Mother Tongues vs English: Language Wars Redux

The politics of language as played out in India and Jamaica

The following headline in an Indian newsmagazine stopped me in my tracks a couple of days ago:

Ban English in the Parliament, says Mulayam Singh Yadav

MPs should be banned from speaking in English in Parliament, Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav has said.

“There should be a ban on English address in Parliament. Countries which use their mother tongue are more developed. It’s the need of the hour to promote Hindi,” Yadav said in a function here last night.

“The leaders of the country have double character as far as Hindi is concerned. They ask for vote in Hindi but give address in Parliament in English. This should be stopped,” he said, clarifying that he was not against English language per se.

Excellent point I thought recalling that it was only a few months ago that the opposite scenario played itself out in Jamaica:

English only in the Senate, president tells Justice Minister

was the astonishing headline in the Jamaica Gleaner.

President of the Senate Stanley Redwood had interrupted Justice Minister Mark Golding as he used patois (also called Jamaican, and Patwa, the unofficial mother tongue of the land) to thank bondholders and workers. As the article reported:

This morning, Justice Minister Mark Golding, who was in his element was stopped in his track as he thanked bondholders and workers for their role in ensuring that Jamaica fulfills prior actions requirement for an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

“Respec’ due to those patriotic Jamaicans,” Golding said when Senate President Reverend Stanley Redwood broke his strides.

“Sorry to break your flow but the language used in the Senate must be standard English,” Redwood told Golding.

The minister had no choice but to relent, and instead of saying respec’ due, resorted to respect is due.

What a farce! Especially since the esteemed Mr. Redwood migrated to greener pastures within a few weeks of making his startling intervention. To be noted is what the Indian politico said: “Countries which use their mother tongue are more developed.” I firmly believe that half of Jamaica’s problems stem from its linguistic identity crisis, insisting its mother tongue is English when a huge proportion of the population can only speak Patois. As if that weren’t bad enough the mother tongue of the majority is not recognized as an official language in its own country. Meanwhile the airwaves are full of English-speakers gnashing their teeth over the ‘growth and development’ that eludes the country. smh. They don’t seem to realize that there’s a causal relationship at work here. Jamaica needs to be declared the bilingual state it is asap.

What do I mean by this?

In which i explore a brand, new ‘in’ phrase in Jamaica. What do i mean by this?…

What do I mean by this?

Have just realized that there’s a new ‘in’ phrase in Jamaica and it’s spreading from commentator to commentator with the speed of hemorrhagic dengue fever. What do i mean by this? Yes, precisely, that is the phrase I’m talking about. What do i mean by this? That it is this phrase i have now heard used for the third time in the space of one week here in Kingston, Jamaica. And before it spreads much further I’d like to trace its origins. Can anyone tell me where it comes from? Please tell me who first used this phrase and why it’s taking Jamaica by storm. Was it a preacher? a ‘motivational speaker’? some first world politician like Obama? Why do I say this? (a variant of the said ‘in’ phrase…) .

First Angella Bourke of the People’s National Party used it on Impact last Thursday. She repeated it twice if i remember rightly. On Friday I heard someone else using it on radio, can’t remember who. Could it have been Emily Crooks? Naomi Francis? Cliff Hughes? Definitely not Raga. And those are the voices i regularly listen to on a weekday. Was it Carol Narcisse? Oh wait maybe it was someone at the Book Industry Association of Jamaica’s seminar on digital publishing in the Caribbean. I simply can’t remember but i did hear it again. And then just now, catching up with last Sunday’s dead tree media (the newspapers) i see that Clyde McKenzie has also caught the virus. In his article On the Success of Jamaican Music in last Sunday’s Observer he says:”In fact, ironically, the success of Jamaican music might well be working against Jamaican artistes. What do I mean by this? Well, on his return from etc etc….”

Seet deh? What do i mean by this?

Just that i want to know who originally popularized this phrase. Why do i say this? Because i can. Nuff said.