Saturday, August 8, 2009

Writing Jamaican the Jamaican Way

I really appreciate the dialog that has gone on, mostly on Facebook, around the post titled The Reggae Artist as Entrepreneur. I am confident that we can successfully build this business, but it will have to be a collective effort. I think everyone has something to contribute.

Having drawn attention to Reggae Chicken Sub website hosted by Subway UK, I also brought attention to some mis-representations. As I understand it, some disagree with the interpretations given to two of the commonly used Jamaican words. I'm sure that if this were pointed out to Subway UK a correction could be made. Individuals, corporations and even news media make mistakes, that are later corrected. In my humble opinion that is hardly a reason to malign the effort. The fact that the product is there is an achievement, and represents an example to our entertainment sector. The glass is half full.

It doesn't end there though! This gives rise to a related issue, one I think I should bring attention to by showing the connections in a more concrete way, so that more persons understand the relationships, particularly between academia and popular culture, including the entertainment business.

The Jamaica Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI) has for years been trying to bring across the message of respect for the spoken language of the common people, referred to as Patwa, in Jamaica. They have refined a standard writing system, and they have sought the intervention of the relevant government bodies to have the system used in schools. They have met massive resistance. An explanation, among the many they have advanced in favor of the system, is they are of the opinion that teaching in the native language better enables the students to learn their second language, English. Apparently, from experiments conducted with the assistance of the UWI, this has shown itself to be favorable. From information gathered from their website it appears they even went as far as to a Committee of Parliament. It says:
In May, 2001, representations were made to the Joint Select Committee of the Parliament of Jamaica on the draft Charter of Rights (Constitutional Amendment Bill) on the need to include within the charter freedom from discrimination on the grounds of language.

That said, the point I want to make is that if efforts like these are not given legs to stand on, then on what basis can we advance a substantial argument against what interpretations local or foreign institutions or individuals give to our language? Clearly, this becomes a case of what you think a word means versus what I think it means. Increasingly, as brand Jamaica gains prominence and commercial value, primarily through music and sports, what are the standards that apply? The Levi Roots and Subway partnership is but one example of the commercial application of the Jamaican language, there are many more examples on which we can draw. As many different individuals as there are, there will be as many "versions" of the speech being written, and we will forever continue to protest about mis-representation with no credible basis on which to challenge. I'm not saying that this cannot continue as presently obtains, but it is not the most efficient way to do business.

I'm reminded of an example a professor shared. She recalled getting an inquiry from Japan wherein she was being asked to recommend a school in Jamaica that this Japanese could attend to learn Jamaican. There was none she could have recommended. There being no such institution that was income lost for a nation in financial trouble. That could have been a Jamaican teacher employed, more so now in a time when we complain about "can't find work". With there being few serious grammar texts, no CDs or DVDs Rosetta Stone style, that is income lost. I could go on but I hope my point is made. All is not lost though as small steps are being made. Here's a video produced by the Jamaica Language Unit to promote the June 2009 launch of their new publication on writing Jamaican. You can also check in on their very current TV Fi Wi here as well.

There are those who advance an argument that the language cannot accommodate serious discussion. In response, the Unit produced a series of academic discussions in Patwa. Have a look at the video below.

There is also the argument advanced about the language being purely a spoken one. Evidently, with the changing times there is need to write it, and since necessity is the mother of invention, we need to invent and move along. Time will not stop for us friends. I am not equipped to give a lecture on the dynamics of language, the linguists can do that best, but writing a language does not cause it to lose its vibe, its nuances, its color, and its energy. As far as I have learned, for the most part you first write what you speak, and as a result we create ways to express the beauty of the language in writing, I suspect that is what the better poets (dub poets), and writers (novelists, songwriters) do.

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Carolyn Cooper said...

Kam-Au, gwaan staar! Yu big an yu braad. A so wi fi dwiit. Mek di piipl dem nuo se wi naa jesta! Wi langgwij a no no juok bizniz. A siiryos ting.

Kam-Au, you go, star! Your profile is really high. That's just how we must represent. Let people know we're not fooling around. Our language is no laughing matter. It's serious business.

Kam-Au said...

Give thanks fi di support prof! I'm only following in the trail you and others blazed.

I was really moved to write this follow-up. It still amazes (and hurts) me how the highest levels of bias against the culture come from inside, and that it was so ingrained that even the more enlightened among us didn't even notice. Whereas, non-Jamaicans totally 'get it', and they can't have enough of whatever much we can muster to offer.

I'm not sure what they are trying to defend, but they really seem to be alone on that turf. Jamaicans who have seen the opportunities and have embraced the changes are moving ahead, even if imperfect.

The beautiful thing is, we are good people, and so we will welcome all on the the bandwagon when that time comes.