Death of language not far-fetched – UWI lecturer

The lecture was presented by Professor Hazel Simmons-McDonald
The lecture was presented by Professor Hazel Simmons-McDonald

Professor Hazel Simmons-McDonald, former Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal of the UWI Open Campus and Professor Emerita of UWI has told Dominicans that the death of a language is not farfetched notion if the language is not passed down from one generation to the next.

Simmons-McDonald made the point while delivering remarks to mark the 4th E.O Leblanc memorial lecture last night at the Fort Young Hotel; she was presenting on the topic: “Cultivating Caribbean Identities: Language, Culture and the Politics of Deprivation.”

“Language death is a reality,” she said. “So as older people who speak a language move on and if the younger people aren’t learning the language, then eventually it may take a century, it may take decades, but shift and change happens in the language. And if you observe over the next few weeks or months or years, see what kinds of shifts is manifested in Dominican creole.”

She stated that “just listening around” she noted that there are already the intrusion of “English phrases and expressions, where before you would have Creole words.”

The Professor is also querying whether the length of time dedicated to highlighting Creole is sufficient.

“Here, as in St. Lucia, during that period of celebration, prominence is given to indigenous foods, music, the dances, as well as increased programing on radio and television. Yet we must ask whether one day or one week or even one month of activities devoted to highlighting French creole culture will be sufficient to maintain the productive use of the language with which it is associated in the decades ahead and restore widespread and enduring interest in this cultural heritage,” she observed.

Simmons-McDonald is questioning whether existing policies that govern language use and which exclude its use for any educational functions will contribute to the diminishing of Creole overtime.

“As was experienced in Grenada, for example, where a part from some communities from Cariocou, the language has virtually died because it is no longer spoken productively…And if you listen to BBC maybe about six weeks ago they had a whole series of languages that has just disappeared,” she said.

The Principal of the UWI said “little progress” has been made in terms of the policy of excluding creole from most domains except the private over the last century, but generally the policy has served to limit the referential adequacy of the language which might have otherwise expanded normally in a context in which it could have been used for educational purposes.

“Elsewhere I have observed that it is not the inherent qualities of a language that necessarily dictate its capabilities, it is rather the political positioning, the relegation status and the validation of one language versus another that results in the devaluation of one variety in relation to another in the case of the Creole,” she noted.

She said this is something that the late E.O Leblanc “may have been aware” since, she said, quoting Dr. Irvin Andre saying that he was instrumental in “shifting the perception and status of Creole to being linked to undesirable elements of the islands culture, such as lack of education, lack of breeding, low class status and vulgarity, one from which every ambitious and cultured Dominican fled, shifted it from that to occupying a status on the forefront of Dominican’s consciousness.”

The public lecture was one of four presented by the UWI Open Campus Dominica annually, and it form part of the National Independence Calendar, and focuses on cultural themes in celebration of the life and work of Edward Oliver Le Blanc, Dominica’s first Premier. He was devoted to culture and was an avid reader and poet.

The previous presenters of this lecture series were Dr. Alwin Bully, Dr. Lennox Honychurch and Dr. Irving André.

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  1. nonamegal
    October 12, 2015

    Personally Rah and WCK helped me with my Creole. Big up for making Creole prominent for people like me.

  2. Affa
    October 12, 2015

    Good insights! Except for GrandBay where patois/Creole is alive and well. I agree much more needs to be done in Dominica in that regard.

  3. JS
    October 12, 2015

    Wish Pr. had given some examples of replaced phrases.

  4. The Real Facts
    October 11, 2015

    Irving Andre is correct. Only a few speak the Creole/Patois language. Some view it as a lowly broken French language. While some understand it and speak a little of it, as myself :), most people who speak it are from the country parts, the villages as we refer to them. These can speak it very well. Why? Because it was widely spoken by parents, other family, friends and associates.
    Most people who were born and brought up in the town of especially Roseau and surrounding areas hardly ever spoke it. Their parents did not speak it to them as well and did not encourage others speaking it to their children. I can vouch for that. They feared the children would not speak proper English.
    It appears that Creole/patois was a language for the uneducated, those who cannot speak English and properly so. This is how and from whom some of us learned it by hearing.

  5. educator
    October 11, 2015

    We need to institutionalize the creole languages (patois or cocoye). What about new curriculum guides and programe of studies for k to grade 6 and the rest will follow….how about that……post Erika…

  6. bougla
    October 10, 2015

    Sometimes u hear people speaking patios on the buses and trains in all the big cities in the world.

    • Malpardee
      October 12, 2015

      Of course , when u don’t want english people to know what u saying (: i learn my patois well. Since i was a little girl, i heard people speak and that’s how i learned. I was never taught the language. It is up to you , if you want to learn. I love my creole…language..

    October 9, 2015

    :?: It’s just a shame and disgrace to see how lost our people are with some foolish pride that they will allow our creole/patois to die.Most people on this island rock can’t speak kweyole,and most of those who seemingly speaks it,don’t do a good job at it.Some are even given the job of hosting radio programmes and even speak the kweyole.Majorityof polititions and government ministers can’t speak it and struggle they do even when they try.Those in authority and in governance don’t make any effort in teaching and promoting it.Only lip service is being given to such a beautiful language at the kweyole festive season,just because it’s another fete and siwo,pure abominable.Hyow can a language be our culture and it is given last treatment?Wake up people and those who are given the responsibility to govern this rock!Anyway,i’ve got no hopes on those who handle the affairs of this land,cause only one thing i’ve noticed with most of those given positions,is that they only have a job…

    • The Real Facts
      October 11, 2015

      I thought that in recent years Creole/Patois was taught in the schools. We should all be proud of our heritage and this language.
      When I meet some people who ask me where I am from, I always explain to them that our island was originally French, giving them a bit of our history and how we happened to be once British subjects.
      I do mention that we speak French Patois/Creole. We always called it Patois Even though I am not proficient in speaking it, I am proud of it. It is a unique language which we, Dominicans should not allow to die.
      The French influence is prominent in Dominica. Knowing it and reading all the French names of villages after TS Erika, I thought, Dominica is really a French country. Let us not let the language die.
      Did you hear that Dominican educators? Minister of Education? :)

    • Malpardee
      October 12, 2015

      Is where u at and whats up b ! They want to learn..

  8. Channel 1
    October 9, 2015

    The authorities and folks with the know-how and capabilities seriously need to consider instituting a structured Creole learning program in Dominica. Be innovative – have Creole lessons via radio, tv and even in the classrooms to teach the youth and other interested folks the Creole language.

    Credit must be given to a group of young people who hosted a program on Voice of Life Radio last Saturday afternoon where the focus that afternoon was on learning Creole/Patois words, phrases, expressions.

    Now, why, oh why is French, Spanish and even Chinese (in 1 or 2 private schools) taught in Dominica and Creole is not taught in our school system? 8-O 8-O

    Cultural division, Education division, how is this happening under y’all watch?

    If serious measures are not taken, Creole/Patois as a language will eventually be lost in Dominica. I wonder how many ‘young’ persons in Dominica know Creole/Patois fluent enough to be able to converse in it?

  9. believer
    October 9, 2015

    Very good insights from a very good Caribbean Linguist.

    Professor Simmons-McDonald has written extensively on our use of language and its importance on shaping our culture.
    Nice summary DNO.

  10. james
    October 9, 2015

    Let the chips fall where they may new cultures are born and old ones die

    • jamesd
      October 11, 2015

      True say. The most we can do is record the content of the language for posterity. Technology makes that easy enough. With so many people putting videos of all type of nonsense on youtube somebody should have a channel dedicated to teaching/learning/conversing in creole. As a matter of fact if that doesn’t already exist I’m going to do it.

      • Malpardee
        October 12, 2015

        James these people patois is face book, smart phone, ipad, tablet…they do not care…

    • james john
      October 12, 2015


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