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Branding on the Tongue

Updated on June 12, 2017

As soon as you open your mouth

For centuries, the United Kingdom has been able to 'classify' people by how they speak.

When you can't use race to create apartheid, you use class. How one speaks is indicative of the class to which they belong.

The term 'Branding on the Tongue' is the definition, but is so 'hidden' that a Google will not reveal its meaning.

Simply put, if you can speak as a presenter on the BBC you are considered to be a member of the upper class, assumed to have attended the best schools.

The Football commentator has a different accent, a different word usage. He is presumed to come from the lower class and to have attended minor schools.


My Fair Lady

George Bernard Shaw wrote a play called Pygmalion about a cockney (a dialect of English) flower girl who is given speech lessons by phonetics professor Henry Higgins.

Higgins had a 'theory' that the manner of speech separates the social classes, rather than appearance or money and that in six months he could turn Eliza, the flower girl, into a lady by teaching her to speak properly.

This play holds a great deal of truth.

Language / Thought / Presentation

If you do not have the words you can not describe your world.

You can not think about what you can not describe.

Although it sounds like one of those slap away philosophies, it is real. It is true. If you never heard a word, i.e. persiflage, you can't think of it. It is as simple (or complex) as that.

English is a language that, if one can speak it fairly well, and has a large enough vocabulary, 'inventions' to describe unknown objects or ideas can be understandable to others.

If I tell you that this detergent is 'unsudsy' you will know what I mean. If I do not have the word 'suds' I can not explain my dissappointment with the product..

Languages possess a certain physicality, such as those spoken with gestures and expressions. Others rely on pitch and emphasis. The tone of voice is important.

If one were, with a smile and exclamation say; "Oh, she is so clever!" that would have a totally different connotation than a flat, dull, "Oh, she is so clever!" where the word 'clever' is elongated.

Those who can speak English put themselves at a far higher level than one who, as Eliza Doolittle, at the beginning of the play, can not.


Mi Kan Unnastan U when U a tawk

Jamaicans have, since the late 1970s, have been encouraged to speak a pidgin called 'Patwa'.

This is not a language, this is a pidgin made up of mispronounced and misused English words, (such as use of 'me' where it should be 'I') and a limited vocabulary.

The replacement of English Standard by Patwa created a split in society not seen since pre-Independance.

Jamaica was a class society, patterned on England.

A Touch of Jamaican History

As other Caribbean Islands Jamaica was made up of the Planter Class, the Merchant Class, the Lower Class, and slaves. Slavery was abolished in 1834, indentured labourers from Asia were brought in to fill the niche.

Those at the top of society were educated in England, those in the middle attended High School of very high standards. Those at the bottom either had no education or attended All Age Schools.

The ability to speak perfect English is what defined you. It was normal for the ambitious poor child to graduate an All Age School, get a job, save money, and sit the English G.C.E. 'O' levels and then 'A' levels as they advanced up the economic and social ladder.

In 1962 Jamaica became Independent from England. The English administrators either remained and became Jamaicans or appointed those they had trained into their positions.

Ten years later, in 1972 most high positions were occupied by those who were born in Jamaica.

In those days, a lower class Jamaican accent was a sing-song in which many proverbs were used. It was spoken clear enough that a person just arrived from England could understand what was being said, just as the local could understand the English speaker.

This changed in 1978 because of what I call the Havendale Riots.


In 1972 Michael Manley became Prime Minister and began a sweeping social change. Besides passing the largest number of social welfare legislation, he made education free. Free from primary to University.

Qualification was merit and merit alone.

To enter the University of the West Indies and study Law, for example, one needed a certain matriculation requirement. The top Fourty Four were selected. Regardless of who you were, where you came from, your bank balance or parent, the qualification was Merit.

This meant that the helper's child who scored higher than the Employer's child would be accepted. Accepted to the detriment of the Employer's child.

As the complexion of the helper and the employer were often the same, there was no method to create an apartheid.

In 1978 the Upper Class hit upon the 'Branding on the Tongue' and despite the exhortations of those who knew what would happen, the policy of "Patwa fi wi langwij" (Patois is our language) was adopted.

Children were no longer punished by teachers for poor English, for the usage of 'Mi' where 'I' should be, or the use of 'ting' instead of 'thing'.

To prevent the clarity of what was being done, the English 'O' level was replaced by the CXC; an easier modified exam.

In 1978 23% of all children taking the "O" Level English exam passed. In 1998 11% passed the CXC English exam.

This is to clearly portray the decline in English fluency in Jamaica.

Of course, Education is no longer free. And of course, the Upper Class speaks perfect English.

The Upper Class hires English tutors for their children. In fact, many of the Upper Class will not hire local servants but import them from other jurisdictions so that the child does not hear patwa often.

Those in the lower class can not speak nor understand English. The day of the Interpretor has arrived. Many persons, seeking to do business in Jamaica, have to hire interpretors who can speak to the Jamaican worker. Others import the majority of workers from their homeland on work permits.

Hence China, which is building a road will import a huge cohort of Chinese workers, hiring just as many Jamaicans as they are required to by law. This is because Jamaicans do not speak any known language and to give an instruction; "Do not touch that red wire or you will be electrocuted", will be answered with; "A wha u a seh?"

How it Worked

Jamaicans went from being English
speakers to being unable to
understand English.

This was done deliberately and
easily. Jamaicans were made to
believe that the pidgin they call
'Patwa' was 'their language' and
that speaking it was endowed with some pride.

The upper class has benefited greatly from this 'branding on the tongue'. Places at the better High Schools belong to them, the University belongs to them, and all the top jobs belong to them. Their children migrate easily for they speak English.

Never again will an employer see her helper's child gain a place at Law School over her child. Only those who can afford 1M can even think of sending their child to University.

The poor are permanently trapped in poverty. The only way out, of course, is if the child somehow, like Eliza Doolittle, learns to speak English.


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    • qeyler profile image

      qeyler 2 years ago

      Yes, precisely. If you speak a form of language that few know you can not communicate. Language is currency. We are lucky to know English. For English is spoken all over the world. To have the opportunity to speak English as the fist language and decline is like leaping into the ocean in chain mail.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Wow, your examples and descriptions were vivid indeed. Language exists so that we can communicate ideas. Language is currency.