Di­alect de­serves our re­spect


A DI­ALECT IS GEN­ER­ALLY UN­DER­STOOD to be a way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing, mak­ing use of el­e­ments from two or more lan­guages.

Di­alect is cre­ated when peo­ple who are na­tive speak­ers of one lan­guage in­ter­act with oth­ers who speak a dif­fer­ent lan­guage over a sus­tained pe­riod.

Our own Bar­ba­dian di­alect is an ad­mix­ture of West African lan­guages and English. For ex­am­ple, the word “wunna”, which we use for the sec­ond per­son plu­ral, comes straight from the Igbo peo­ple of Nige­ria. Pa­tois, spo­ken in Do­minica and St Lu­cia, is also an ex­am­ple of di­alect. In this case, the mix­ture in­cludes French.

As far as sta­tus is con­cerned, di­alects are like any other lan­guage. In lan­guage there is no in­fe­rior and su­pe­rior sta­tus. French is no more the lan­guage of love than Bantu. It is how we use words and the emo­tional ex­pres­sion we give to them.

And – sur­prise! sur­prise! – there is noth­ing in­her­ently com­i­cal in a lan­guage, di­alect or other­wise. Peo­ple who laugh at the way they speak (and I know of no peo­ple out­side of the Caribbean who do that), do so be­cause they see it as a bas­tardised ver­sion of what they con­sider a su­pe­rior lan­guage form.

Wrong place

In our case, the su­pe­rior lan­guage form is English and the bas­tard is di­alect, that quaint lan­guage form spo­ken by the na­tives in­for­mally. We speak it to one an­other in our daily in­ter­ac­tions, but at of­fi­cial func­tions and on the ra­dio and tele­vi­sion, we speak English. That dis­tinc­tion is so in­grained that eye­brows are raised when one lan­guage is used in the con­text nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with the other.

So if I spoke stan­dard English in a ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion with a friend, he would want to know why I was talk­ing so “great”. On the other hand, if some­one were to use di­alect on ra­dio or at an of­fi­cial pub­lic gath­er­ing, snig­gers of laugh­ter would erupt among the au­di­ence.

The hu­mour is gen­er­ated not by dou­ble en­ten­dre nor skil­ful pun­ning, nor sar­casm nor hid­den meanings, but by the mere fact that the speaker is us­ing the ver­nac­u­lar in the wrong place. Let the same di­alect be spo­ken in an in­for­mal set­ting by the same per­son, and you com­pletely elim­i­nate the hu­mour.

This “comic” char­ac­ter­is­tic of di­alect is ex­ploited to the max by com­edy writ­ers and the pro­duc­ers of advertising on the elec­tronic me­dia, and the Bar­ba­dos Drug Ser­vice and by those pro­mot­ing agri­cul­ture. The char­ac­ters al­ways speak in very loud, ex­ag­ger­ated di­alect, the kind we would nor­mally as­so­ciate with peo­ple lack­ing ba­sic ci­vil­ity and deco­rum.

In the case of tele­vi­sion, the char­ac­ters are al­most al­ways dressed in rough cloth­ing and wear a broad straw hat.

The sub­lim­i­nal mes­sage here is that di­alect is the talk of the un­e­d­u­cated, poor – and may I add black – per­son. It is le­git­i­mate, but if you as­pire to be some­body in life, you wouldn’t want to speak like that.

The time has long passed when we should have come to terms with who we are. When we ac­cept who we are and are proud of it, we cease im­i­tat­ing oth­ers and pre­sent­ing our nat­u­ral form of ex­pres­sion as com­edy to be snig­gered at.

Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, the im­age of agri­cul­ture has changed. We are now into hy­dro- or aqua-pon­ics and green­house farm­ing. The old man or woman in a straw hat wid a hoe hol­ler­ing to the top of duh voice is not one you want to sell to young peo­ple.

Bar­ba­dos Drug Ser­vice, just tell us about your ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes in nor­mal English or even di­alect tones. We don’t need the grotesque “daaahs” and other ex­ag­ger­ated vowel drawls.

Let’s cel­e­brate out bilin­gual abil­ity, not treat one of our lan­guages like a comic Cin­der­illa.

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