The Caribbean Language
Situation: An Overview
Dr. Shondel Nero
UWI, Mona - School of Education
Semester 1
Language in Jamaica
The following is an exchange heard in a grade
seven classroom
Teacher: What did I say the family is?
Student 1:
Miss the family is a group of people living together
and caring for each other
Student 2:
Mis dis bwai tomp mi aa push di des paa mi
Teacher: Last week we looked at members of the family
Student 3:
Yes Miss. Mother, children, father, sister, brother
Teacher: Last week we looked at the roles of the father
Student 4:
Mii tiicha/go out an werk/ an ern di moni tu bai
Teacher: Now we are going to look at the roles of the
Student 5:
Mek shuor di fuud iz kuk/mek shuor shi pripier
di chiljren far skuul
Features of Jamaican
 Children enter the school system with English or
Jamaican Creole (JC) or a mixture of both.
 JC is used within the school, almost all the time.
 Many teachers do not use English (Shields, 1989)
 A range of varieties
 A continuum or 2 co-existent systems
A range of varieties
 im a nyam im dinna
 im a iit im dinna
 im iiting im dinna
 him is eating him dinna
 he is eating his dinner.
(Hall-Alleyne, 1981: 32)
Where did Jamaican come from?
The Acquisition Process in Jamaica:
 Plantation system
 Many different languages
 Twi-Asante paramount
 In contact with English
 Importance of language contact (central to L2
 Many different points of access to English (stratification)
Standardising English
 The development of the printing press by William Caxton.
 Caxton spoke the East Midlands dialect, which was in use in
parts of southern England around the Thames.
 The language used in his first printed work.
 The two major British universities (Oxford and Cambridge)
used this particular variety; also helped to secure its
 Choice of dialect was not rule-governed- helps to explain
why English is so unpredictable and the rationale for some
of the demands made on what you learn.
 English was one of the European languages brought to the
Caribbean. It is the language used in this part of the world
as an international means of communication..
Creole Continuum
Creole English
Standard English
Phonology (African continuities)
 Archaic forms “ratta” “yerri” musu end in vowelsuggests that at one time all words in Jcn ended
this way- an attempt to align English and West
African syllabic structures
 Insertion of vowel in nasal consonants sinake
 Pitch/tone (stress as the word rises or falls; sound
can be ordered on a scale of high to low);
important feature in older Jcn kyaang
 Shift in sounds of D to or V to B eg beks hebi
Morpho-syntax (African
Where properties of morphology and syntax apply e.g.
number in nouns - add s + sing. - subject takes sing.
 Changed little since established in 16th and 17 th
centuries, except in changes connected with continuum
 Blurring of distinctions between verb and adjective eg.
Dem mad mi (big-up)
 Use of transitivity
 Serial verbs: he take picture show his child
 Use of seh anyhow she; relic of Niger Congo, also found
in London
Lexico-semantics (African
 Some African words died out if they were
not tied to things still in use: benta;
some still in use with Jamaican things
afu, pumpum, backra, ackee etc.
 Gender and generation: expressed by
affixing words meaning eg male/female
man cow (bull)
 Juxtaposition: must be definitional
eyewater; nose hole (what of
20th century ideologies (with
African continuities)
 Rastafarianism – African continuity
e.g. philosophical idea of the power of
the word
 Pronominal system (I and I)
 Reveals Jamaican facility with
Some rules of Jamaican Creole
(according to Bailey and Craig)
 Unmarked verb for:
 Tense (e.g. She come yestadie)
 Subject/verb concord (e.g. Im waak to skuul)
 Zero copula (verb “to be”) if:
 Predicate is adjective (e.g. Yuh sick)
 Verb in progressive form (e.g Im workin)
 Location (e.g. Mih sista outside)
Rules of Jamaican Creole
 Flexible pronoun use (e.g ‘im tell she/her)
 Inverted sentence
 Serial verbs (e.g. she come start cook right away)
 Zero marking for plurals if number already
indicated (e.g. t(h)ree dahla; if no number
indicated, use “dem”, e.g. dih man dem
 Creoles based on language coming out of plantation
 English-based Creoles are fraught with controversy
 Two co-existent grammatical systems OR
 Unidirectional Continuum
 Social differentiation
 Language inextricably tied to identity
 Implications for school
Status of Creole in the Caribbean
(Carrington, 2001)
 Tendency to assess the status of Creole by reference to its coexistence with a European standard variety
 Literature on the status of Creoles in two categories
 (1) Functional distribution of the language in various domains,
specifically the level of penetration into those domains
 (2) Attitudes of different categories of users towards use of
Creole in various domains.
Domains used as measures of
Creole penetration
 Politics and government
 The media
 Performing and literary arts
 Education
Politics and government
 Haiti is the only country in the region that
identifies Creole (along with French) as a
language within its constitution
 In Aruba and Netherlands Antilles –
Papiamentu used for govt to people
The Media
 Creole has already penetrated print media,
especially newspapers and church periodicals the
latter (notable in French Creole territories)
 Widespread on the radio, especially call-in talk
 Popular on religious stations in French Creole
 Creole not as common in TV news broadcasts in
anglophone territories; more so in French
Performing and literary arts
 Creole has long penetrated performance poetry
(e.g., Louise Bennett, Mutabaruka, Paul KeensDouglas)
 Evident in literary publications (e.g work of
Pollard, Olive Senior, Merle Hodge, etc.
 Has dominated the music industry – reggae,
dancehall, etc.
Attitudes Towards Creole
 Contradictory attitudes – Creole is at once celebrated and
 Kachru and Nelson (2001) call this “attitudinal schizophrenia” (p.
 Creole celebrated to mark true Caribbean identity; for solidarity;
for artistic performance; for humor; for being “real”.
 Denigrated -- Steretypes linked to speaking Creole, eg. poor,
uneducated, unskilled.
 Conservative attitude attached to speaking English
 Public attitudes towards JC is changing; there’s more tolerance
for its use in public, especially among youth (Jamaican Language
Unit Survey, 2005).
 Attitudes towards the use of Creole in education
have been and continue to be controversial
 Many parents and Creole speakers themselves are
opposed to the use of Creole in school or as a
medium of instruction.
Typical objections to the use of
Creole in school (Siegel, 2006)
 It is a waste of time, and has no practical benefit. If the goal
of schooling is acquiring proficiency in standard English (SE),
then time spent on Creole takes away from acquisition of SE.
 Interference (in the sense of negative transfer) – Creole
might interference with the acquisition of SE.
 Creole marks students as lesser – linguistically,
socioeconomically, and educationally.
 It can further ghettoize students who are already
marginalized, thereby preventing our delaying their academic
success and job prospects.
JC in Education
 Promote Creole as the medium of instruction (Devonish &
Carpenter, 2007).
 Accept Creole as the mother tongue and the bridge to L2
acquisition (Craig, 2006)
 Purge Creole from the classroom and promote monolingualism
in English
 Expect many other positions in between
 The Jamaican Language Education Policy (2001) adopted an
approach of transitional bilingualism.
Alleyne, M. (1980). Comparative Afro-American. Ann
Arbor:Karoma Press.
Bailey, B. (year?)
Carrington, L. (2001). The status of Creole in the
Caribbean. InP. Christie (Ed.). Due respect: Papers on
English and English- related Creoles in the Caribbean in
honour of Professor RobertLe Page (pp. 24-36).
Kingston: UWI Press.
Christie, P. (2001). Forty years on. In P. Christie (Ed.). Due
respect: Papers on English and English-related Creoles
in the Caribbean in honour of Professor Robert Le Page
(pp. 1-21). Kingston: UWI Press.
References (cont’d)
Craig, D. (1983). Teaching standard English to
nonstandard speakers: Some methodological issues.
Journal of NegroEducation, 52 (1), 65-74.
________ (2006). From vernacular to standard English:
Teaching language and literacy to Caribbean students
Miami, FL: Ian Randle Publishers.
Devonish, H. & Carpenter, K. (2007). Full bilingual
education in a creole situation: The Jamaican bilingual
primary education project. Occasional paper No. 35.
Society for Caribbean Linguistics. Trinidad and Tobago:
UWI, St. Augustine.
Hall-Alleyne (1981).
References (cont’d)
Jamaican Language Unit, University of the West Indies. (2005).
Language attitude survey of Jamaica. Mona, Jamaica.
Kachru, B. & Nelson, C. (2001). World Englishes. In A. Burns &
C. Coffin(Eds.), Analysing English in a global context (pp. 125). London andNew York: Routledge.
LePage, R., & Tabouret-Keller, A. (1985). Acts of identity:
Creole- based approaches to language and ethnicity.
Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.
Ministry of Education, Jamaica. (2001). Language education
policy. Retrieved from the worldwide web on May 23, 2006
References (cont’d)
Shields, K. (1989). Standard English in Jamaica: A
case of competing models. English Worldwide 10
(1), 41-53.
Siegel, J. (2006). Keeping creoles and dialects out
of the classroom. Is it justified. In S. Nero (Ed.),
Dialects, Englishes, Creoles, and Education (pp. 3967). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

The Caribbean Language Situation: An Overview