This is the second part of an interview with linguist Jo-Anne Ferreira, who won the Trinidad and Tobago segment of a global competition that sought to find a couple of names for an extrasolar planet, organized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU, for its acronym in English in honor of its hundred years.
The names that Ferreira proposed for the new star and its correlative extrasolar planet are Dingolay Y Ramajay, whose linguistic significance was developed in the first part of this series, in which Ferreira indicates that the selection of names was also a triumph for the patois (if you want to see the stars and find an extrasolar planet, the Universe Guide offers instructions detailed).
As our conversation continues, Ferreira refers to the importance of language itself, and how linguistics is found – in his words – “in all things … it is like mathematics and physics.”
JMF: Why do you think your triumph was relevant to the pathois and what kind of resources does the language need?
JAF: Patois has been here at least since 1783, for over 235 years. The year 2019 was significant for Patois – it was the 150th anniversary of John Jacob Thomas ‘“ The Practice and Theory of Creole Grammar ”, republished on its 100th anniversary and available in print and on archive.org; Patois pioneer professor emeritus Lawrence D. Carrington, professor of Creole linguistics, educational research and development, won the Chaconia Medal Gold for language and development; and Patois made it to the stars – all great for a language that has had little recognition and respect.
Patois absolutely needs resources – print, digital and more. We have a language documentation project afoot, and (language teacher) Nnamdi Hodge and I trek across the country interviewing as many Patois-speaking elders as possible, and filming, transcribing, translating and archiving. We have a Facebook page and Nnamdi has a YouTube channel. We can't do it alone though. We hope to embark on community-based language development, with “The Guide for Planning the Future of Our Language”.
Based on the work of professors Carrington and Jean Bernabé, and colleagues of CRILLASH, Université des Antilles in Martinique and the Folk Research Center of St Lucia, we've also developed a project about the Patois alphabet that's now in its pre-final version. We hope that the author, Gertrud Aub-Buscher, will finish her dictionary soon.
JAF: The patois has been around since at least 1783, for over 235 years. The year 2019 was an important one for the patois: it was the 150th anniversary of the book “Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar” by John Jacob Thomas, which was published again in its hundredth year and is available in print and on archive.org. Pioneering Pathois Professor Emeritus Lawrence D. Carrington, Professor of Creole Linguistics, Educational Research and Development, won the Chaconia Gold Medal for Language and Development; and the patois reached the stars – great news for a language that has had little recognition and respect.
The patois absolutely needs resources, both print and digital and more. We have a language documentation project underway, (language teacher) Nnamdi Hodge and I travel around the country to interview as many older Patois speakers as possible, and to film, transcribe, translate and record. We have a Facebook page and Nnamdi has a YouTube channel. But we cannot do it alone. We hope to embark on community-based language development with “The Guide to Planning the Future of Our Language”.
Based on the work of Professors Carrington and Jean Bernabé, and colleagues from CRILLASH, Université des Antilles in Martinique and the Folk Research Center in Saint Lucia, we have also developed a project on the patois alphabet that is now in its prefinal version. We hope that the author, Gertrud Aub-Buscher, will finish her dictionary soon.
JMF: What is the status of the patois in Trinidad and Tobago and the region in general and why do you always insist on capitalizing the word?
JAF: Antillean or Atlantic French-lexicon Creole is alive and well in many countries of the Caribbean, and it is the Number 2 language of the region, after Spanish. Thanks to Haiti, it is also the Number 1 language of CARICOM, even with 13 English-official countries.
Patois was once spoken by every creed and race in this country. It belongs to no one and everyone. Unfortunately, it is dying in Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and Venezuela, since it is no longer a first language.
Here, however, it is so interwoven into our everyday speech that most of us don’t even recognize that some things we say are Patois or due to Patois. We haven’t truly grasped the impact of Patois on what and how we speak: calques, vocabulary in the areas of flora, fauna, foods, folklore and festivals, music, place names, our syntax, pronunciation, and intonation. Patois itself has borrowed from many other languages in our space, sharing a symbiotic relationship with them. It's time for a return to roots to explain the present, and to understand our uniqueness.
With 12,200 entries, Patois may constitute only 10 percent of Lise Winer's edited “Dictionary of the English / Creole of Trinidad and Tobago”, but it's deep in our marrow and linguistic DNA. Everyone needs to get this dictionary and get it now.
I insist on capitalizing my name, my language, my nationality. We just mentioned that words change, and change they must, if they are around long enough or if they change location. Those who happen to know that a patois in France is a non-standardized regional variety of French don’t seem to know that that common noun changed and became a proper noun here, regardless of any stigma attached to the French meaning. Any negative word can undergo amelioration, because of the will of the speakers and their power to determine the course, the meaning, the status, definition and even the connotation of any word. In English, all proper nouns are capitalized. French stopped being a reference point for English a long time ago.
The spirit of Patois has triumphed in the face of adversity and it will not be put down or humiliated any longer.
JAF: The Creole of the Antilles or Atlantic of French lexicon is alive in several countries of the Caribbean, and is the second most spoken language in the region, after Spanish. Thanks to Haiti, it is also the main language of CARICOM, even with thirteen countries that have English as their official language.
Long ago, all the creeds and ethnic groups in this country spoke patois. It does not belong to anyone and everyone. Unfortunately, it is dying in Trinidad and Tobago, Granada, and Venezuela, as it is no longer the primary language.
Here, however, it is so intertwined in our everyday speech that most do not even acknowledge that some things we say are in Patois or derived from Patois. We have not yet fully grasped the impact of Patois on what we say and how we say it: traces, vocabulary in the areas of flora, fauna, food, folklore and festivals, music, toponomy, our syntax, pronunciation and intonation. The Patois itself has borrowed from many languages in our space, so it shares a symbiotic relationship with them. It is time to return to our roots to explain the present, as well as to understand our uniqueness.
With 12,200 entries, the Patois may make up just 10% of Lise Winer's edited “Dictionary of English / Creol´r of Trinidad and Tobago,” but it lies deep in our core and linguistic DNA. Everyone should buy this dictionary now.
I insist on using capital letters for my name, my language, my nationality. We just mentioned that words change, and should change, if they stay for a long time or change location. Those who know that a patois in France is a non-standardized regional variety of French do not seem to know that the common noun changed and became its own name here, without prejudice to any stigma associated with its meaning in French. Every negative word can get a better meaning because of the will of its speakers and its power to determine the course, meaning, status, definition, and even connotation of words. In English, all proper names are used in capital letters. French ceased to be a point of reference for English a long time ago.
The spirit of the Patois has triumphed over adversity and will no longer be deserved or humiliated.
JMF: You think that equality is vital in the field of linguistics. Why?
JAF: Because no language can possibly be superior to another. We describe, not prescribe or proscribe. Why tell a silk fig that it is a bad lacatan? We are who we are. So it's equal language rights for all. We have declarations, charters, codes, etc.
JAF: Because it is not possible for one language to be superior to another. We describe, neither prescribe nor proscribe. Why would we say to a banana silk fig that it is a bad lacatan banana? We are what we are. So it is about linguistic rights being the same for everyone, we have declarations, letters, codes, etc.
JMF: You also believe that our attitude towards language has a multiplying effect.
JAF: Crime is linked to lack of jobs, (which) is linked to lack of education, (which) is linked to lack of language access. Is nobody seeing the link twixt crime and language?
Language policy and language planning fall right under sociolinguistics – you can plan for people to acquire a language; legally and socially raise the status of a language, and add vocabulary by creating dictionaries and grammars. We currently have no national language policy. CARICOM and the Association of Caribbean States don't have language policies either.
If I could get statistics of how many nationals go to university here and how many can't, see where they came from, their home language, I think the connections would be clear. We continue to demotivate the monolingual Creole / Dialect speakers. We need to stop that.
It's not like English is totally foreign here, but it's like a second language for too many. I have no problem with English as our national official language – it's part of us – but I do have a problem with the minoritizing of the majority and their language. Bilingualism and multilingualism are normal around the world. The problem is we like to think of bilingualism as good only if it includes a language with status.
Lack of language access slows people down: in education, in getting the right job (…) so if it's English needed, then teach it as a skill, using students' backgrounds as bridges – not barriers.
JAF: Crime is associated with lack of employment, which is linked to lack of education, which is related to lack of access to language. Does no one else see the link between crime and language?
Language policy and language planning belong to sociolinguistics: it is possible to plan for people to acquire a language, to socially and legally elevate the status of a language, and to add vocabulary through the creation of dictionaries and grammars. We currently do not have a national language policy. CARICOM and the Association of Caribbean States do not have language policies either.
If I could get statistics about how many citizens study at the university here and how many can't, it would be enough to see where they come from and what their mother tongue is, I think the connections would be very clear. We continue to demotivate monolingual Creole / dialect speakers. This must end.
It is not that English is absolutely foreign here, but it is like a second language for many. I have no problem with English being our official national language (it is part of us) but I do have a problem with making the majority a minority and their language. Bilingualism and multilingualism are normal in the world. The problem is that we like to believe that bilingualism is only good if it includes a language with status.
Lack of access to the language stops people: in education, to obtain the suitable employment (…) so that if English is necessary, then we must teach it as a skill, using the contexts of the students as bridges, not as barriers.
JMF: In a society as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago, doesn't language have the power to connect us?
JAF: We have operated exonormatively for such a long time, but more and more, as any nation should, we are coming into our own. Individual words, like dingolay and pelau (a rice dish), belair / bèlè, (a dance), have more than one origin. All of our languages, past and present, have gone into making us who we are. One of my students is investigating linguocultural rich points, and it's fascinating. Trinbagonians are connected through a shared linguocultural history and present – we don't have to constantly define or explain or substitute our words in our conversations.
JAF: We have operated in an extraordinary way for a long time, but increasingly, as any country should, we are becoming ourselves. Single words like dingolay and pelau (rice-based dish), belair / bèlè, (dance), they have more than one origin. All of our languages, past and present, have made us who we are. One of my students is researching linguocultural points, and it is fascinating. The inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago are connected by a shared linguocultural history and present; we don't have to constantly define or explain or replace words in our conversations.
JMF: How do you observe the evolution of Caribbean languages (indigenous and inherited)?
JAF: Intangible cultural heritage is being recognized more and more. Language claim is happening. Long live endonormativity – we will dictate our own pace.
JAF: We increasingly recognize our intangible cultural heritage. We are witnessing a demand for language. Long live endorsement, we will set our own pace.