Ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

As any­one who has seen me per­form knows, I fre­quently go off in some good­na­tured com­men­tary on var­i­ous things cul­tural, and one of them is the ef­fec­tive­ness of our di­alect, so that a re­ac­tion from Bernard Fer­nan­des, a di­as­pora Guyanese, laud­ing a point about di­alect I re­cently made, leads me to shout, as I have be­fore, for the value of our di­alect and to con­se­quently ob­ject when it is at­tacked. It’s a sub­ject I of­ten get dragged into be­cause of the di­alect na­ture of many of my songs, but I must con­fess that I don’t need to be dragged – I’m more than ready to leap in – so at a time when the Univer­sity of Guyana is mak­ing ef­forts to le­git­imise our Guyanese lingo I’m one of the per­sons publicly say­ing “Go brave Dr Grif­fith”.

The mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, now com­ing at us in waves, is all in the in­ter­est of bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion; that is the mantra and a worth­while one at that. By ex­ten­sion, how­ever, we have to be on guard to de­fend “de way we does talk” as of­ten the most ef­fec­tive way we have for Guyanese to com­mu­ni­cate with Guyanese, par­tic­u­larly if we be­lieve, as we should, in brevity.

It’s not a con­scious, or should I say de­lib­er­ate thing for me; it’s just that the di­alect ex­pres­sion or phrase is of­ten a good tie-off to some point I’m mak­ing, and, frankly, be­cause those lines are of­ten the re­sult of much back and forth in the process of us­age, they have be­come a kind of honed lan­guage putting the case well in a few words. In­deed ‒ and I make it a point to men­tion this in per­for­mance ‒ di­alect ex­pres­sions are of­ten the best way we have to ex­press some­thing when we’re speak­ing with or to each other. An ex­am­ple I have of­ten men­tioned on stage, is the di­alect ex­pres­sion “she sit down bad”. It’s just four words, but I in­vite you to take any four words in Stan­dard English and de­scribe that sce­nario bet­ter than the di­alect does. We would likely end up with some­thing like “a cer­tain fe­male was seen in a pub­lic space po­si­tioned in such a man­ner that as­pects of her pri­vate parts could be eas­ily ob­served.” (I started to count the words in the Stan­dard English de­scrip­tion and gave up.) In the di­alect’s four words we de­scribe what’s hap­pen­ing, we tell you that it’s in pub­lic, and we also in­di­cate this is not proper be­hav­iour; all of that from “she sit down bad”, and, crit­i­cally, the folks lis­ten­ing know ex­actly what you mean – brevity and clar­ity; what more can we ask in the forms of our ex­changes?

The most beau­ti­ful part of this (and I’ve learned this over the years) is that the peo­ple who cre­ated the di­alect have al­ready done the work for me; they have re­fined these ex­pres­sions from tried and true us­age. I know, from ex­pe­ri­ence, from us­ing these terms or forms, that what ex­ists in the di­alect is there be­cause it con­veys a range of in­for­ma­tion, very clearly, in a few words. Di­alect speak­ers don’t have the time or the in­cli­na­tion for long-winded ex­pla­na­tions of any­thing; the process is con­den­sa­tions. Think of it: “wut­less”, “mawger”, “scraven”, “voomps”, “ruc­tion” ‒ one word, yes, but pow­er­ful, like a slap, bring­ing the mean­ing across vividly and in­stantly. The re­sult is sin­gu­lar and very clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The Tri­nis have a word ‘paypsee’ mean­ing ‘friv­o­lous’ or ‘wishy washy’... Ja­maicans say, ‘ji­nal’ for ‘de­vi­ous’... Cay­ma­ni­ans tell you that a cer­tain food or dish is ‘stallin’, mean­ing you can’t eat a lot of it, and in that same sce­nario Guyanese use the term ‘gains’ me’… same idea, dif­fer­ent one-word de­scrip­tion, mak­ing im­me­di­ate sense with the per­son hear­ing the term; in other words, ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Some of our aca­demic brethren are aghast at the no­tion of le­git­imiz­ing the so-called ‘Cre­ole’ lan­guage, when in fact my stance is that the abil­ity to speak the di­alect, while com­pe­tent in Stan­dard English, leaves us as a bilin­gual peo­ple with all the ad­van­tages that flow from that. As a per­son of­ten drawn to the hu­mourous na­ture of things, I re­call walk­ing with a Guyanese friend in Toronto some years back, as a very volup­tuous lady was pass­ing us. Very im­pressed by the lady’s at­tributes, Eric let out the com­mon Guyanese ex­ple­tive used to de­scribe the fe­male pos­te­rior. The Cana­dian lady stopped, turned around, and stared at him, “Ex­cuse me what did you say?” Cool as ice, Eric replied, “I was just say­ing you’re beau­ti­ful.” The lady beamed, “Oh, thank you very much” and con­tin­ued on her way smil­ing. It struck me af­ter­ward how much ground that one word, in di­alect, could con­tain so much in­for­ma­tion for me that was blank to the Cana­dian. It was, of course, a tech­nique that French Cana­di­ans would of­ten use in On­tario: they would lapse into Que­be­cois French ex­pres­sions when they wanted to con­vey some­thing pri­vately to one of their own. It didn’t take me long to draw on Eric’s en­counter to re­alise I could sim­i­larly keep things con­fi­den­tial when speak­ing to a Guyanese with Cana­di­ans present. Be­lieve me, in big-city life, that is a use­ful tac­tic. It res­cued me many times in po­ten­tially awk­ward sit­u­a­tions where I wanted some­thing to re­main pri­vate; I used my al­ter­na­tive ver­biage. s my di­as­pora friend Bernard Fer­nan­des put it, the more we get into these di­alect ex­changes “the more we un­der­stand what we know.” To which I would add…“and, more im­por­tantly, what we don’t know.”

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