Caribbean Connections

Vince Herbert: You may have gathered that someone ran into a parking meter. But the youngsters refused to translate for us themselves. The patois, or the dialect, has always been a way of keeping outsiders out. It was used in the old days by slaves from different parts of Africa who needed to talk to each other without the overseers understanding. Their descendants came to think of it as inferior - 'bad' and 'corrupt'. But for the last forty-five years it has had a champion in the poet Louise Bennett. Here she is in London with a huge audience, including many British Jamaicans.

Louise Bennett: The basic thing is the language, which we have been talking for three hundred years. Yes, my dear. And my Auntie Roachy say she no like nobody fi seh a no language at all at all, she vex, you know, about the whole rhythm of the language, mi child, you see. It's because all this folklore, and this culture that we have, come from all the different people who have lived in the country. And we just use it, and now we have our real West Indian, a real Jamaican culture. For my Auntie Roachy, she say, 'When the Asian culture and the European culture buck up on African culture in the Caribbean people:

We stir them up and blend them to we flavour,
We shake them up and move them to we beat,
We wheel them and we turn them
And we rock them and we sound them,
And we temper them and lawks the rhythm's sweet!'

Yes, mi dear, so then we don't need to shame of the things we have at all, at all. Like my Auntie Roachy say she vex any time she hearing the people a come style fi we Jamaica language as 'corruption of the English Language'. You ever hear anything go so? Aunt Roachy she say she no know why mek dem no call the English language corruption of the Norman French and the Greek and the Latin where they say English is derived from. Oonu hear the word: English 'derive' but Jamaica 'corrupt'. No, massa, nothing no go so. We not corrupt and them derive. We derive, too. Jamaica derive!

Linton Kwesi Johnson: We all owe a lot to Miss Lou. She was, of course, the first Caribbean poet to recognise the power and the beauty and the richness of the language as a natural vehicle for poetic expression, and she popularised dialect poetry, as it's called, writing in the local language of the people and about the problems and the issues and the aspects of life with which ordinary people could identify.

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