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Jamaican Language or English Language…You Decide…

by Tony Kelly
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Tony Kelly resident Diabetes expert

This article has a two-pronged interconnected approach as a few contacts wanted to know more of my views stated in a WhatsApp message regarding Shelly-Anne Fraser Pryce’s brilliant speech at the Laureus World Sportswoman  of the Year awards in Paris on 8th May  and in another post where I mentioned  how it is  long over-due  for the Honorable Louise Bennett, OJ,  affectionately known as Miss Lou to be made a national heroine in Jamaica.

Firstly, what heartened me about this great Jamaican athlete’s victory speech on her sixth attempt at being nominated for this accolade was not just her poise and  dignity but the heartfelt way it was delivered. For those who have not seen nor heard it, please find it replicated below. Her diction, pronunciation/enunciation and perfect grammar were superb as was how she engaged in terms of eye-contact with the audience. She empowered young girls in particular to strive for the best and embraced motherhood alongside her desire to continue competing as a world-class athlete. At no stage did she choose and rightly so to speak  Jamaican language often referred to and here I quote, ‘Jamaican patois, an English-based creole language with West African influences  spoken primarily  in Jamaica  and among the Jamaican diaspora.’

I admire how Shelly-Anne Fraser Pryce with her effervescent      personality has elevated  herself as a Waterhouse born and bred girl, as a woman and not forgetting a Wolmerian, which means a Wolmer’s High School graduate.  I am so upset that no one in the audience deemed it fit to give her a rousing standing ovation after such a powerful acceptance speech. What more could she have done to deserve one?  As one person mentioned to me via a   WhatsApp message, they would have stood, shouted and clapped so loudly that it would have  put the others present to shame.

Shelly-Anne’s humility along with her Pocket Rocket Foundation of giving back to those in need stand shoulders above anything I have witnessed for a long time as she truly epitomizes the meaning of sacrifice, hard work, passion, drive and determination.

Secondly,  the late Miss Lou has played her part as a national treasure in pioneering the use of the Jamaican language as a social commentator, actress, writer, poet, comedienne and  television/ radio host. She almost singlehandedly from as early as the 1950s being proud of her cultural heritage and customs made the Jamaican language recognized globally when it was frowned upon in some sections of the Jamaican society at home and abroad. People were known to say things such as ‘Stop talk so bad’ or that one should speak the Queen’s English.  Where did the notion or false narrative that English belonged to the Queen of England come from?  English was here before the late Queen Elizabeth the second,  so that was and still remains an inappropriate description and smacks of a colonial mentality that needs to be dismissed.

The younger generation should visit social media websites such as You Tube, BBC archives, Jamaica Information Service (JIS) to name but a few  and see some of Miss Lou’s numerous projects over the last at least 8 decades. One will get a real and accurate sense of how phenomenal and passionate she was at spreading the spoken word and her pride in so doing. Of  course, when appropriate she was equally capable of speaking English and was therefore bi-lingual which Shelly-Anne Fraser Pryce is too. That is mentioned here  as my deep concern is that some of my fellow Jamaicans  at home and abroad now choose to no longer encourage others to speak standard English, which is wrong, counter-productive and a recipe for disaster. The world with the advent of technology including webinars such as Zoom, Teams, Skype and WhatsApp to name a few, means  teleconferences are the norm and to communicate with others the ability to converse in English verbally and written is of paramount importance. My late grandmother used to say ‘There is a time and a place for everything’ and I  will always be proud of the Jamaican language which is part of my cultural heritage as indeed is English. The beauty of being fluent in both must be encouraged so that one is able to use either in the appropriate setting. Imagine a prospective graduate from a tertiary institution going for a job interview and not being able to converse in English at all. That I know has happened, so it is factual even though some might think that is incredible.

Some of my contacts suggested that I should start a petition about the lack of the highest recognition  of national hero for  Miss Lou who has received every other honour  but time does not allow me to do so with a busy schedule. I will  therefore ask anyone via this medium who is in a position  to bring this overlooked national heroine status to the appropriate department in Jamaica to do so as currently the country has six men as national heroes and only one woman, Nanny of the Maroons. That cannot be right in this day and age and needs to be rectified as soon as possible.

I sincerely hope the Jamaica government who are currently discussing becoming a republic take on board this pertinent issue which would fit in in well in their current deliberations and discussions as they elevate this phenomenal  Jamaican woman who as an ambassador, advocate and folklorist has put the country on the world stage for several decades and her legacy speaks volumes.

Tony Kelly

Tony Kelly

London born Tony Kelly of Jamaican parents grew up in Jamaica and returned to live in Birmingham in 1979.
He is a graduate of Mico Teachers’ College and taught in Kingston high schools prior to working for 30+ years as a middle manager in central and local government with an emphasis on equity, equality, diversity and inclusion. He has a masters’ degree in socio-legal studies from the university of Birmingham.
For over a decade Tony has volunteered as a diabetes ambassador firstly for Diabetes UK and now for the National Health Service – Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group. A multi-award winner doing a yearly average of 150 health and well-being events, locally, nationally and internationally focusing on type 2 diabetes. He was diagnosed with this medical condition 18 years ago. However with a combination of physical activity and diet he has never taken medication thus proving with the right mindset and discipline it can be achieved.
As a diabetes advocate/activist Tony will continue delivering the message of healthy options to readers of CaribDirect.com .


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