On behalf of the people of Jamaica, I extend a warm welcome to our visitors who have travelled from near and far to attend this International Conference on “Language Policy in the Creole-speaking Caribbean”. I hope you will have a profitable experience and also enjoy your stay here. A special welcome to my Governors-General counterpart from St. Lucia and Belize respectively, Her Excellency the Most Hon. Dame Pearlette Louisy and His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Colville Young
You will agree with me that language is critical to meaningful communication between human beings, and if for no other reason, therefore, the study of language is important. Language teaches us the precise sounds of words, how meanings evolve over time and how our minds structure words into phrases and sentences.
Some aspects of the language problems of the Caribbean Region are well-known, and from time to time the subject is discussed even in the media. The Patwa and/or English debate is always a hot topic in the Jamaican press. The decision to ‘translate’ portions of the Bible into Patwa has caused great concern to many purists of the English Language.
The Kriol and/or English issue is constantly debated in Belize as is the Creole versus French question in Haiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique. The Papiamento and/or Dutch question likewise, is also a subject of conversation in the media and public debate in Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba. Usually tied to these discussions is the issue of under-performance of school children in the European languages of wider communication such as French, Dutch and English.
Some language problems, however, receive a lot less attention than they deserve. For example, there are citizens in our Region who cannot speak the official languages of their countries and, as a result, are sometimes denied courteous and efficient services at public institutions. There is also the ongoing loss of our linguistic and cultural heritage as endangered languages, such as Creole, are increasingly abandoned by young people and are gradually falling out of use. When a language dies, a whole culture and hundreds or thousands of years of knowledge and tradition associated with it, die also.
The purpose of this Conference, as I understand it, is to discuss and agree on a Charter which would establish a set of principles that would guide measures to tackle the language problems of the Region. I wish you all the best in your deliberations over the next two days. It is my hope that you will indeed succeed in drafting a Charter on Language Policy and Language Rights in the Creole-speaking Caribbean which would fulfill all of its aims and also stem the loss of our Caribbean heritage. The Caribbean region would be the richer for your efforts.
My best wishes for a successful and productive deliberation.