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Patois Association working to revive dyng language

By Leiselle Maraj Monday, April 15 2013

Parents and grandparents in Trinidad and Tobago used it when they did not want sharp younger ears to listen in on their conversation.

They would be speaking English then break off into strange yet pleasant sounding prattle which left children confused but even more curious about what was being said.

There is less of that these days, not because adults are more comfortable sharing their secrets with their children but because Patois is a dying language throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.

At least one group is hoping to change this. The Association of Patois speakers from Paria (Venezuela) in collaboration with the Venezuelan Government, the Venezuelan Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture, the Venezuelan Institute for Culture and Cooperation (Trinidad and Tobago) and the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus recently hosted the Sixth Conference of Patois Speakers of Venezuela and the Caribbean.

The three day event took place at UWI between last Wednesday and Friday with visits to Paramin and Tabaquite, areas within Trinidad where the language is spoken still.

Patois, Patwa, Patuá, Creole, Créole, French Creole, Creole French, Kwéyòl and Kreyol, whatever it is called, describes the language created by settlers within the region from Europe, Africa and other groups.

Twelve million persons speak Patois in the Caribbean region. Venezuelan Ambassador Coromoto Godoy expressed the belief the language can be used to integrate the Caribbean and the Americas at the level of the people.

She said countries within these territories share similar values and cultures and its people should work on developing these aspects that unite and build solidarity.

To this end, the Venezuelan Embassy would be offering free Patois classes to the Trinidad and Tobago public from July.

Venezuela, she said, is working to increase Patois usage by working on getting young people to learn the language.

Professor Esteban Emilio Mosonyi of the Universidad Central de Venezuela (Central University of Venezuela) during the panel discussions on Wednesday also said Patois links Venezuela to the rest of the Caribbean islands and can lead to greater cultural exchange.

With the aid of a translator, he said in Venezuela, he has seen the rebirth of Patois despite financial restrictions faced by the Association. Patois varies through the different regions of Venezuela and even through the Caribbean and Mosonyi recognised there could not be one strain of the language that encompasses all.

He said however there must be space for all and the Association has been working to increase usage by visiting different villages with professors to teach residents the Patois dialect of their region.

He gave a history of the language which in the past has been shunned because it had been regarded as “bad French”.

The 1999 Bolivarian Constitution recognised Patois as a valid language. Financing and support from the Venezuelan government, he said, means that the language would not die but would soon flourish in that country.

“We need to understand and improve the situation in which Patois exists and cease its strangulation.

“We need to find new speakers to speak the language fluently.

“We need to have people using it to converse in public and private spaces and they must be able to speak it well.

“Just as our grandparents spoke it in their day to day life,” Mosonyi said, adding this was a true measure of fluency in the language.

He suggested that learning begins at the kindergarten level with grandparents assisting in teaching Patois. “By the age of ten to 12 years, children would already have had foreign influences.

“We need to have it being taught in homes so children would be taught it alongside international cultures,” he said, adding that he was sure there were Patois speakers within the Caribbean who could also assist in reviving the language.

Omaira Gutiérrez in her discourse of “Government Initiatives and New Laws” said in translated English, the 1999 Constitution was a great step forward for Patois speakers. “Our grandparents, some of whom were still alive, began to recognise Patois as part of who they were and they had a right to show their culture. Formal schooling closed the door to them if they spoke the language but our grandparents were proud to speak the language of the Caribbean,” she said.

A number of policies, she said, have been implemented during the time in which the Conference of Patois Speakers of Venezuela and the Caribbean has been held.

With Ambassador Godoy’s support, Gutiérrez said, the initiatives of the Association would be further recognised.

The Association, she said, has been working to increase Patois usage with prepared materials such as CDs with Patois music, calenders with recipes to involve non-Patois speakers. She said the Association also developed a strategy to provide material for schoolchildren and training workshops for teachers.

The Association hopes that these measures would soon increase Patois’ stronghold in Venezuela and it would soon be fully recognised as a valid language throughout the world.

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