Eurocentrism comes up for air in the Caribbean: “Keep Patois at Bay”?

It’s not a big deal, really, to have some crust play into inferiority complexes and suck up to the powerful. But it remains amusing to say the least, and one wonders what could inspire someone to renew or perpetuate a tradition of self-contempt and desire to mimic that afflicted at least some Caribbean persons — Exhibit A:

Keep patois at bay
published: Friday | August 29, 2008

The Editor, Sir:

Let us keep patois out of our schools. It should remain what it is, a street language.

Patois is a word of of French origin which means to handle clumsily. It is often applied to any language that is spoken badly.

So patois as a second language? Who needs one? Let us try to master the one we now speak, and make it mandatory that our children learn the language of our trading partners so that they can communicate on an international basis.

Leave the English language as it is. We have mutilated it enough.

Under ‘colonialism’

We have been so eager to crawl out from under ‘colonialism’ now we want to abandon the English language, the most widely spoken language across the globe.

Ask the millions of Jamaicans living abroad now what patois has done for them. I rest my case.

I am, etc.,


P.O. Box 20

Morant Bay, st Thomas

The first bit of amusement comes from the author’s decision to place colonialism within scare quotes, suspending the word, as if grudgingly paying dues to history, reluctant to call Jamaica’s history as a slave colony colonialism. Now if that is what “learning proper English” did to you Mr. Hedmann, I recommend you take up residence in that same street you so malign.

The second bit of foolishness comes from casting a creole language as poor speech. Given that English is a creole language, I suggest that Mr. Hedmann get back to me once he has learned to write in Latin or French, and any of the other sources of the invented English language. A recent invention at that — the way Mr. Hedmann writes is recognizable as English only for the past two hundred years, at best.

The third bit of nonsense comes from the subservient genuflecting to whiteness: given the global prominence of China in international trade, Mr. Hedmann simply has the wrong language in mind. Now he has to add Mandarin to Latin, before he can get back to me. And this is the man who only wants to know one language.

The fourth bit of questionable material has to do with the idea of the number of people who speak English. Mandarin is spoken by the largest number of people. English is second. He will argue that English is spread all over the world. I will remind him of his Chinese neighbours, and the fact that the Chinese diaspora is the largest in the world.

The fifth joke has to do with his singular notion, “the English language.” Now which one would that be? The Canadian, American, Australian ones? The many varieties spoken within the UK itself?

Lastly, ask the millions of Jamaica living abroad what patois has done for them? Yes, I suppose that racism premised on skin colour suddenly decided to take a back seat to accents.

Keep patois in the schools, but get Mr. Hedmann back into school too.