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Sunday, July 15, 2007



Dr. Lester CN Simon

Sometimes you have to give people what they want. Otherwise they will kill you for it and you will not be around to hear them wish they had listened to you. So let all of us agree to ban dialect from the school compound and put the Chief Education Officer and all her supporters of the ban on dialect to the test.

The declared basis for the ban on dialect on the school compound is that dialect interferes with what the students write and how they write. If the aim is to stop dialect from interfering with what the students write and how they write, banning dialect as a singular act will not do this. The first step is to declare English a second language (no marks for guessing which language is first) and teach it as such. The second step is to declare English the national language and the official language in school, at official ceremonies, etc.

One of the many ways to teach a second language, including English, is to accept the primary language that is spoken and declare that, for the purpose of learning English, no other language will be tolerated on the school premises. Similarly, for students learning Spanish or French, no other language, including English, will be spoken in Spanish or French class unless sanctioned by the teacher depending on the type of Spanish or French lesson undertaken. What we do in the classroom for teaching Spanish and French, we do throughout the entire school compound for teaching English, with no exceptions. So we can very easily justify the banning of dialect.

Enter the Rosetta Stone. What does Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia, say about Rosetta Stone? Rosetta is a port city on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, some 40 miles east of Alexandria, which itself extends along the coast of the Mediterranean sea in north-central Egypt. The Library of Alexandria was the largest library in the ancient world. With the decline of Alexandria following the Ottoman conquest of Egypt, Rosetta boomed. Rosetta is famous as the site where the Rosetta Stone was found by French soldiers in 1799. The Stone itself was created in 196 BC. It is about 45 inches high, 29 inches wide and 11 inches thick, weighing about 1,676 pounds.

The text of the Rosetta Stone, written in two Egyptian language scripts and in classical Greek, is a decree by the Egyptian ruler, Ptolemy V. Comparative translation of the text of the stone assisted in understanding many previously undecipherable examples of ancient writing systems. The Rosetta Stone has become idiomatic for something that is critical to the process of translating or solving a difficult problem. The Ministry Of Education needs a Rosetta Stone and we must give them one.

The name Rosetta Stone is used also for the title of a computer-based language learning program. The adverts for the program refer to the use of the award-winning Dynamic Immersion method in their interactive software. Immersion is a recognized method of teaching a foreign language by the exclusive use of that language. They reportedly combine thousands of real-life images and the voices of native speakers in a step-by-step immersion process. The central claim and the crux of their successful program is that they successfully replicate the experience of learning your first language.

Now you see where we are going and where the stone is heading. The Ministry of Education can ban dialect all they want. We cannot teach English to our school children properly unless and until we understand how we learn our first language in the first place. To successfully replicate the West Indian and Antiguan and Barbudan experience of leaning dialect and use that experience to teach English by the immersion method, we will require thousands of real-life local images, native speakers, etc., to speak and teach English. We will have to study at great depth and in precise, scientific detail the very language, dialect, that they want to ban. You have to know the “enemy” well to vanquish it and not just banish it. The simple, banal usage of other real-life images and native speakers from England or North America, will be unreal, counterproductive and alienating to our Antiguan and Barbudan and West Indian school children.

While we are banning dialect from the school compound in the penumbra of a national library, will someone please explain away my digital madness? There I was re-tuning and re-tuning my digital radio, trying desperately to find ABS and not the proximate Spanish radio station when I realized, with no power outage at ABS, we were no longer in the analog era when you can be a little crazy, half crazy or totally crazy. In these digital times, you are either totally crazy or not crazy at all, with no betweenity.

So why, my dear good people, after paying my taxes to help run my national radio station, ABS, do I have to listen to my radio station insulting me and driving me digitally mad? On ABS, standard English is as rare as rocking horse manure (apologies to all equines, real and unreal). Yet, they broadcast my local news about my people, my guests in my land, in a foreign language, which might very well include Spanish dialect for all I know. Is this a part of the miscellany of nonsense we call education in Antigua and Barbuda?

One good thing about learning English by immersion, which is the only sensible, Rosetta-Stone way out for the Ministry of Education, is that you have to know, respect and revere what is native, dry land. Bring on the ban! Thank heavens so-called ordinary people do not see this unnecessary botheration about banning dialect and the very condescending contents of this article as a miscellany of nonsense. They simply call it what it is: “A pile a …….”

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