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Review of  Kwéyòl in Postcolonial Saint Lucia


Reviewer: Joshua Nash
Book Title: Kwéyòl in Postcolonial Saint Lucia
Book Author: Aonghas St-Hilaire
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Creole French, Saint Lucian
Book Announcement: 23.2265

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Review:
AUTHOR: Aonghas St-Hilaire
TITLE: Kwéyòl in Postcolonial Saint Lucia
SUBTITLE: Globalization, language planning, and national development
SERIES TITLE: Creole Language Library 40
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2011

Joshua Nash, Discipline of Linguistics, University of Adelaide, Australia

SUMMARY

Saint Lucian Kwéyòl is a worthy example to examine within creole language
studies when assessing the relationship between sociolinguistic considerations
of languages in the postcolonial world and the implementation of (creole)
language policies. Because of its size, cultural history, and linguistic past,
this small island nation and its current political and linguistic situation
provide an example relevant to other small, endangered, and ‘unappreciated’
languages in the world, how language choice, education, and policy form a strong
statement about identity relations, and how languages can be managed within a
globalized world. St-Hilaire’s summary of these issues is relevant not only to
creolistics, language planning, sociolinguistics, and studies in language
change, but also to research into the linguistic effects of colonization and
(French and Caribbean) postcolonial studies. More specifically, because of the
focus on French colonial history, French sociolinguistics, and population
movements in the Caribbean, this volume should appeal to French language
linguists and (Caribbean) creolists. There are, however, several serious
theoretical problems with the book.

EVALUATION

This volume is intelligently presented and, as the Table of Contents attests,
provides a concise yet comprehensive description of the sociolinguistic
situation in the Caribbean vis-à-vis colonial languages and non-standard
varieties relevant to Saint Lucian Kwéyòl. However, the method of academic
scaffolding presented in the Table of Contents, which bears strong resemblance
to a PhD thesis, makes for overly short chapter subsections and an often
cumbersome, fragmented read. The result leads to a more serious criticism: the
volume’s reiterative and repetitive style and the absence of a clear theoretical
question and purpose throughout.

Despite the comprehensiveness of the topics covered, certain discussions such as
Chapter 1’s lengthy examination of Caribbean language politics and policy and
their relationship to globalization make the initial sections of the volume
repetitive. The presentation of factual statements, which are otherwise well
referenced, indicates that although the author has read widely on these topics,
he has not synthesized a strong statement on the relationship of these presented
facts to what will follow in the subsequent chapters.

St-Hilaire uses Saint Lucian Creole to demonstrate how “the elevation of the
social status of Caribbean creole vernaculars is one way to restore a positive
identity” (p. 30). This sociolinguistic position argues that language and
cultural politics are at the heart of language planning policies within a
modernised and globalized Caribbean. Using several examples of colonial and
postcolonial Caribbean language policies, the author sets the historical scene
in the first chapter for what lies ahead. The factual and overly formal nature
of the chapter with no empirical analysis is not to be expected for a
sociolinguistic study of a marginalized creole, however.

The detailed description of Caribbean and specifically Saint Lucian colonization
presented in Chapter 2, although at times a little drawn out and matter of fact,
sets the (socio)linguistic background of the book. This chapter presents large
numbers of facts and statistics about Kwéyòl in education, migration practices,
and political views but very little by way of an integrated argument about the
implications of what is presented. Chapter 3 ‘Kwéyòl cultural nationalism’
provides a brief history of postcolonial political and linguistic changeovers
and specifically the role of Kwéyòl in boosting national self-esteem and
attitudinal change. St-Hilaire’s account appears more as a historical
description and information presentation rather than a linguistic argument or
analysis. It is here that some detailed data analysis relating to the perceived
(sociolinguistic) status of language varieties on Saint Lucia could have been
presented in terms of language in use. By the end of this chapter, it is unclear
what the author has accomplished other than to describe that a revival of Kwéyòl
has occurred in parallel with a (postcolonial) cultural revival in Saint Lucia
and other parts of the Caribbean.

In Chapter 4, ‘An Anglophone country in an English-speaking world’, St-Hilaire
claims that while many changes have taken place in Saint Lucia since
independence in 1979, and although Kwéyòl now has a higher social and emblematic
status than previously, (standard) English is still the language of power,
education, and politics. Again, apart from some lengthy discussions about
urbanization and migration, the argument presented in the form of data and
historical facts comes across as a fait accompli -- i.e. Kwéyòl does fare well
in some political and sociolinguistic areas, not so well in others. Chapter 5,
‘Francophonie and Créolophonie’, provides the most interest for French language
studies. A description of the Francophonie as a concept and specifically Saint
Lucia’s participation in the cultural and linguistic formation of the
(Caribbean) Francophonie is given. The social status of the various French
creoles in the Caribbean is outlined in comparison with the Indian Ocean French
creoles, with discussion of general orthographic conventions in Caribbean French
creole media and the establishment of a Saint Lucian Kwéyòl orthography. While
this information is warranted, further implications need to be addressed in
order to relate the role of French in Kwéyòl to the topic of Chapter 6,
‘Government and democracy’. This chapter focuses on status planning of Kwéyòl
and its changing political status as a national language of Saint Lucia and its
linguistic implications. In this discussion and the foci of Chapter 7,
‘Literacy, the schools, and higher education’, Chapter 8, ‘The mass media’, and
Chapter 9, ‘The changing status of Kwéyòl’, St-Hilaire does little more than
present secondary research into Kwéyòl corpus planning, grammar and dictionary
creation, literacy, and the increased tolerance of Kwéyòl in schools. Some
history about the social role of Kwéyòl in television and the print media in
Saint Lucia and monitoring perceived changes in attitudes towards Kwéyòl is also
given.

The final three chapters address the influence of English (Chapter 10) and
French (Chapter 11) as lingering colonial languages and perceptions of
sociolinguistic change and conclude the work (Chapter 12). Anecdotal evidence
of perceptions of Kwéyòl speakers vis-à-vis the colonial influence of French and
English are given. The final chapter, ‘Conclusions and language planning
implications’, summarizes the work and its implications are presented. Much of
this chapter is repetition of information presented elsewhere. This has resulted
in a comprehensive bibliography, which should be of use to some scholars, and is
one of the major contributions of the book.

Although not essential to the argument of the work, a mention of the role of
creole toponyms, creole place names, and processes of creole place-naming in
creating and maintaining introduced colonial or indigenous connections to land
through language would have been welcome. The significance of place names in
creole speech communities was put forward by Berleant-Schiller (1991), and
although not a major point of interest to the work, considering ‘creole
toponymy’ and ‘creole place-naming’ on Saint Lucia as a means of understanding
postcolonial national development and linguistic change may have proven
worthwhile to St-Hilaire’s argument.

A major conceptual criticism: there are no obvious links between the chapters,
and the book as a whole lacks a coherent thread, research question, and
development of a theoretical core. In addition, there is a lot of repetition of
concepts, information, geographical divisions, and language groups, which makes
the reading of this book tedious. As a sociolinguistic study focusing on
language planning and nation building, the topic of this volume in principle is
commendable. However, the absence of any technical analytical methods common in
sociolinguistic research and creolistics does this work a great disservice.
Throughout large sections of the book the reader is left with the feeling of
having been presented fact after fact relating to Saint Lucian political and
linguistic economy rather than reading a study that is at its base a linguistic
study and particularly a creolistic study in John Benjamins’ well established
Creole Language Library.

Reflecting on the concepts presented in the title of this book, ‘language
planning’ is the key which should have drawn ‘Kwéyòl’, ‘postcolonial’,
‘globalization’, and ‘national development’ together, especially considering
this work was directed towards a French language studies and creolistics
audience. Because this work does not critically account for how it has added
theoretically to language planning studies nor to postcolonial readings of
language and cultural change, it remains unclear how this volume contributes to
creolistics and French language studies in the Caribbean and elsewhere. This
book was unsuccessful at sustaining a cogent theoretical point and research
contribution and thus failed to live up to its potential.

REFERENCES

Berleant-Schiller, R. 1991. Hidden places and creole forms: Naming the Barbudan
landscape. Professional Geographer 43 (1). 92-101.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Joshua Nash is an Australian Research Council research associate in the Discipline of Linguistics at the University of Adelaide where he completed his PhD in 2011. His research focuses on synthesising ecological approaches to the study of language with Indian perspectives on spirituality, ecology, and ethnography. He has conducted linguistic fieldwork on Norfolk Island, South Pacific since 2007 and environmental fieldwork in Vrindavan, India since 1998.