Dominica fights to save the Creole forged by slaves in the Caribbean – .

Dominica fights to save the Creole forged by slaves in the Caribbean – .

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – The elementary school student stood up, lowered his face mask and leaned into the microphone. She swallowed hard before trying to spell the word “discover” in French Creole.

“DEKOVI,” she tried, clasping her hands behind her back while standing in front of a row of sparkling trophies.

Seconds later, the teacher announced, “Sorry, this is incorrect. The word, she says, is ‘dekouve’.

The student pursed her lips and sat down, temporarily stumbling upon a Creole spelling bee on the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica. Its difficulty with language is far from unique to the small nation, which tries to preserve and promote this age-old creation by Africans who merged their original languages ​​with those of the European plantation owners who held them in slavery. .

Kweyol, as it is called in Dominica, is one of the many Creole variants spoken on more than a dozen Caribbean islands – complex cultural creations that have long been considered informal, inferior and broken languages ​​spoken by uneducated people.

“Your ability to use the European language, be it English, French or Dutch, is considered an indicator of your level of education,” said Clive Forrester, professor of linguistics at the Canadian University of Waterloo and secretary of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics. “Attitudes have improved, but the underlying sentiment is still there. Almost everything related to African culture is not considered as prestigious as European culture. “

Officials in Dominica, an island of some 75,000 people, hope to change that perception: They started teaching Kweyol in 16 of the island’s 56 primary schools this year in short snippets: “A five-minute break for school. Creole cause. They say a lack of Kweyol-speaking teachers is holding back a larger curriculum.

Students learn the roots of the language and simple words and sentences and some compete in a spelling contest introduced 11 years ago, said Charlene White-Christian, modern languages ​​coordinator for the ministry of the Dominica education.

She continues to learn the language herself since her parents never spoke it with her: she learned through friends and by studying linguistics.

“We don’t want to lose it,” she said. “We see language as part of our culture. It is nothing without the language. “

To help preserve the language, Dominican scholars have published two Kweyol dictionaries – the most recent at 150 pages – and are working on a third as they debate how to say words like “computer” or “USB drive,” who have never had Creole. equivalent.

“We’re having a little trouble with that,” said Raymond Lawrence, president of the Dominican Committee for the Study of Creole. “Dictionaries take a lot of time. “

Pride in local Creole languages ​​has increased in recent years, although only a handful of Caribbean countries have so far declared them official, including Haiti, Aruba and Curacao. Only a few offer regular classes, and experts say they don’t know of any place where it is the primary language of instruction.

The version spoken in Dominica and neighboring Saint Lucia originally mixed African languages ​​with French spoken by early settlers and sometimes a bit of native language. Dominica was a French colony for 48 years, then a British colony for 215 years, which also led to the rise of English Creole on this island.

The most widely spoken French Creole is found in Haiti, a country of over 11 million people. A few thousand also speak the Kouri-Vini Creole of Louisiana, also once a French colony. Linguists say that some people in very rural areas of nations like Haiti and Jamaica speak only Creole languages, often because they haven’t gone to school.

Papiamento, a Creole of Portuguese origin, is used in Aruba and Curacao, where it was adopted by a local Sephardic Jewish community, said Hubert Devonish, professor of Jamaican linguistics and member of the International Center for Research on the Languages ​​of the Caribbean.

The English-based Creoles range from the Gullah of the coast of North Carolina to the Patois of Jamaica which resonates in the music of this nation.

English Creole may have developed in Barbados in the late 1640s after a local African slave population outnumbered whites, Devonish said. He added that French Creole may have first developed in Saint Kitts, the first French plantation colony.

The languages ​​then evolved through the centuries, affected by education, migration and the island’s relationship with their former colonial powers.

Some people abandoned Creole languages ​​to escape poverty and discrimination, while part of the educated elite eventually seized them as symbols of national identity and campaigned for them, Devonish said.

In many Caribbean countries, “it is widely accepted that to participate in national life, one must speak the languages ​​of the people,” he said. This has not yet happened in Dominica.

“Until now, you can be a Dominican without being able to speak Creole,” he said. “Dominica found itself in a serious situation of language loss. “

Experts do not know why the language has eroded more in Dominica than on other islands. Some suggest this could be due to rigorous teaching with an emphasis on English, or the presence of a competing English Creole known as Kokoy introduced by workers from other islands in the late 19th century. and spoken by the inhabitants of the northeast of the island.

A push to save and promote Creole languages ​​began in the 1960s when the Caribbean experienced its own black power movement, Forrester said.

“Different artefacts of Caribbean culture, music, spirituality, languages, all of these things have been re-examined and, in a sense, raised by advocates of the culture,” he said. “The language came for the ride. “

Social media is now playing a role as well, with teens and young adults posting in Creole, said Forrester, whose mother tongue is Jamaican Creole. He noted that there is some pride in using Creole, but it is more pronounced in people who are also fluent in English.

He said the most at-risk language in the Caribbean is now dying French Creole in Trinidad, spoken only by a handful of older people despite attempts to revive it. A Dutch Creole from Berbice in the South American country of Guyana died over ten years ago.

“Languages ​​are living things,” he said. “No living being lives forever. ”


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