Resuscitating the use of indigenous language among youth : – Amerindian Affairs ministry to launch Arawak Language project

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REPORTS about the rapid deterioration of two Amerindian languages has resulted in President of The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOG) Mr Peter Persaud, calling on all Village Councils to grasp their remaining chances and salvage their native languages. He has also lauded the Amerindian Affairs Ministry for the initiative in launching the first Arawak Language Project in Guyana.

In addition to reports that the Arawak and Warrau vernacular are being eroded, Persaud disclosed that there has also been signs that the Carib language is being threatened. He charged the Village Councils to take up their responsibility as the heads of their communities and teach the youths the vernacular, affirming that this was the sole means to rescue the languages from being lost.

He noted that failure to transfer a native language to a younger generation is the basis for a language being lost; and he noted that this failure has been noticed in the various village councils’ neglect to convey traditions to the youths of their own villages.

“The key entity is the village council in order to ensure that Amerindian culture is preserved. We, as indigenous people, need an identity…our language is our identity,” he pointed out.

He asserted that the absence of a language creates a collapse in preservation of culture. He also noted that the indigenous people should rise up and take charge of securing their language and culture, instead of waiting on the Guyanese Government to commence another project.

Persaud, moreover, charged the people to practise their culture without shame or contempt of their identity. “It is sad that the youths cannot speak their own native language,” he said, as he lamented that, in the face of tremendous economic benefits when Amerindian villages become modernised, language deterioration is the major backlash.

“The miners come, and the Amerindians have to relate, so they learn to speak English. The younger ones think to themselves that they shouldn’t bother with culture, the gold is theirs.”

The more the English vernacular becomes widespread in Amerindian communities, he said, the greater the chance of the native language being lost or merged with the foreign language.

He said a few indigenous people are bilingual. “The elders know the language,” he said, explaining that, when they die, the language also suffers a swift death.

Persaud encouraged the people to communicate more in their native language, and he suggested that a comprehensive evaluation study be undertaken into the state of indigenous language in Guyana.

In an effort to salvage traditional indigenous language, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs has launched its first language project in Kapuri, Region Two. This project will target the Arawak language, which is on the verge of extinction. “If we don’t do something now, then we will lose our language,” said the Liaison Officer in the Amerindian Affairs Ministry, Yvonne Pearson, at unveiling of the calendar of activities for this year’s Amerindian Heritage Month. She said the Arawak and the Warrau languages are rapidly deteriorating.

The project will be launched on September 19. Over a ten-month period, the scheme will target children from four to 10 years old. The backbone of the project is to foster an appreciation for ancestral language.