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.
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.