Friday, March 7, 2014

Bileez Kriol: Wi Deh Pahn it!

by Silvaana Udz, Secretary of the Belize Kriol Project

 “Di vaibz … Mee feel di pipl toch dehn kolcha, gyal!” This is what president of the National Kriol Council, Dana Rhamdas, said in reaction to several hours of Kriol bramming with di gumbeh drums in a Krismos float through Belize City’s principal streets at the December 2013 “Love Christmas Parade.” The float was bedecked (now isn’t dat a great English word!) … di Kriol float was bedecked in messages spreading peace and love and life and hope—BUT most of all—dehnya messages were all in big, bold, CORRECT (that is, standard) spelling of di Belize Kriol language. There she was, our priti priti Bileez Kriol langwij, one of di seventy-seven plus Creole languages in the world, according to the Lewis Ethnologue, (See … there she was, proudly flexing her symbols and syllables, eliciting comments from smiling bystanders, like “Bot dis Kriol noh haad fu reed atal, yu noh!”
More than just being a medium for entertainment, or edutainment indeed, di parade as a vehicle for mass media
transmission continues to be unparalleled. For those watching di procession through di live broadcast beamed into living rooms (me, I confess, as I do not live in  di city), it was clear from di announcers’ comments that di Kriol float was a hit. Buttressing di great onsite success of the Belize Kriol culture and language float in embedding di Kriol orthography that emerged after some fifteen years of research, testing, and revising (, was di pre-parade TV magazine show that featured di National Kriol Council sharing information on old-time Krismos practices, displaying Kriol books and giving away some as prizes during call-in segments, and showing di sambai dance moves that would be in di parade.
What di successful Kriol entrance into the public parade did was to reinforce to all of us working in promoting Belize Kriol
language rights what Hubert Devonish said in his 1987 book       Language and Liberation: Creole Language Politics in the Caribbean and reiterated in the 2007 updated edition; namely: not only is the mass media the forum to engage “the right of Creole speakers to participate in public discussion” (p.105), but in the media, “Creole needs to be used as a language of public information” (p. 125). Specifically to di point of di Kriol float in di parade and its promotion of  peace messages in di standard Belize Kriol orthography, Devonish’s advice indeed came alive this past Krismos in Belize:  di use of publications—and by extension media in general—has di function of developing “interesting and attractive ways of presenting the new Creole orthography …. As well, the television and established newspapers could be used as media for publicizing this orthography” (p. 124). This has always served as sterling advice to di members of di Belize Kriol Project, established since di early 1990s to develop, promote and popularize a standard orthography for di Belize Kriol language. Di critical need for popularization of di orthography is advice that is doubly noted, coming as it is from Devonish who, along with UWI and Caribbean counterparts,  initiated di entire ICCLR Charter and who has been—along with Sir Colville Young in Belize, SIL, and local educators and artists—a foremost guru who has helped to shape di Belize Kriol orthography’s development.
Indeed, at di historic January 2011 establishment of di Charter for Caribbean Language Rights, two of di critically important points—and all of di Charter’s 52 articles are critical—speak to di impact of the use of our Creole languages in public information outputs and inputs. Specifically, Article #21, 2 states: “Everyone has the right, as a client, customer, or consumer or user, to receive oral, written and/or signed information in the territorial languages from establishments open to the public”; Article #36 states: “Language communities are entitled to representation of their language in the communications media of their territories, specifically including …”; and Article #38, 1: “All language communities have the right to use, maintain and foster their language in all forms of cultural expression.”
 The ICCLR push for ensuring we memba di  critical role of di publicity part of what wi di do when we promote, research, and add to di WRITTEN language outputs was well in display this past Krismos season in Belize. Di Belize Kriol Project has, for almost a decade and a half since its first draft booklet in 1995 on di initial orthography, published a weekly newspaper column called “Weh Wi Ga Fi Seh” in first di local Amandala newspaper then, and currently, in di Reporter newspaper. Since di middle of di 2000s, the column is also available online where it is also archived for ready retrieval (See In March 2013, di Belize Kriol Project also launched di New Testament in Belize Kriol, culminating almost 15 years of work with SIL, Wycliffe, West Indian Bible Society, Belize Bible Society, and local pastors (See
What di outreach at the public parade did was to reinforce to us di power of directly connecting with di people we most want to affect. The participation of members of the National Kriol Council of Belize and its literacy arm, the Belize Kriol Project, in an extremely anticipated public procession sponsored by a nationwide radio/TV station engaged the media and the people who say the prominent signage in the Kriol language. This, more any policy per se will make the Bileez Kriol language and all our Caribbean Creole languages be bold , brave, and beautiful in their written forms in the public's eye. Plus, the language is placed always in the context of the culture. The float was jumping with the traditional Kriol Krismos music  made by graters, pint bottles, accordion, shakaz and  of course di Kriol sambai drumming and dancing! Di pikni dehn bai di roadside mi-di taak: “Ma! Dat da Kriol tu?  Dat gud man!" (or something like dat according to the Kriol Council members on the float! Note that di Kriol sambai dancing is still done mostly in rural areas, like Gales Pt. Malanti Village, so di urban youths watching di parade got a bit of cultural learning!) Now, as soon as we can at di Belize Kriol Project, we  want to free up some time, so that we can get back to setting up village booths at village weekend events, not only to continue to promote di Kriol orthography, but also to hold more writers’ workshops with a view to developing more reading materials, fun as well as educational books—and online options now—for promoting di written version of our Creole language, one of the Caribbean English-lexified Creole languages—di Bileez Kriol language! After all, as a visiting literacy assistant Naomi Glock of SIL reiterated during her time in Belize, once you get people reading the Kriol, you will need materials for them to read. [Of course, just getting anyone to read nowadays is a challenge at times! No matter what language di material is written in!] In di meantime, we continue to promote wi priti priti Kriol langwij anyway, anyhow, anytime we can. Kohn … mek wi taak—ahn rait—wi langwij!

Monday, November 14, 2011

International Creole Day (Jounen Kwéyòl Entennasyonnal), St.Lucia

International Creole Month is celebrated in St. Lucia with a month of differing activities, spearheaded by the Folk Research Centre. The celebration began this year on September 30th and will culminate on October 30th the Saint Lucian Creole Day, Jounen Kwéyòl Sentlisi. International Creole Day, Jounen Kwéyòl Entennasyonnal, is celebrated October 28th.

Creole Month festivities include story telling in lyrical Kweyol or Fèsten Kont épi Listwa, Fèt Magwit (La Marguerite Flower Festival), Creole dance Fiesta, Creole Tea Party, Creole Fashion Show and Creole Film Festival. There will be community awareness events in the form of Creole Programme for Students, Cultural Literacy Workshop for Adults, Creole Art & Craft Exhibition and Kwéyòl Literacy Course. There will also be the Konpétisyon Lawenn Kwéyòl, the Creole Queen Pageant and the Konpétisyon Jennès Kwéyòl (Creole Youth Pageant).

Konpétisyon Woulélaba or Woulélaba Competition is one of the highlights of  the celebration. Woulélaba is a local version of cricket though less formal and increases excitement in the local spectator. The game is usually played between two communities. There are several activities which surround the game such as cultural performance of cultural traditions, informal betting on teams, sale of food and drink and often a public dance at the end of the day. At any of these celebrations, visitors and locals can also enjoy tasty dishes such as fishcakes, bwapain woti (roasted breadfruit) and the national dish, greenfig and saltfish.

Dr. Kentry D Jn Pierre, Executive Director of the Folk Research Centre (Plas Wichès Foklò) states: Jounen Kwéyòl is celebrated in St. Lucia every year on the Sunday which is closest to International Creole Day (October 28th). It represents the grand climax of Creole Heritage Month during which there is a national programme of cultural and education activities in various communities. The main activities usually take place in four communities that are specifically selected as host communities for the particular year. Thousands of people flock these communities to participate in the celebration. Standard activities in each host community include a Creole Mass; a massive Creole Food and Drink Fair; an indoor exhibition of Creole technology, equipment and items depicting the folk life of the ancestors of modern day St Lucians; outdoor demonstrations of traditional technologies and other folk traditions; cultural performances throughout the day, and; other community-specific spontaneous activities. On that day St. Lucians are also encouraged to speak the Creole language as much as possible.

In order to showcase, now and in the future, authentic St. Lucian heritage, the Folk Research Centre attaches much importance to the documentation of the events on Jounen Kwéyòl. Such documentation facilitates the Centre’s ongoing programme of cultural education and the development of St Lucian people and communities.


Implications for Language Education in Guyana

Charlene Wilkinson & Kencil Banwarie
University of Guyana
Department of Language & Cultural Studies
Faculty of Education &the Humanities

In January of this year, a landmark conference in Jamaica concluded with the presentation to members of the public of the final draft of The Charter on Language Policy and Language Rights in the Creole Speaking Caribbean.   Participants at this conference -- linguists, educators and policy makers -- from fifteen Caribbean States, the United States, the United Kingdom met to finalize this document which had its inception in the work of Caribbean linguists begun more than five decades earlier. Current Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Lawrence Carrington, world-renowned linguist, was a keynote speaker at the conference. Two Guyanese lecturers from the University of Guyana, Kencil Banwarie and Charlene Wilkinson were also participants and proud signatories to the Charter along with the other participants. They returned home to introduce it to their peers in the Faculty of Education and the Humanities with the expectation that the University would appreciate the strategic advantage of this historic document and recognise its leadership role in the re-visioning of Guyana’s language policy.
The Charter is built on the foundations of previously established Human Rights treaties: The Charter of the United Nations--The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948); the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966; and the American Convention on Human Rights of 1969.  From the point of view of education, it is a promising beginning to the formulation of a response to the challenges of teaching in the Caribbean because it recognizes the Caribbean Creoles as ‘territorial languages, separate from the European languages from which they derive their vocabulary’. 
What are the implications of having a Charter on language policy and language rights for language education in Guyana?
Although there is, in some quarters, an increasing sense of ownership that suggests a growing pride in the use of Guyanese Creole (Creolese), there is a basic assumption in the society at large that everyone ought to speak English.  The idea that an educated person might be able to use Creolese to express intellectual concepts and important ideas still is, generally, an unthinkable thought.  In fact, a person who does not master English is often derided for aspiring to or accepting positions in the leadership hierarchies of Guyanese society. They often become targets for people who judge their intellectual capacity by their ability to use English. Such privileging of English speech and de-valuing of Creole speech is a consequence of the inheritance from the British which linguists call the ‘English Mother Tongue Tradition’. With respect to language teaching, what this tradition translates to in the ex-British territories of the Caribbean is a notion that learning occurs in a ‘fixed sequence leading to an ideal, arbitrarily defined competence’ which is modelled in books written by speakers of English.
The reported practice in schools of principals forbidding children to speak Creolese and the incontestable evidence that many children and adults feel ashamed because they cannot speak English properly are two of the psychological consequences of this tradition.  In general, there is a ‘dumbing down’ of Creole speakers because of the perception that ‘good’ language teachers always speak good English and that teaching is a process of altering natural (Creolese) speech and  replacing it with the sounds and syntax of English.  Nowhere in the Guyanese education system is there the opportunity for students to develop Creolese in the same way that a French student or a German student would develop French or German.
Language assessment procedures in schools are quite firmly established in a curriculum that renders Creolese both invisible (unwritten) and illegitimate. When students fail to produce good English speech or writing or when they show weaknesses in the comprehension of English, this is usually attributed either to their lack of literacy skills, lack of intelligence, the incompetence of their teachers, or other social, psychological, and even economic problems.  The resulting poor grades, lowered expectations, lack of appreciation for teachers’ efforts, and political fervour about creating social and economic equity in the society are the result of a meritocracy based on English competence reproduced over and over again in the education system.  The personal and social dimensions of experience, and the innate cognitive capacities of students which find expression in the varieties of Creole students speak have no valid place in education. An interesting point to note is the Ministry of Education’s introduction of a policy of remedial English classes for students who underperform in the subject. It would be worthwhile to check on how students are deemed eligible for remedial classes. Is it just because they have low grades? Is any consideration given to the influence of the first language on the students’ learning of English? Are remedial classes truly remedial where they seek to fill in the gaps or “correct” Creolese?
What the Charter makes possible is ‘a truly regional process’ for validating the Creole languages across the Caribbean through the collaboration of governments, the exchange of skilled persons, the collective reform of curricula and the creation of teaching materials. Indeed, the reality that these languages are not the creation of deficient and inferior subjects of European Imperial rule, but of resilient makers of history in response to their new experience still has to be embraced even by the Creole speakers themselves. This public awareness and confidence would be more effectively achieved through a regional process. 

Statistical evidence indicates that the challenges of English language learning faced by students are common to the entire ex-British Caribbean.  In a survey conducted during the 1990’s, a comparison of the performance in English examinations by fifth formers from the Caribbean and fifth formers from England demonstrated that, in spite of comparable high rates of school attendance, the English proficiency of Caribbean students was far below that of native English-speaking students of the same age group.  Linguist and educator, Dennis Craig, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana, attributed this paradox to the Creole-influenced vernacular situation of the majority of Caribbean children.  Furthermore, his observations of language teaching practices in schools led him to make three significant pronouncements about language education:
(a)     ‘In nursery and primary education, the fact that many children can communicate only in Creole is hardly reflected in a critical area such as the teaching of reading.
(b)   There is nothing to indicate, in most cases in schools, that English has the status of a second language for most Caribbean children.
(c)    The education of teachers is usually not designed to give them the necessary linguistic understanding of both English and Creole—an understanding which they need in order to function efficaciously in CIV [Creole influenced Vernacular] situations.’
It is now nearly sixty years since the 1953 United Nations’ stated position about the practical value of teaching literacy in mother tongue, and more than a decade since Craig published his text for teachers,  Teaching Language and Literacy: Policies and Procedures for Vernacular Situations’ (2000). [quoted from above] Craig’s text heralds a significant shift in perspective about the use of language and about language teaching in societies where Creoles are territorial languages. Importantly, Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) has embarked on creating a Linguistics module for use in its Associate Degree programme which began this year. Designed by Kencil Banwarie and Dr. Victorine Solomon, such a module is a step in the right direction in not only raising awareness about our unique linguistic situation in Guyana, but will equip teachers with the right knowledge as they encounter sometimes seemingly complex linguistic scenarios in their classrooms.
This is what the charter says, in summary, about education in schools:

A.    “Education must help to foster the capacity for linguistic and cultural self-expression of the language communities of the territory where it is provided. 
B.     Education must help to maintain and develop the languages spoken by the language communities of the territory where it is provided. 
C.     Initial instruction in one’s first language is crucial as it enhances conceptual development, language acquisition and development, learning in general, and education of the child. 
D.    Everyone has the following rights: 
a.       –to at least initial instruction and literacy in their first language;
b.       –to learn the territorial languages of the territory in which he/she resides; 
c.       –to learn any other language. 
E.     All language communities are entitled to have at their disposal all the human and material resources necessary to ensure that their language is present to the extent they desire at all levels of education within their territory.”

Guyanese linguist, Hubert Devonish, Coordinator of the Jamaican Language Unit at Mona, chaired the Conference.  He pointed out that three major activities were envisioned:  (a) A Regional Council of Language Policy and Rights would be established; (b) Governments, the corporate sector and civil society groups in the various territories would adopt the Charter; and (c) Caribbean Creole Day would be launched.  October 28th has now been designated for the observance of that day.  The Guyanese Ministry of Education  mission ‘to eliminate illiteracy, to modernize education and to strengthen tolerance’ now certainly appears to be more clearly in sight. It would be interesting to find out, in this election season, which of our competing political parties would be willing to embrace a policy of linguistic democracy which truly validates the voices of all our citizens, as they make promises to lead us into full participatory democracy.
October 20, 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Fifty-Fifty Research Project and Conference

For some Commonwealth countries, August 2012 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of their Independence from Great Britain, and while fifty years is a short time in a nation’s history and development, it is ample time for reflection and review of failures and successes. At the half century mark, new nations can evaluate the progress made or failed in terms of quality of life for their citizens, justice and issues of crime as well it provides a clear springboard for the future with guidance to dissuade repetition of mistakes.

 With this background, the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), UWI Mona, has organized the Fifty-Fifty research project, with the suiting tagline ‘Surveying the past to inform the future.’ The project will include a series of seminars and thematic studies aimed at reviewing the past fifty years of independence and will culminate with a grand conference on August 20-25, 2012, in Kingston, Jamaica, under the theme Fifty-Fifty: Critical Reflections in a Time of Uncertainty.

The ICCLR has been charged with the Caribbean Language Rights and Policy issues cluster with Professor Hubert Devonish as chair. This is an opportunity to bring much needed light to the topics/issues which are overlooked but so vital to every person of the region. Subsequently, persons actively involved in language research and policy are encouraged to submit abstracts.  The themes for the Language Panels will be (i) language rights and language politics in the Caribbean, and (ii) language, culture and identity.

The dates for submission are below. Please email abstracts to Arlene Supersad:

Deadline for submission of abstracts:  December 15, 2011
Notification of acceptance of abstracts:   February 1, 2012

For more information, check the SALISES conference website:


On the heels of a successful Language Policy conference, the ICCLR has been receiving tremendous accolades and messages of support from various sectors across the region. This reception to our initiative has encouraged members of the Working Group and has strengthened our resolve to push forward our mandate on regional language policy reform.
One offer of collaboration came to the ICCLR from the Sargasso journal, which is published by the University of Puerto Rico and covers areas such as Caribbean Literature, Language and Culture. Mr. Don E. Wallicek, one of the journal’s editors, made the contact and offered the Working Group an opportunity to publish a special issue of the journal highlighting the Conference and subsequently relating issues.    
 The special issue will contain papers presented at the Language Policy Conference held in January, on issues surrounding the Charter of Language Rights document and more general papers on Language, Language Rights and the Law in the Caribbean. Editorial duties will be shared between Mr. Wallicek and Mrs. Celia Blake of the ICCLR. 

The ICCLR would like to publicly thank Sargasso and Mr. Wallicek for approaching us with the offer of a special issue of their journal. We are confident that it will be as special as the name suggests.  We hope that the Special Issue would be out in time for the 50/50 Conference (see here) in which the ICCLR and its associates hope to play a major role.  


In our first newsletter, the ICCLR spoke of its intention to run a twelve month programme that would help junior researchers in the areas of Caribbean Language and Linguistics, to convert their academic research into publishable articles. The programme aimed to provide each selected candidate with a mentor from the wide pool of distinguished Linguists associated with the ICCLR. This would give the candidate not only a chance to collaborate with a renowned linguist and produce a journal article, but also a rare learning opportunity.

Since then, we have advertised the programme, received submissions from interested candidates from across the region and the United States (much more than we had in fact expected), completed the selection process and got the programme on the road!! Seven candidates were selected and at present are being coordinated by Dr. Karen Carpenter and Professor Hubert Devonish.

The course of the programme has taken a slightly different turn to what was originally conceived. Instead of their academic research, the selected candidates will work with their existing supervisors to write an article for publication. This change has met the approval of the candidates and so the next step is the candidates’ submission of the articles to be vetted and approved by Dr. Carpenter and Prof. Devonish. Following this, the articles will then be submitted to the Society of Caribbean Linguistics (SCL), for peer review and publication as part of their Occasional Paper Series.

The programme, at this point, is moving along the new pathway as outlined and it is expected that at the end of the process, we would have:
1) A satisfied group of junior researchers whose skills at writing for publications would have been sufficiently honed and
2) An elated ICCLR team who will be looking to expand the programme even more the next time around.

International Creole Day 2011

October 28th will be celebrated as International Creole Day.  This is a festival currently celebrated across the French Creole speaking countries of the world, in the Caribbean as well as in the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius, Reunion and the Seychelles.   The January 2011 conference adopted International Creole Day as a day for the celebration of all the Creole languages of the Caribbean Region.  The festival’s aims to raise the awareness of Creole languages while celebrating the creole culture and identity of the host country. The festivities include music, dance, cultural foods, as well as a strong element in support of the use of the languages in public communication, formal domains and the education system.   

The ICCLR, as a follow up to the Conference decision, are reminding all our associates in the Creole-speaking Caribbean to begin planning for the commemoration of International Creole Day.  In order to coordinate this celebration regionally, we need to receive information, by 1st September, 2011, as to the specific territorial plans of each of the territories in which our associates are active.