Preserve our Languages, Strengthen our Cultural Identity.

Written by on March 14, 2024

Language is a marker of one’s culture and history. It denotes the origins of the people who live in a territory, whether the territory was colonised and by whom. Language can also indicate the influence of and the relationship between neighbouring countries. Thus, language plays a critical role in shaping and strengthening one’s cultural identity.

“We in Guyana still need to become aware of how our mother tongues, how our mother languages and everything that they represent – our culture, our diversity, our ethnicity- and how the transmission of those things matter to future generations.”

-Dr. Carolyn Cummings HOD Language and Cultural Studies

In Guyana, English is the official language. However, Guyanese Creolese is the most widely spoken language. It is the mother tongue of most Guyanese. A mother tongue or mother language is one’s native language. It is the first language that we learn and the primary language that we converse in during our formative years. It is also the language that we think in. Guyanese Creolese is a fusion of the languages of our ancestors. In addition to its obvious English roots, which is the product of British colonialism, the Guyanese Creole lexicon features words from other languages such as Dutch, Hindi and other Indian dialects, African Languages and our Indigenous Languages. Therefore, our creole language gives insight into our unique history. It is evidence of the cultures that make up our country and how these cultures interact and eventually intertwine with each other.

While Creolese may appear to be a broken or bastardised form of the English Language, Guyanese Creolese is, in fact, its own language. In an interview with EdYouFM, Dr. Carolyn Cummings, Head of the University of Guyana’s Department of Language and

Cultural Studies, explained that Creolese is a language because it has its own grammar and its own rules. It uses mainly English vocabulary because English is the lexifier language. A lexifier language is the base language of a creole or pidgin. This is the language from which most of the creole’s vocabulary is derived. Hence, English is the lexifier language of Guyanese Creolese. However, our creole pronunciations of English words are often very different.

For example:

English

Creolese

Over there

Ova deh

Work

Wuk

Morning

Maanin’

 

Dr. Cummings further explained that Guyanese creolese is its own language because it has its own syntax or sentence structure.

For example:

English

Creolese

Two girls are standing there.

Two gyal stan’ up down deh.

I am looking for a job.

Me ah look a wuk.

Are you hungry?

Yuh hungry?

Indigenous Languages

Guyana is one of a few Caribbean territories where Indigenous people still make up a significant portion of the overall population. Amerindians comprise 10% of Guyana’s population. There are nine tribes/nations, each with their own language. However, these

languages are rapidly fading away because they are not spoken as often. One such language is Lokono.

The Lokono language is one of the languages that is considered to be dying. There are less than two thousand speakers and with the passage of time and the inevitable passing of elders, the language is in danger of becoming extinct.

“If we want to save our language we must continue speaking it.”

– Sabantho Onyi Indigenous/lokono language teacher and activist

Sabantho Onyi (which means Beautiful Rain) is a Lokono language teacher and cultural activist who is working tirelessly to preserve and revitalise the Lokono language through music and drama. She works with the University of Guyana’s Guyanese Languages Unit (GLU) group of indigenous language translators.

Sabantho is making a concerted effort to pass on the language to her daughter. She uses music to teach her Lokono songs which help her to learn and retain vocabulary, and grow in the knowledge of her culture. At just 8 years old, little Shoko Murutha (which means Water Lily) already speaks Lokono fluently. This is Sabantho’s way of fostering intergenerational learning, revitalising the language through music and drama and developing her cultural identity as an Indigenous Lokono-speaking Guyanese.

NCERD supports Indigenous Languages

Mrs. Myra Pierre-Moore -NCERD

The National Centre for Education Resource Development (NCERD) is also working towards strengthening our Guyanese cultural identity through Indigenous languages. According to the Learning Resource Development Officer with responsibility for NCERD’s Library, Mrs. Myra Pierre-Moore, the library is developing teaching-learning resources for the Warrau language. At present,

there are flashcards for numbers as well as fruits, greetings, the days of the week, colours and shapes. The library is also working with other groups to create resources for the other indigenous languages. In addition, EdYou FM, the Education Ministry’s radio station will soon be recording lessons in the Indigenous Languages as well.

Folk Songs

Folk songs tell the stories of our ancestors from their perspective. They are sung in creolese, which is the mother language of most Guyanese. They give insight into their experiences and the social issues that were prevalent at that time. They cover themes like marriage, pregnancy, chastity and promiscuity, domestic violence, childhood and coming of age. They help us to understand the prevailing thought on topical issues and highlight how public opinion on those issues has changed. Folk songs also contain our local myths and legends. For example, the song about the Massacuraman. So these songs are a major part of our Guyanese Oral Traditions and they help to keep our mother language and our cultures alive. Therefore, it is important that we continue to sing these songs and teach them to the younger generation.

“If we have it written down it could pass from one generation to another and we keep it alive. But if we’re going to depend on just one person to remember all of it and keep it, it’s going to be challenging.”

– Gentian Miller, Senior Lecturer, University of Guyana Department of Language and Cultural Studies

 

Gentian Miller, Senior Lecturer, University of Guyana Department of Language and Cultural Studies sings Guyanese folk song “Bamboo Fire” for International Mother Language Day Presentation

Creolese and our Indigenous Languages tell the stories of our cultures, our history, our folklore and all of the characteristics that define us as Guyanese. Hence, in order to strengthen and improve our cultural identity, we must continue to speak our languages and pass them down to our younger ones.

Story by: Carlene Samuel 


EDYOU.FM

The Home of Family Edutainment

Current track

Title

Artist

Background