Monday, March 27, 2006


The Dialect thing

A couple years ago the then Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell accused Vincentians of having a breadfruit mentality.To this day am still not fully clear exactly what he meant by this pronouncement but suffice it to say it was not complimentary.Not to be outdone the current Deputy Prime Minister speaking at the National Awards ceremony referred to local dialect as breadfruit talk.

If the breadfruit could talk am sure it would voice its displeasure at how ungrateful we are to make it synonymous with something bad.After all breadfruit is the national dish and for centuries has been a source of sustenance for thousands of Vincentians.It has even made its way into local language with the term "cutting down one's breadfruit tree" which means loss of livelihood.

The Deputy PM went on to say that local dialect will not get the students anywhere and upheld Standard English as the way to go.Hmmm,Paul Keens Douglas and the countless other Caribbean artistes may have a thing or two to say about this.I contend that dialect is our own authentic cultural expression.Its rich,beautiful,born out of our history and is our unique way of expressing ourselves.Why then can't it coexist with Standard English? Next thing I know St Luicans and Dominicans will be discouraged from speaking French patois.See how silly it can get? By all means teach Standard English but for heaven's sake do not uphold it as better.

I support you here Kami. Indeed, we all in each of the various Caribbean islands have our variants of 'breadfrutit' talk. It is part of our cultural heritage.

What is important is to be able to speak and write English with a good command and know when it is acceptable to use each. I frequently go into 'breadfruit' myself in my own blog posts.

And yes, sad it is that the breadfruit is being used in a negative tone. It is such a lovely staple. I never knew it was Vincy's national dish.
Breadfruit huh? I have a breadfruit tree in my yard. They say the same thing about Jamaican creole.
Poor breadfruit. After all that it has done for you, the Prime Ministers gone go denigrate it. But, I empathize with it. I wonder if the breadfruit could talk what dialect it would choose.
I have the same issue when figuring out how to use dialect in writing, as it gets all sorts of odd reactions.
that debate has ben raging for years in the caribbean. on the one hand local dialect is part of our culture and identity but on the other there is also a time for proper english and sadly some kids just cant do both. i do believe they can coexist but we need to get some of our locals to be able to speak and write proper english when it is necessary. its difficult if all that is spoken at home is dialect because then english becomes like a foreign language to the children. ideally one should be able to switch seemlessly from one to the other not everyon will be able to do it but there is too small a proportion of some of our communities who can.

Still i think the ministers breadfruit talk comment was not warranted, thats actually rather shocking for a man probably dependent on the votes of breadfruit talkers to make it back to parliament.
Our Jamaican patois gets the same trashing from some of our so called scholars here at home. There are quite a few, however, who feel that it should be classified as a language in its own right. I not too sure about that last part, although I can see their points. I do agree with you that it is an important and essential part of our heritage and should be preserved as such. Most dialects in the Caribbean were supposedly adapted for 2 reasons 1) mockery of the slave masters 2) bastardized communications so that the plantation owner could not understand what was being spoken about. Just as slavery is an unforgettable part of our past and determines our future, so should our language.....leffi lone!!!
it's hard to for two languages to coexist without one party or the other choosing to be flexible. in order for commerce to work, one needs to speak and understand the language of the other.

i kinda agree with the PM wanting to move towards a more global language, especially in the global marketplace, but i don't think the idea of denegrating the cultural language really helps his point. it probably distracts from it.

p.s. you've been tagged.
I’m inclined to agree with the PM and the DPM’s sentiments, however their condescending way of phrasing them, are beneath the abilities that should be prerequisite to holding the positions they are purporting qualifications for.
As a means-to-an-end, a good command of, and the ability to speak the English language well, is in fact a necessary skill, which when displayed, can strengthen others confidence in what you are saying. That the likes of Paul Keens Douglas, Oliver Samuels and others have purposefully circumvented this and still been successful, cannot be argued, however, they are fairly isolated cases, who do not often cross over to the ‘mainstream.’ If it is not their intention to X-over, then fine, but just like ethnic food, which often times must be spiced-down a bit before it is readily accepted in other regions, so must the dialect be adjusted… If not to make it less intimidating, at least more easily understood.
I am simultaneously proud to be able to speak ‘proper English’ and my local dialect, both with competence, and both serve me well as tools in different situations… The sad part is, as previously stated by others, when children of our region are allowed to use the local dialect as an excuse to not learn to use the English language to its full effect.
In my opinion, the ‘Breadfruit mentality’ they speak of, is equivalent to ‘Big fish in a small pond’ syndrome. The actual line of sight distance to any horizon is only about fifteen miles.
This kind of ignorance makes me so mad... Like trying to wipe out every single trace of individuality in a people. What's left? We won't fit in with another culture's flavor...

This is exactly why I'm writing my novel in southern Black dialect. For years, I've had to adjust to reading, hearing and dealing with a white-European language. It's time to rejoice and celebrate what makes all the rest of the world's peoples beautiful & unique.

(BTW: My twin neice & nephew's dad is from Dominica -am I spelling that right? - I LOVE to listen to him talk & I continually tease him about slowing down so I can catch all his jokes.)

But don't worry - in a couple of years when the culture comes into "fashion," you'll see all kinds of people running around faking a sound or look. Like with hair-beading, hip-hop, and every other wonderful & amazing thing that have come out of beautifuls ways.

(Sorry to take up so much space, but this topic hit a nerve... LOL)
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