26 December 2011

Creoles - the same story once again

So I was directed this morning to a news story on the BBC about the translation of the Bible to Jamaican Patois.  It's a move that's long overdue -- whatever you think about religion, you have to accept that the place of worship is vitally important in the survival of language wherever a large percentage of the population are religious.  The lack of a Bible translation and the use of the dominant language in religious services have been cited in the decline of many languages, including Scottish Gaelic.

It has been welcomed by some:
Several women rise to testify, in patois, to what it means to hear the Bible in their mother tongue.
"It's almost as if you are seeing it," says a woman, referring to the moment when Jesus is tempted by the Devil.
"In the blink of an eye, you get the whole notion. It's as though you are watching a movie… it brings excitement to the word of God."
Unfortunately, not everyone is so happy.
But some traditionalist Christians say the patois Bible dilutes the word of God, and insist that creole is no substitute for English.
You know what?  There was a time when people would insist that English is no substitute for Latin.  And even that was bigotted, because the Latin Bible was just another translation of the Greek, and it wasn't even that accurate!
What we have here is proof, if proof were needed, that a great many objections to minority language are a simple case of resistance to change.

Creole in primary education

The article doesn't restrict itself to the Bible, but follows on to a topic that is a matter of active debate in most creole-speaking countries: the place of Creole in the primary sector.

The story is always the same: the "big" language is of major economic importance, and therefore should be the focus of education.  As a political statement, it's appealling, and it doesn't take much thought to agree with it.  Which is just as well, because it doesn't really hold up to much scrutiny.

One thing that has been fairly well proven across the world is that kids do better in school if they are given "initial literacy" (their first experience of reading and writing) in their own language.  On the other hand, gaining their initial literacy in a new language actually hampers their ability to pick up the language accurately.
Worse, in some creole-speaking countries, the teachers are really only creole-speakers themselves.  Education in Haiti, for example, is very heavily orientated towards French, but the teachers really don't speak the language properly.  What you end up with is kids who aren't competent in either their own language or the "important" language.

All the figures show that the best thing to do is to start school in the kids' own language (and the teachers'!), and that the new language is best introduced in a spoken form, and by a native speaker.

Which isn't quite the same as what we do in Scotland with Gaelic-medium education, sadly....

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