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Revive National Language in Dominica and St. Lucia
By Peter Richards
Inter Press Service

    PORT OF SPAIN, Apr 11 (IPS) - Every year the people of Dominica and St. Lucia celebrate 'Kweyol' or the traditional Creole language and culture. For one week in October, they dress in 'Kweyol' fashion, and on one day they speak only in 'Kweyol'.
   ''The sounds of Kweyol permeate the entire society and has become part of the consciousness of even those who are not primarily Kweyol speakers. The language and culture are intertwined,'' observes St. Lucia's Folk Research Centre (FRC).
   The FRC in a report, titled 'Status of the Kweyol Language in St. Lucia', observes that ''not only is the Kweyol language becoming more powerful, but the Kweyol culture is gaining momentum and a wider acceptance.''
   Kweyol or Creole is a broken form of French, and constitutes the most important means of communication among local people mostly on those islands where there were early French settlers.
   But the Creole-speakers are predominantly rural folk. Since the 1950s, parents in the urban centres, anxious for their children to speak only in English -- seen as a means of social mobility -- have discouraged its use.
   Now, the Kweyol language and culture are witnessing a revival. In a recent symposium, the FRC described Kweyol as a ''train with many cars carrying many voices with many experiences.''
  It said ''our vehicle has emerged through wide and rugged terrain and we are determined to service it with the necessary components so that we can reach our friends and fellow workers on any route in any part of the world.''
   In Dominica, as in St. Lucia, where the language has gained much popularity because of the involvement of the mass media, particularly radio and television, attempts are now being made to have Kweyol taught in secondary schools.
   Last summer for the first time, the Dominica government introduced the idea of Kweyol classes as a subject offered in schools and late last month, the Department of Culture held a weekend workshop on 'teaching people how to teach and write the language.'
   ''We are going to meet with the government to discuss the idea of introducing the language into schools, on a pilot project for now, and then move on,'' says Felix Henderson, the former president and current executive member of the Committee for Kweyol Studies in Dominica.
   Henderson has been playing a significant role in the development of the language on the island. Apart from publishing a number of books on the language, he has been hosting a daily radio programme in Kweyol for more than 20 years.
   In addition, he conducts a workshop on Kweyol annually for the US Peace Corps volunteers who are to be stationed in the region. ''The language has gained much acceptance over the years,'' he says.
   According to the FRC, Kweyol is ''alive and well in the two islands noting that people are using the language to express themselves with a new confidence.
   ''They speak it more openly. Increasingly many of our qualified people speak the language unaffected by the prejudices of former times. The use of the language by the mass media has enabled discussion on important issues by all the workers across the various fields,'' it noted.
   Last year, the St. Lucia government amended the Standing Orders of the island's Parliament to allow parliamentarians to debate issues in Kweyol. There are also moves now to provide bilingual services in magisterial courts, particularly in the area of record keeping and note taking.
   Both Dominica and St. Lucia are seeking the approval of their respective governments in sign-posting in Kweyol, as well as the use of Kweyol orthography to write names on maps. The establishment of a Kweyol presence on the Internet is also being considered.
   The language has gained international appeal, with both Dominica and St. Lucia publishing dictionaries. While Dominica has its 'Kweyol Dominik', the FRC has published 'Kweyol: A Basic Guide' as a means of contributing to the basic grammar of the language. Dominica is also publishing a Book of Kweyol Proverbs.
   Another development has been the translation into Kweyol of the New Testament by the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a project that took 12 years to complete. The translation is expected to assist in Kweyol literacy among the Christian community.
   In addition, the language has gained further appeal through the arts including music, resulting in the formation of a number of bands playing 'Cadence' developed by the Dominican group Exile One, which is also known in the French as 'Zouk'.
   Dominica has called its annual carnival celebrations ''Mas Dominik'' and now stages an annual International Music Festival featuring bands playing the Cadence or Zouk from St. Lucia and the neighbouring French islands.
   Playwright and dramatist Kendell Hippolyte speaking at the FRC symposium said theatre and dance have contributed to the survival of the language. It has flourished in traditional theatre and dances, while experimentation by the FRC and Folk Theatre Workshops has encouraged the use in professional theatre.
   Other groups like the Creole Theatre Workshop have translated a number of Caribbean plays into Kweyol, taking the productions to the neighbouring French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.
   Other important initiatives include the compilation of a Kweyol Spell Check for use with Microsoft Word programme by educator Dr Didacus Jules of the Ministry of Education in St. Lucia, which is now spearheading the Kweyol Multimedia Product Development Committee geared towards curriculum design and the production of materials for teaching adult Kweyol literacy.
   A resolution at the St. Lucia symposium on the development of the language has placed emphasis on establishing a national language policy. It was also felt that the Commission should be allowed the latitude to identify all other areas to be included.
   Dr Hubert Devonish, senior lecturer in Linguistics at the University of the West Indies, who has written extensively on the national languages in the Caribbean, suggested at the symposium that the policy be derived from consensus, urging ''a great deal of public education.''
  This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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