Trick of Tongue
Making the Schools Free
When Michael Manley took the office of Prime Minister in 1973 he implemented a policy of free education up to, and including University.
Jamaica had always been a class society. Education was never cheap. There were very few opportunities for the poor to escape poverty. By making education free Manley saw a future where it was merit by which one reached the top.
This led to the Great Havendale Hysteria of 1978 when the helper's daughter gained a place at the University of the West Indies,and her employer's son did not.
As a Class society, the poor and rich did not mingle.
The growing middle class fought to be associated with the rich.
Everything was tacitly 'segregated'.
Movie theatres that were attended by the upper classes were barred to the lower. There were stores where the poor didn't dare try to shop. One would be accosted by the police if simply seen walking in certain areas.
Although the colour of the employee and employer were the same, the Class difference was never to be breached.
Then Michael made the schools free and rich and poor would be conjoined. Children were placed in High Schools dependent on grades. The bright poor child gained entry into 'name brand' High Schools.
As barriers were broken and ostentation frowned upon, people strove for the 'roots' look. Everyone dressed down. No one drove expensive cars or wore jewelry.
As bad as it was to have lower class children in prestigious High Schools it reached unbearable when of 44 places at the University of the West Indies to read Law, half of them went to those who were (as the saying goes) born below Crossroads.
Something had to be done.
The Havendale Hysteria
Havendale was a fresh upper middle class community. It was occupied by people who might have come from nowhere but were able to buy prestigious homes when the bottom began to drop out of the housing market.
There were rumours that Manley was 'communist' and would take away homes from those who had more than one. This provoked wild selling and caused prices to plummet so that mansions were being sold in the price rang of teachers.
Those that achieved the Havendale home were rabid to defend their status. When it was clear that entry to the best schools was not a matter of cash or class but a matter of merit, these 'hurry come ups' (as they are called in Jamaica) had to Do Something!
Branding on the Tongue
Jamaica was an English colony up until 1962, so was very aware that how one spoke was a key feature in establishing their Class.
The middle class hit upon this fantastic idea;
If the pidgin that was often heard in lower class neighbourhoods was enshrined as a language, and the lower classes encouraged to speak it they would automatically disqualify themselves from gaining places at the better High Schools and entry into University.
It was not an instant acceptance. There were some who recognised that if Jamaicans could not speak English they would not be able to advance in business or academia. These people had to be silenced. They had to outshouted, they had to be discredited, and somehow there must be a way to make the population consider the inability to communicate positive, despite the evidence of Haiti.
Haiti has been, is and will be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The majority of Haitians do not speak any known language. They speak something called Creole which no one is interested in hearing or learning. Those who can speak French or English are the upper class and those who will be members of the Upper Class.
Although there are often leaders who talk about French they are booed by those who speak Creole, which despite the fact it prevents Haiti from communicating with the world, is held as some kind of amulet.
Being so close to Haiti, and seeing how terribly impoverished it is, one would have assumed that Jamaicans would be the last people in the world to opt out of one of the most popular languages in the world.
Yet within less than 20 years the vast population of Jamaican has embraced patwa.
The first step was to break away from
Clearly one could not maintain
English 'O' Levels when they
were actively pursuing an anti-
Hence the introduction of CXCs,
that is, locally set Examinations.
It was hoped that by dumbing down
the exams the pass rate would remain
the same and the public continue to
believe that there was no detriment
in promoting patois.
After a few years the pass rate, even at a locally set CXC English exam, plunged. The inability of Jamaicans to communicate became so gross many companies would import workers from other nations who spoke a language, i.e. Spanish, which was communicatable.
There was an attempt to hire interpreters who were supposed to be able to translate patwa into English and English into patwa. Linguists recognise that a pidgin can not be directly translated as it is 'non-standard' ; the word for this item in Westmoreland will not be the
same in Kingston; and there are no words for various terms.
This means that the kind of confusion spoken by those who lived in one part of Jamaica did not match that spoken by those who lived in another part of Jamaica. Many terms were unique and there was no certain way to translate vital instructions from English into Patwa.
The situation became so devastating that 40 thousand jobs which were slated for Jamaica in a call centre had to be moved to Trinidad and Barbados as there were not 40 thousand Jamaicans who could speak English. These facts were quietly buried because the need to create and maintain a large peasantry was the most important facet.
Further, if one does not have the words to describe their world they can not control it. Just as in 1984 words were removed from the dictionary so as to dumb down the population and make it virtually impossible to express certain opinions, so too with Patois (Patwa).
How it Played
The Upper Class could insure that their children spoke perfect English. They spoke it, they hired helpers who spoke it, and would hire private tutors if required. They sent their children to prestigious High Schools which were no longer free.
Free education had begun to trickle out in the mid 80s and continued into the 90s. To enter University became so expensive few could afford it. This did not create an outcry as so many children, being untaught English, did not have the qualifications to enter University.
It was not a case of raising the fees beyond the pocket of the poor and lower
middle class, it was a case of ensuring that the children of the poor and lower
middle class would fail the exams and not have the entry requirements.
Those who applied would then only be from the class of those who could
afford to pay the fees.
Patwa Fi Wi Langwij
Those who can not speak Englsh can never gain any but the most menial jobs. Secretary and clerk are reserved for those members of the lower middle class who have fought to speak English despite the blandishments to be as incoherent as possible.
Most employers adopt the "Call For Interview" policy. The applicant who betrays their 'Brand', i.e. "Mia call bout di job.." or "Mi wan fe intaview..." are disconnected, told to call back. Those who speak properly are given a date to attend and fill out a form which contains a short essay.
As over 80% can not pass the 'phone/form' interview it is virtually certain no member of the lower or lower middle class will gain an interview.
The Rich "own" the better prep schools. Their children are the ones who can score High enough to enter the better High Schools, and of course, University. .
Although an obvious form of Apartheid, those who are the victims are totally sold on
Patwa fi wi langwij, (Patois is our language).
Despite the fact it has proven detrimental in every aspect of life, from being
unable to fill out a form to give cogent answers in a police interrogation, there
seems to be no way to convince the population of Jamaica that being unable
to speak English is a handicap.
The photograph above is Miz Lou, she was a comedian who got the laughs by playing the role of the loud mouthed patwa speaking market woman. People laughed at her. They assumed she was her role.
Living in Canada, people thought she was stupid because her brand of humour wasn't the kind in which you think she is playing the fool, you believe she is the fool.
She did a great deal to encourage the speaking of patwa.
A major hypocrite is an English professor Carolyn Cooper, who advocates that you and your children speak Patwa but she will speak in eight sylabble words. When she's at her uptown functions she speaks the Queen's English, but on the radio, in the newspaper, when she's talking to the average person she is complete incoherence.
This kind of deception has gone a far way.
Those students who graduated Law School when Michael Manley was Prime Minister are no senior counsel. No one knows they were born in the ghetto, no one knows that many never qualified for entry into High School but had taking 'O' Levels and 'A' levels out of their pockets and entered Teacher's College, then when Michael made the University free were able to apply and ranked in the top 44 so entered University.
Entered, qualified, were called to the Bar and moved up the ranks. Many became judges.
Now, the only persons coming into the legal profession are those who have, or can borrow, one million dollars. Their attitude towards the poor, that is those in the dock, is very similar to the Boer and the Bantu.
Whatever Jamaica could have been, it is not.
And all because of the 'trick of tongue' where the poor are taught to talk themselves out of opportunity.