Q: When did you come to the realization that Jamaican patois should be recognized as a separate language?
I am not Jamaican but Guyanese. My language awareness started in Guyana in relation to Guyanese Creole or as we term it, Creolese. In the course of my High School education, I had two teachers from England and one from the US. Separately, they talked in class about the fact that Guyanese did not, in the course of normal interaction, speak English. That was a revelation to me. Then, a well known researcher of Guyanese folklore who ran a radio programme on Caribbean folklore and traditions, Wordsworth McAndrew, visited our school. That, coupled with the broadcast of Anansii stories on the radio, began to develop in me an awareness that Creolese was a separate language from English, with its own history and rules. Later on, I discovered that the people who study Caribbean Creole languages are linguists, and that the subject to study at the University of Guyana, to pursue that area was Linguistics. I eventually did a PhD in Linguistics, and ended up in Jamaica where the language situation is quite similar to that of Guyana. In addition, the Jamaican Language is quite similar to Guyanese Creolese, so the carry over to me taking a similar position on Jamaican to that which I had taken on Creolese in Guyana was easy.
Q: Who are your biggest supporter and the biggest detractors? Is it the intellects or politicians or the grassroots people?
Many people are ambivalent on the language question. And that spans the entire spectrum of social groups and classes. We did a National Language Attitude Survey of Jamaica in 2005. 1000 respondents were surveyed right across Jamaica.
The results show that about 70 per cent of the population would (i) support Jamaican being made an official language alongside English, (ii) support Jamaican and English being used alongside each other as languages of literacy teaching and of instruction in schools in Jamaica„ (iii) regard favourably the Minister of Finance doing a budget presentation in Parliament in Jamaican. This supports earlier research done around the year 2000, in which it was found that a significant majority of member of the Lower House of Parliament would vote in favour of a bill that would declare Jamaican an official language alongside English.
A key aspect of the Language Attitude Survey is that younger people are more favourable to Jamaican than older people, that urban people are more favourable than rural people, and that males are more favourable that females. The profile of the strongest opposition to the Jamaican Language is an older, rural female. The strongest supporter would be a younger, urban, male. Obviously, these represent extremes and the reality is that support and opposition come from all quarters and categories. The key point is that, in spite of the outpourings of the chattering classes in the mass media, the evidence points to a significant majority of the population in support.