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Right move, wrong reason

Warrick
Lattibeaudiere

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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¿Habla español? No mucho, un poco.

I read, with great interest, news of Prime Minister Andrew Holness's suggestion that Spanish be officialised into Jamaica's second language. Front and centre of that Jamaica Observer piece were past, present and potential booming investment opportunities Holness reeled out at the official opening of the Excellence Oyster Bay Hotel in Trelawny last Friday.

But surely, Holness, as diplomat and strategist, shouldn't want the nation to buy into making Spanish a second language solely on the backbones of economics and investment, especially since a Chinese cash cow is noticeably grazing Jamaica's pastures and the Government does not necessarily want any red flags raised at this time. So my support of Holness's stance is not from the standpoint solely of dollar value.

 

He who knows one language knows not his own

Not only is Spanish a global language, it's the world's second most spoken native language, boasting nearly 500 million people worldwide. And, sorry to disappoint, Spanish's position is not second to English. Mandarin, the same sacred cow, tops the list. But, in terms of Latin influence, English and Spanish are more cater-cousins.

Fiesta, macho, patio, plaza, burro, rodeo, guerilla, vigilante, cargo, and chorizo are just a sampling of Spanish words turned English. Plus, insofar as it relates to cognates, the two languages share great commonalities. The Jamaican on the street need not be told the meaning of director, comunicación, identidad, normalmente, pasivo, decorar, adicional, comunismo, artista, abominable, abundancia, arrogante, fantástico, astronomía, contacto and the hundreds of words with similar endings. Spanish, true, more than almost all other, is a phonetic language, sticking religiously to its pronunciation rules. It's not the English that you read today and read yesterday. A relatively easy language, Spanish, therefore, is for novices, who need not be in fear of ambush by spelling surprises. Though each language has its hurdles, taking on Spanish, as an example in language acquisition, could offer much in the exercise of brainpower. While memory is a primary key to improving language, language is a primary key to improving memory.

 

Make what's ours ours

The entire South America, save Brazil, has, as its official language, Spanish. It's influence in Uncle Sam up North, one of our primary destinations, is climbing at rocket speed. In terms of countries that speak it, Spanish comes in fourth position behind English, French and Arabic. In the Caribbean, our nearest neighbour to the north, Cuba, in addition to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico speak Spanish. Simplemente, we are surrounded by Spanish.

There is a more telling issue, however. Whether we like it or not, hardly can one erase our colonisation by the Spanish between 1492 and 1655. This call to bring Spanish into officialdom is well in line with learning about and appreciating our history and heritage. It is time that we own what is truly ours. While we are a sovereign nation, Spanish Town, formerly St Jago de la Vega, capital and seat of government and trade and commerce, is an indelible part of our history. So too are the places in our island home that bear strong vestiges of Spain: Rio Bueno, Rio Cobre, Savanna-la-Mar, Ocho Rios, Santa Cruz, Port Esquivel, and a host of many others.

 

Official language more than just talk

While celebrating the idea, this is easier said than done, but it doesn't mean that it cannot be done. It is commendable that this call issues primarily from the mouth of a game-changer, since legislating Spanish as a second language must be an initiative of Government that must be properly sold to the Jamaican people.

As far back as over a decade ago, the Reform of Secondary School Education (ROSE) programme sought to make Spanish more central to Jamaicans. There was much buzz around the language at the time, listening to the news on the radio in Spanish, and that was pretty much it. Not only would we need to surpass past efforts of centralising the language, but more is needed than just talk. If the Spanish language talks money, Holness, spend money to talk the Spanish language.

 

Put our money where our mouth is

“A man who has a language consequently possesses the world expressed and implied by that language,” opined Franz Fanon. Adopting Spanish does not happen in a vacuum. The life of any people is its language. We must, therefore, be willing to invest in promoting and sharing in the culture of Spanish speakers, even as we invite them to do so in ours.

In light of this, businesses, in tandem with Government, should be poised to develop staffers in the business of language acquisition, as they step up customer service from national to international standards. It is an utmost delight for foreign speakers to learn that another is learning their language to be of better service to them. This, unquestionably, goes a far way in sealing the bonds of good relations. This takes money.

At the secondary level, Spanish should be made compulsory. So, too, should those without exposure to Spanish be made to do required courses at the tertiary level. Any profession a person undertakes can only be enhanced by the acquisition of a new language — in this case Spanish. But before one speaks tertiary, the issue ought to have gained greater traction at the elementary and primary levels, requiring far more teachers at different levels of the educational system. Surely, an early start would lend greater competence with increased relayed knowledge the further one goes in the system of education. This takes time.

Legislating a foreign language is no waving of a magic wand. Government must be willing to have documents, signs, and other information in both languages; that is, there needs to be a move towards a veritable system of duplication. Even though the focus is language, it can't be all talk. Action needed, not a bag a mout'. This takes commitment.

As we reflect, therefore, on the prime minister's speech at the Excellence Oyster Bay Hotel, Trelawny, there is no doubt that a valuable pearl is to be had in our endeavour to make español la segunda lengua de Jamaica.

 

Warrick Lattibeaudiere lectures full-time in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Observer or wglatts@yahoo.com

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