Death of language not far-fetched – UWI lecturer

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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