September 11, 2019

The Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona says it will be leading national conversation on the appropriate positioning of the Jamaican language in official spaces.

This discussion, under the slogan ‘Make Jamaican Official…Just Do it’ is the Unit’s contribution to the 100 days of activities planned to celebrate the centenary anniversary of the birth of renowned poet and cultural ambassador, Louise Bennett-Coverley, affectionately known as ‘Miss Lou.’

The Unit says it is hoping that this discussion will encourage the Government to move to make the Jamaican language official, alongside English.

Speaking recently, Professor within the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the UWI, Mona, Hubert Devonish said that a meeting will be held with “friends” of the Jamaican language on September 26, to plan the public discussion, which is slated to begin October 1.

“We want to go to all the parish capitals, churches, community groups, and so on, where we would be having discussion about whether the Jamaican language should be made official and what does that mean,” he said.

Professor Devonish is a long-time proponent of making Jamaican Patois and official language. He has created a writing and spelling system for Jamaican Patois. 

Professor Devonish said that the meeting will also identify the needs at government entities “so that when people visit [public officers] can provide the service in any of the languages that people feel that they want to use, offering respectful and efficient service”.

On November 1, the Language Unit will launch a 40-day online petition “to ask Parliament to pass legislation to grant official status to the Jamaican language alongside English”.

This will be followed by a symposium at UWI on December 10, “which will pull together all the discussions that we would have had with the groups with a view to putting together a report,” he noted.

“This report, we hope, backed by hundreds of thousands of signatures from the online petition, will represent our gift to the Government and eventually the Parliament that will form the basis for legislation that would grant official status to the Jamaican language, alongside English,” Professor Devonish said.

The centenary anniversary celebrations for Miss Lou are being spearheaded by the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport in partnership with the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, Regional Coordinating Office and other stakeholders.