English is the official language of Jamaica, a position it has occupied for well over three centuries. As such, it is the language traditionally required in the administration of government, in the law courts, the churches and the education system. English is expected wherever written language is required and for all formal oral communication. It is also indispensable for contacts between Jamaica and other countries. Thus, Jamaicans need to be proficient in
English for full participation in their own society as well as on the international stage. However, despite the valiant efforts of teachers over the years, many persons have failed to master Standard English. The reasons for this failure are more complex than is usually acknowledged.
The book discusses these reasons and other important aspects of language in Jamaica. It has two separate but interrelated practical aims. The first of them is to provide information about language related issues, much of which has so far not been readily accessible to the general public. The second aim is to facilitate objective assessment of the language situation and associated problems. Over the past 60 years or so, scholars have examined a wide range of languages and have thus gained new insights into their structure and the social and psychological implications of their use. Yet the diagnosis and the treatment of language problems in Jamaica often reveal unfamiliarity with the findings of such research. There is also automatic suspicion of non traditional ways of looking at language. Many public statements by laypersons still clearly reflect blind adherence to received notions about language, some of which studies have shown to be no longer valid. More importantly, knee-jerk reactions often replace rational arguments. The book should permit clarification of terms and proposals that have commonly been misinterpreted and should also provide a basis for making informed judgments from one or another point of view.
The observed rush to judgment is particularly evident where Creole, better known locally as Patois, is concerned. The majority of Jamaicans use this variety in everyday communication with each other, but even its speakers consider it to be a debased form of English, something of which one should be ashamed, and an obstacle to progress. These reactions are among the issues that are discussed in the book.
The style of the book is simple, designed to enhance its appeal to the average reader who is interested in language and its socio-psychological and educational implications and/or in the Jamaican language situation as such. At thesame time, students of linguistics or communication at the tertiary and advanced secondary levels should also find it useful. Specific topics dealt with, in addition to those mentioned earlier, include (1) the functions of English and Creole and the interaction between them in everyday communication (2) the origin, development and current state of English in Jamaica (3) the influence of American English (4) the linguistic status of Creole and (5) different perspectives on the use of Creole in the classroom. Towards the end of the book, discussion of the role of English as a world language and of the related concerns about maintaining standards is used to set the Jamaican situation within a wider framework. A similar perspective is provided by brief comments on the existence of Creoles in other parts of the world and discussion of developments affecting some of these, which could be of some relevance to Jamaica.
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