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Home Letters POINT OF ORDER, M’DAM SPEAKER

POINT OF ORDER, M’DAM SPEAKER

Dear Editor,
Standing Orders govern the conduct of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. One such order stipulates that the language of the House shall be English. Not the Queen’s English—whatever that might mean—but English. I feel compelled to ask, then, why your correspondent (See: “Julius right about Kriol” (Amandala 30/4/2021)) suggested that the Standing Order doesn’t prohibit the injection of other languages into the debates.

His op-ed arose from the use of a Creole word, “bwai” that was uttered by Mr. Espat (the member named by him) in a derogatory context while referring to another member of the House. And the question was whether Creole is permissible in the debates. Apart from the clear statement to the contrary, there are other solid reasons for not doing so. Let’s start with the obvious:

• It is the law.

• English is the official language of Belize.

• Because of the use of this universal language, reports of House meetings are readily readable by our international geopolitical partners, global financial institutions and the foreign press.

• There is manifest disrespect for one’s company when a speaker suddenly switches to a language/dialect understood by only a section of his audience.

The case for some Creole to be allowed was mooted in the piece. Of course, if that happens, then because of our diverse cultural makeup there would be no justification for not allowing the use of other native languages—Spanish, Garifuna, Maya— too. So then, no Creole!

But what really bedevils Creole is that it’s still only a dialect, lacking one of the three conditions needed for recognition as a language. Missing is a body of literature: read, written and understood by a significant and well-defined population.(1)

Creole also wreaks havoc on our need for good Std.VI English. Part of getting our Teachers’ Diploma involved teaching a class in a Belize City school. A dictation exercise I gave had the phrase “instead of,” and one student’s paper came back with the word “incider” (pronounced in-SIH-der), as that’s what was heard in the playground.

Lastly, let’s not forget the caution voiced by Smokey Joe: “Profanity is the normal language for this country.” (Amandala 5/0912004.) But wait—I thought that was “Creole,” what everyone speaks in Belize.

Well, it is, and getting down and dirty in Creole involves a hefty seasoning of cuss words. Ask the fisherman on the pier in Backlanding who has cast his rod all day and caught nothing. And don’t think he has forgotten those four-letter pegs just because he has made it to the Parliament house!

A final thought. Much has been made of this notion of “The Queen’s English,” both by the representative in question and the media. It’s called that, not because of any special queenly qualifiers. It’s what you and I learned in Std.VI. (Lawyerlese is different.) A representative who has problems matching subjects and predicates wasn’t paying attention in class.

Oops! There’s one other explanation, and it has to do with those bedeviling constructions in Creole referred to above. In Creole we say “He hav’ (or gat) a bad habit,”, and nurture makes us think it’s also good for our Std.VI English. It’s not! Or what of that embedded practice in our dialect to convert a statement into a question by simply tacking a question mark onto it? We would say, “You saw his face?” rather than “Did you see…?” Listen for it on the next evening news! Oh, the many Creole snares that draggle the unawares.

So, Madam Speaker, Creole must be kept out of the House, unless it’s a joke they want, in which case there’s no better medium than our incomparable Creole (or that is Kriol?).

Hart Tillett,
Belmopan.

(Endnotes)
1 Adapted from notes given by Sir Colville Young to an A-level Literature class, 1963.

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