THE PRESERVATION OF INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES

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Consumer Conern

A FACET OF NATIONAL PLURAL CULTURAL POLICY

SEPTEMBER each year has been set aside for the commemoration of Indigenous Heritage Month. This year, the commemoration had been launched on August 9 to coincide with the UNESCO International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The theme for the International Day was “Indigenous Languages” where focus was made on the preservation of the world’s indigenous languages which are fast disappearing. The theme of our Indigenous Heritage Month is “Maintaining our traditional practices while promoting a green economy” and much stress would be given to the preservation of the Indigenous Languages. Indeed, Hon. Valerie Garrido-Lowe, Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, who appears to be spearheading the various programmes which are being organised for the Month has indicated that she would be giving much emphasis to the preservation and use of the Indigenous languages.

The celebratory aspects of the Month would include Indigenous performing arts to which all sections of society would be invited. These shows would be along the lines of the successfully held Beyuka Erikida (‘Musical gathering’ in Arawak) which was organised by the Secretariat of the Ministry and people were given the opportunity of singing, dancing, storytelling and presenting poems in the nine Indigenous languages. The stories consisted of the traditional myths and legends, Indigenous ways and Hinterland life, and the protection of the Environment.

After speaking about the performing arts at the Media Launch at the Sophia Exhibition Centre, Minister Garrido-Lowe elaborated on the language preservation activities of the Month. “The Ministry”, she said, “will continue other initiatives that will ensure the Indigenous Languages are preserved. There would be the launching of a Patomona dictionary and the compilation of an Arecuna alphabet. There would also be a composition of the teachings of modules for the Arawak, Carib and Warrau languages, storytelling and musical festival, tourist handbooks and academic debates on the institutionalisation of Indigenous languages”.

Reinforcing J Minister Garrido-Lowe’s efforts at language preservation Minister of State Dawn Hastings – Williams declared: “Applications for employment and contracts were recently published in the Indigenous languages. Radio Aishalton carried broadcasts in the various Indigenous languages. Though English is the second language to many Indigenous children, it is the language in which national examinations are articulated. The Education Ministry is now seeking to introduce native languages in the schools across the Indigenous Regions”. The Minister then went on to point that it would be an advantage for public servants and policemen who would wish to work in the Indigenous Regions to learn some of the Amerindian languages.

Whatever efforts are being made so far are laudable but they are of an ad hoc nature and language preservation requires a great deal more expert and professional planning. Such would include Government adumbrating a National Language Policy which would be a facet of a National Plural Cultural Policy. A language policy would focus not only on Amerindian Languages but other languages which other groups, in particular, the African groups who are demanding Swahili be taught in schools and be offered at the CSEC examinations and Indian groups who are equally demanding Hindi – Urdu be officially recognized. Other than English, Hindi -Urdu is the most spoken language in Guyana in that it is heard in the hundreds of mosques and temples over the country, there are regular radio and television broadcasts and Bollywood films and live performances in that language are often staged. Studying the Language Policy of Suriname would help in formulating a Guyana language policy.

More immediately, in ensuring the preservation and continuum of the Indigenous languages, several activities will have to be addressed: Grammars and dictionaries of all nine Amerindian languages must be compiled. The words should be phonetically written and tapes should be made of speakers so that the pronunciations and accentuations could be preserved. Needless to point out, one alphabet should be used for all nine languages. Most importantly, the language which is most widespread and is spoken by most should be chosen as the Lingua Franca since this will ensure the continuum of an Amerindian language. The Lingua Franca would be learnt by all and non-Amerindians would be able to learn it. The Lingua Franca would borrow words from the various other Amerindian languages and in particular from English so that it could become a modern language.

Encouragement should be given for the speakers of the other Amerindian languages to use their particular tribal language as their “home language”. In this task of preservation of the Indigenous languages, interested philologists from the major universities should be invited to participate.