Much Embodied In A Country’s Language

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Embodied within language are the collective psyche, emotion and imagination of our people.

This is the view of the island’s Education Minister, Ronald Jones.

Addressing the Barbados National Bank’s Rightstart Primary School Speech Contest last Saturday at the Combermere School Hall, Minister Jones pointed out that language was used to record the past, report the present and empower us for the future. And, he explained: "The conceptual potential of language has stimulated persons to sacrifice their values in defence of it. Indeed, some have employed it as a tool to impel persons to action, as did Martin Luther King’s.

Students and their teachers were, therefore, urged to become exposed to the "beauty of the language" used by Dr. Martin Luther King and powerful speeches by The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, particularly his 1986 ???Mirror Image’ speech. "They too should be exposed to the beauty of the language, to the thoughts and the ideas which are expressed within those speeches," Mr. Jones said, adding that others included John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela.

He declared: "When you listen to those speeches they move humanity, not only in one sphere of the world but across the entire world and it shows you the power of words, of language to communicate and a whole lot of ideas; views and values as well."

Students were also introduced to the works of William Shakespeare, "because of the quality of his thoughts captured in prose and in poetry" and to Caribbean authors such as Barbadians Kamau Brathwaite and George Lamming, as well as Derek Walcott of St. Lucia. "There are so many who we can ask our young people to emulate because the language used embodied so much about the people’s history,?? culture, who we are, who we were, and what hopefully we should become," Minister Jones maintained.

While emphasising that language could be used to "mobilise, motivate or even degrade", the former educator said he abhorred its use to degrade young people. "Because, it becomes deeply embedded within the psyche, the mind… because of the damage done to very young and susceptible minds… We have to be careful how we use language to destroy. It is often better to use language to lift up and to praise those around us," he explained.

Students, parents and teachers also heard that a society could only develop on the basis of its ability to communicate effectively and Minister Jones underlined that since language shaped our thoughts, care needed to be taken as "words are more vicious than the stone or the stick". He further reminded his audience that as a people, who had emerged out of hundreds of years of harshness, brutality and victimisation, they should not perpetuate it into the 21st century.??

He said: "We need to give positive motivational behaviour, praise… the vicious condemnation is too much in our country. It should stop. As a people, we should liberate ourselves from that level of behaviour. And, therefore, as we use the English in our school setting, as we try to persuade those of our students who come into the classroom, with the language of the mind, predominantly the nation’s language [Bajan], it is not about beating it out of them but by using it within a parallel framework where English in truth and in fact becomes a taught language – the second language."

The Education Minister further stressed: "You don’t beat the nation’s language out of the people. You develop the second language as English is. It is not our first language. It has to be a learnt language; it has to be a taught language and, therefore, in our schools and in our homes that is what we have to do without trying to destroy it.

"We don’t destroy our artefacts; we have buildings three, four, five hundred years old and you can’t destroy them; they are protected but yet you want to destroy the nation’s language. No people can survive without that which is their own," Mr. Jones concluded.??

jgill@barbados.gov.bb

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