to write the story in Dutch first, then in English. The images and storyline were designed so that a story could be told based on them using only high frequency words and minimally complex sentence structures.

While administering the tests, students at all levels demonstrated a collective negative attitude toward Dutch, and students who were expected to write their first story in Dutch postponed the task or started to act out instead of attending to it. Generally, students performed better writing in English than in Dutch, although some students managed to produce high quality stories in both languages. Stories written by students in the last two years of primary school seldom met the standards set for the core objectives of primary education, even though these students performed much better when they wrote in English than when they wrote in Dutch. After primary school, the development of written language proficiency in English appeared to come to a standstill. The written language proficiency for Dutch improved during and after the transition to Dutch as the language of instruction at the end of primary school, but in general proficiency in English remained better than in Dutch, even at the secondary level. After several years of secondary education, written proficiency in both Dutch and English was in most instances still well below all of the core targets set for primary education in Holland.

These results demonstrate that the present system is not equipping the majority of the students with adequate levels of competence in either Dutch or English. As students progress through the final years of primary education and the first few years of secondary education, they fall further and further behind the expected levels for both languages and they develop negative attitudes toward using Dutch in school. [back to top]

Raising awareness of de facto language education policy in Jamaican schools

Shondel NERO
New York University

In response to the low levels of literacy and poor examination performance in several Jamaican schools, especially among Creole-dominant speakers (Bryan, 2004; Christie, 2003; Craig, 1983), coupled with the significant disparity in academic achievement among students in different types of schools, the Jamaican Ministry of Education (MOE) drafted a national Language Education Policy (LEP) in 2001. Taking as its premise that Jamaica is a bilingual country with English as the official language and Jamaican Creole as the mass vernacular, the draft LEP is based on an approach of transitional bilingualism. Although never formally ratified, the LEP remains a draft document on the MOE’s website as a guide for the practice of language and literacy teaching in Jamaican schools.

This paper, based on a nine-month long critical ethnographic study in three different types of Jamaican schools during the 2011-2012 academic year, poses the question: What are Jamaican teachers’ language attitudes and language teaching practices in the absence of a formally ratified LEP? Based on weekly classroom observations, analysis of demographic questionnaires, and interviews of six English Language Arts teachers (two in each school), the study raises awareness of the differences in language and literacy practices among different types of schools; and the extent to which current practices in language and literacy education may or may not align with the principles of the draft policy. Consistent with Menken and García’s (2010) claim that teachers are policymakers, findings reveal that the teachers’ language attitudes and practices created de facto language education policy in schools, which reflected larger historical, sociolinguistic, and political forces in the local context. Key among the findings are: classroom teaching practices heavily influenced by national examinations; conflicting teacher attitudes towards Jamaican Creole; and teachers simultaneous resistance to, appropriation of, dominant linguistic ideologies in a Creole-speaking environment in response to actual vernacular language use in classrooms, adding a more complicated agentive dimension to Shohamy’s (2006) framework linking ideologies to LEP through institutional structures.

Recommendations for stakeholders are offered in terms of raising awareness of the academic consequences of de facto LEP; revising the draft LEP to make it more responsive to current language education needs; and enhancing teacher training on a national level to include linguistically informed best practices with the goal of improving language and literacy practices among all students, especially Creole-dominant speakers. [back to top]

Identity Personified through Education: The Case for Raising Awareness of Papiamento

Keisha WIEL
City University of New York

Preliminary research carried out on attitudes towards Papiamento suggests that there appears to be a dichotomy between Papiamento’s utilization in education and certain cultural aspects, such as music. Through data collected and analyzed from interviews, Papiamento was often lauded as an identity marker but it wasn't given the same important status within education. As identity and language are inextricably intertwined, the use of a creole language within education becomes a complex issue. Studies, including Bühmann and Trudell’s UNESCO report, show that while including a mother tongue can present challenges, there are positive outcomes in utilizing local languages in education (2008). Kephart also suggests this in his study on students’ progress in reading in their own language, Carriacou Creole English (1992).

As mother tongues are also praised as integral identity markers, language plays a substantial role within society. Papiamento is used regularly through social media and is even considered central within certain platforms such as the popular mobile app Vine. But as Papiamento continues to enjoy success within certain social spheres, the stigma associated with its limited use in education is still prevalent among many today. This paper aims to explore the dichotomy within language planning in education and how it correlates to Papiamento’s presence within its social sphere. It also aims to look at the ways in which awareness for Papiamento has impacted its presence within education. [back to top]


Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics and Society for Caribbean Linguistics, Summer Conference, 30 July - 3 August 2012, The Bahamas.

The paper titles and abstracts that dealt with PACE are given below:


Education in French Guiana:
Evaluation of Current Bilingual Programmes

Sophie ALBY and Isabelle LÉGLISE

In this paper we will discuss a major issue in French Guiana: the way the French educational system validates or invalidates the multilingualism that characterises primary school children aged from 3 to 10 years. Cases in point are mother tongues and especially indigenous and (English and French based) Creole languages. 

A good majority of children (being French citizens or children of migrants) grow up without being in contact with French, the official language and major language of education. But despite criticism from anthropologists and linguists working in the region since the 70’s, headway toward integrating local languages and cultures into the French Guianese school context was slow because French policy eschews all languages other than standard French in the public domain (Migge & Léglise, 2010: 114). Since 20 years, however, the French education system has started to introduceexperimental projects in order to validate some of these children mother tongues (Goury & al, 2000, 2005; Alby &Léglise, 2007 among others), but till recently no real evaluation of these programmes was made.

In 2009, a research project called ANR ECOLPOM (Ecole Plurilingue Outre-Mer) was created in order to undergo a firstevaluation. One of its aims was to answer the following questions: are the languages chosen for these bilingual education projects adequate to the languages spoken by the children and are these choices representative of the pupils? How are the children that benefit from these projects chosen?

In this paper, we will present some of the results of this evaluation. Our analysis will be based a) on the political &institutional discourses about these projects, b) on the discourses of the teachers involved in these bilingual projects, and c) on the characteristics of the linguistic repertoires of the children attending the various bilingual programmes and schools concerned by the projects. Our sociolinguistic surveys concern 1315 children.

With those results and analysis in mind, we will discuss the current French and French Guianese educational linguisticpolicies. We will show the gap that exists between the languages chosen for the bilingual projects and the languagesspoken by the children. Even if education in French Guiana has undergone some changes in the last years, we will arguefinally that there is still a lot to be done if the education system wants to respect its pupils’ linguistic rights.


Reflective Writing and Affective Assessment in a Language Classroom:
The Case of Jamaican Creole at York University

Clive FORRESTER and Jacqueline PETERS
York University

In September of 2008, York University introduced two new courses in the Languages department – “Introduction to Jamaican Creole” and “Intermediate Jamaican Creole”. It marked the first time that accredited courses in Jamaican Creole were being taught at the tertiary level outside Jamaica. The courses are designed as year-long undergraduate electives and are open to any student wishing to do a selection from any of the close to twenty languages offered at York University. As part of the assessment in the introductory course, students are required to keep a journal documenting their experience of learning Jamaican in a classroom context.

This paper examines the journals produced by past students who did the introductory course in Jamaican Creole. Student journals chronicle their experience of learning what would be a foreign language for some of them, and “re-learning” a vernacular language for others. The journals reveal that students invariably move through different “phases” as they construct and reflect on their situated identities both as learners and users of the language. At the core of the discussion is the idea that reflective writing in a language classroom not only encourages students to examine their personal views as speaker-learners of a Creole language, but serves as a useful assessment tool for the language teacher which manages to capture the affective dimension of learning.


Linguistic Policy in Colombia:
Teaching English as the Dominant Language vs. Teaching of San Andresian English Creole

Javier Enrique GARCÍA LEÓN and David Leonardo GARCÍA LEÓN Universidad Nacional de Colombia

This paper seeks to analyse current Colombian linguistic policies and examine the extent to which the proclamation of bilingualism in the country can be declared. Although a clear and marked policy on English-Spanish bilingualism exists, it can be argued that it has not successfully achieved its goals. It can also be argued that it has generated negative tensions toward the unique manifestation of Spanish-English Creole bilingualism in the islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina. This hypothesis is supported on three central pillars. Firstly, on the basis that some official documents adopt a reductionist perspective of bilingualism denying the linguistic variety of the country (Gonzalez, 2010, Maejia, 2008, Montes, 2010). Secondly, on the fact that bilingual education in Colombia is based on the imposition of a unique language: English, which undermines the advances achieved in some Spanish-English Creole educational programmes. (Morren, 2011, Moya, 2010). Thirdly, on the basis that the promotion of English as a foreign language has maintained and reinforced the notion that this European language is superior to Creole, as is opined in diverse language in contact situations (Migge, 2011). To arrive at the stated hypothesis, a critical reading of the main linguistic policies and the most common educational bilingual programs in Colombia was carried out. This critical analysis is based on theories developed in the following fields: bilingualism (Hamers y Blanc, 2000) bilingual education (Baker, 1997, Cummins, 1981), linguistic policy and planning (Siguan, 2001) and the sociolinguistic situation of Colombia (Patiño, 2000). The article ends by affirming that in Colombia it is not possible to speak about a national bilingual programme but rather of the promotion of English as a foreign language. This promotion does not consider the situation of language contact in the country, especially the contact between English Creole and Spanish. It is hoped that this paper will contribute to serious reflection and re-examination of the pertinence of some bilingual educational programmes in Colombia; as it is necessary that these programmes recognise the linguistic diversity of the Country and foment a more balanced bilingualism.


Writing as They Speak:
The Impact of Informal Structures on Student Writing within the Academic Writing Classroom

Danielle WATSON and Patrice QUAMMIE
The University of the West Indies, St Augustine

This research proposes to examine the inclusion of informal structures in student writing with the aim of improving the quality of formal writing produced at the tertiary level. It seeks to chart aspects of informality present in student writing while mapping possible - and perhaps unorthodox - means of addressing these occurrences, such as diagnostics(Morgan 2005), peer assessment (Topping 1998). It looks specifically at the more commonly-documented aspects of informality via the analysis of essays written by Caribbean students and assesses the suitability of the existing tertiary-level writing programmes geared toward addressing these areas. The research will be underpinned by the literature exploring the relationship between speech and writing (Biber 1995), the revision of the language curriculum and diversifications in the teaching of English language at university level (Richards 2001, Hammer 2001), as well as English Creole interference.


Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics, Summer Conference, Accra (Ghana), August 2011

The few papers that touched on educational issues were:

EGBOKHARE, Francis O. (U of Ibadan, Nigeria): Beyond chance, sentiments and prejudice: Engaging the challenges of NIgerian Pidgin Development (Plenary) Abstract:

The fortunes of a language are inextricably tied to the fortunes of its speakers. The profile of a language may improve positively if it becomes associated with a thriving culture, religion, trade, science and technology and education, or if it is associated with a dominant political or economic power (Liberson 1982). In the face of the pervading endangerment of local languages due to the forces of globalisation, Nigerian pidgin has continued to spread and deepen its functions and relevance. In this presentation we examine issues relating to its origin, identity, spread and changing profile and situate these historically and synchronically within the dynamics of the Nigerian environment. We identify lack of a standard variety and orthography, official recognition, use as a medium of instruction, learning and teaching materials as some factors undermining the development of Nigerian Pidgin. Others include the fear that it will negatively affect the learning of English language. This has tended to generate apathy among the elite and lack of commitment in the critical linguistic community. As a way of tackling some of these problems and stirring Nigerian Pidgin in the right direction, the Naija Langwej Akedemi was established as a language development, research, capacity building and advocacy platform. We report here on its effort to harmonise and standardise the orthographic practiceses and build capacity towards the compilation of a representative dictionary and grammar. We argue that if Nigerian Pidgin must attain the respect and recognition it deserves and perform its role as a language of regional integration in West Africa, it must move from the market place, the mass media to intellectual domains. Equally important, it must be tied to the global information infrastructure and other vectors of modern socialisation.

HANENBERG, Stanley (Radboud U, Nijmegen): Language attitude and langauge use of Afro0Suramese in Suriname.

MITCHELL, Edward S. and URSULIN, Diana (Macao Polytechnic Inst and U of Puerto Rico): The roles of gender and education in questions of language choice and attitutdes in a creolephone community.

NDIMELE, Roseline (Abia State U Uturu, Nigeria): Communication porblems of NIgerian Pidgin speakers.


Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics, Pittsburg, January 2011

Papers on education/applied linguistics included:

BARRETT, Terri-Ann (U of the West Indies, Mona): Why can’t we learn English? The difficulties encountered in learning Standard English in Jamaica.

DEVETTE-CHEE, Kilala (U of Canberra): A study into the use of Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea primary schools

SMALLS, Krystal (U of Pennsylvania): Flipping the Performative Script: (Re)constructing models of identity through hip hop languaging and Liberian Englishes in a US High School.

Society for Caribbean Linguistics, Barbados, August 2010

Papers on educational issues included:

DEVONISH, Hubert and Karen CARPENTER. Creole and English Bilingual Education: Good for Girls but Better for Boys?

BARRETT, Terri-Ann. The effect of Jamaican Creole on the learning of Standard English by Grade 1 Students in Jamaica

BLAKE, Renée. Race, Class and Language Ideologies in Barbados DELGADO. Education, languages in contact, and popular culture in the Francophone, Hispanophone and Dutch Caribbean

FENIGSEN, Janina and Jef VAN der AA. Restoring Voice: An Independence Day Narrative in a Barbadian Classroom

FERGUSSON, Ann. Language Patterns in the Written Compositions of Barbadian Low-Achieving Secondary School Students

HAYNES-KNIGHT, Kerri-Ann and Keisha EVANS. “Wuh Allsopp Tink She Talking ’Bout?” Bajan Dialect vs. Standard English as Mother Tongue

KEPHART, Ronald. Taking the “Broken” out of “Broken English”: Teaching against Linguistic Prejudice

LACOSTE, Véronique. Children’s Experience of Jamaican Sound Patterns in School

LEONI DE LEÓN, Jorge Antonio. Dígalo : a basic support tool for L2 learners

McPHEE, Helean. English Should be Taught as a Second Language in Bahamian Primary Schools PEREIRA, Joyce. Educational Reform and Attitude Planning in Aruba SAUL, Patricia. Writing Across the Genres: A Study of Syntactic Maturity in the Written Discourse of 11–12 year olds

STEWART, MichŹle. When 3-year old Jamaican Children Don’t Know the Word

URSULIN, Diana, Pier Angeli LE COMPTE, Santiago RUIZ, Hannia LAO and Sally DELGADO. Education, languages in contact, and popular culture in the Francophone, Hispanophone and Dutch Caribbean

Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics, Cologne, Germany, August 2009:

Panel session: Bilingual Literacy and Creole Languages

Chair: Vinesh Hookoomsing

Panel Speakers: Rocky Meade, Jeff Siegel, Fred Field

Discussant: Christiane Bongart

Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics, Anneheim, California, January 2007:

    Special session: Educational Issues in Creole Contexts

    Chair: Fred Field


    Sheikh Umarr Kamarah: Krio in Sierra Leone Education: Ten years after the decree

    Thomas Spencer-Walters: Ruminations of “Creole” in literary discourse: possibilities and challenges for Sierra Leone Krio and Caribbean Creole

    Malcolm A. Finney: Creoles as mediums of instruction: A realistic or an idealistic notion?