Dominica fights to save Creole trained by Caribbean slaves

San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP) — Elementary school students stood up, lowered their face masks, and leaned against Mike. She swallowed hard before trying to spell the word “discovery” in French Creole.

“DEKOVI” I tried while standing in front of a line of glittering trophies and holding my hand behind my back.

A few seconds later, the teacher announced, “Sorry, that’s not right.” According to her, the word is “dékouvè”.

The student sat down with his lips pursed and temporarily collapsed on the Creole spelling bee on the island of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean Sea. The difficulty of her language is unusual in a small country trying to preserve and promote centuries-old creations by Africans who fused their original tongue with the tongue of a enslaved European plant owner. There is none.

As is known in the Dominican Republic, Kweyor is one of many Creole variants spoken on more than 12 islands in the Caribbean.

Clive Forrester, a professor of linguistics at the University of Waterloo, Canada and secretary of the Caribbean Linguistics Society, said: “Although attitudes have improved, the underlying emotions are still there. Almost everything related to African culture is seen as less authoritative than European culture.”

Dominica officials, an island of about 75,000, want to change that perception. They began teaching Kweyor this year at 16 of the 56 elementary schools on the island with a short fragment, “Pause for 5 minutes for the cause of Creole.” They say the lack of teachers who speak Kweyor is hindering a wider range of programs.

Charlene White-Christian, a modern language coordinator at the Dominica Ministry of Education, learns the roots of the language and simple words and phrases, and some compete with the spelling bee, which was introduced 11 years ago.

She is still learning more of the language because her parents never talked to her: she learned through friends and from studying linguistics.

“We don’t want to lose it,” she said. “We consider language to be part of our culture. Without language there is nothing.”

To maintain the language, Dominica scholars published two Kwéyòl dictionaries (latest 150 pages long) to say words such as “computer” and “flash drive” that had no equivalent to Creole. We are working on a third dictionary to discuss.

Raymond Lawrence, chairman of the Dominican Creole Research Committee, said: “Dictionaries take time.”

While only a handful of Caribbean countries have so far officially declared, such as Haiti, Aruba and Curacao, pride in the local Creole language has increased in recent years. Very few offer regular lessons, and experts say they don’t know where it is the main language of education.

The version spoken in Dominica and nearby Saint Lucia was a mixture of African languages, French originally spoken by the first settlers, and sometimes a few indigenous languages. The Dominican Republic was a French colony for 48 years and then a British colony for 215 years. This also led to the rise of English-based creoles on the island.

The most widely spoken French Creole is in Haiti, a country with a population of over 11 million. Thousands also speak the former French colony of Louisiana’s Courivini Creole. Linguists say that some people in the very rural areas of the country, including Haiti and Jamaica, often speak only the Creole language because they did not go to school.

Hubert Debonish, a professor of linguistics in Jamaica and a member of the International Center for Regional Language Studies in the Caribbean, said Papiamento, a Portuguese-based Creole language, was used in Aruba and Curacao by the local Sephardim Jewish community. Said it was done.

The English-based Creole language echoes in the music of the country, from the Gullahs on the North Carolina coast to the Patois in Jamaica.

According to Devonish, English creole may have developed in Barbados in the late 1640s after the local population of African slaves increased above the white population. He added that the French Creole language may have been first developed on the island of St. Kitts, the first French plantation colony.

Since then, language has evolved over the centuries, influenced by education, migration, and the relationship between the island and former colonial forces.

Some people abandoned the Creole language to escape poverty and discrimination, but some educated elites eventually seized the Creole language as a symbol of national identity and campaigned for them. I did.

In many Caribbean countries, “it is widely accepted that people must speak the language to participate in national life,” he said. That hasn’t happened yet in the Dominican Republic.

“So far, you can be a Dominican even if you can’t speak Creole. Dominicans are in a serious situation of language attrition,” he said.

Experts don’t know why the language was eroded in the Dominican Republic more than on other islands. Due to the rigor of English-focused education, or the presence of a competing English-based creole known as Cocoi, introduced by workers on other islands in the late 19th century and spoken by residents of the northeastern part of the island. Some suggest that it may be.

Forester said the impetus for preserving and promoting the Creole language was born in the 1960s, when the Caribbean experienced its own Black Power movement.

“Various artifacts of Caribbean culture, music, spirituality and language have been reviewed and in some ways enhanced by cultural supporters,” he said. “Language came for the vehicle.”

Social media also plays a role, with teens and young adults posting in Creole, said Forester, whose native language is Jamaican Creole. He said he has some pride in using Creole, but more so for those who have mastered English.

He said that the most endangered language in the Caribbean is the dying French Creole in Trinidad, and despite trying to revive it, it is spoken by only a handful of older people. Said that. ..

“Language is a living thing,” he said. “Creatures do not live forever.”

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