Studying dialects is a worthwhile educational pursuit
By Naomi Ambrose,
“Mwen la” (pronounced mweh lah) was the answer I gave to one of my childhood friends recently when she asked me how I was doing. I could have replied by saying, “I’m okay,” however, I chose to answer her in Creole. A language so beautiful deserves to be spoken and heard, and with a history so rich it deserves academic attention, as do other dialects.
Encyclopedia Britannica defines Creole as “vernacular languages that developed in colonial European plantation settlements in the centuries as a result of contact between groups that spoke mutually unintelligible languages.” As someone who speaks and studied the Creole language, I’ll further expand the definition by adding that the groups mentioned often comprised African slaves, as well as the English and French colonists. Some of the descendants from these colonies still speak Creole.
As I reflect on my response to my friend’s question, I remember an ongoing debate that centres on the relevance of teaching dialects like Creole in schools. The question of teaching nonstandard or unofficial languages was addressed in a recent Economist article that stated, “In sub-Saharan Africa, only Tanzania, Ethiopia and Eritrea do not use a colonial language at all during primary education. Others use either English or French.” The article mostly addresses the language curriculum for younger children in Africa and South Asia, where English is the language of much business and higher education but not the mother tongue, and discusses the issues around educating students in a language that local instructors may not even be familiar with. However, I believe that the point raised in the article could be used to highlight the importance of placing more emphasis on teaching and studying nonstandard languages everywhere.
As a tool for learning about a country’s history, becoming educated about dialects makes sense. By using words, phrases, and sentences that illustrate the language spoken by a group of people who played a key role in the country’s origin, you’ll have a higher chance of remembering the significance of these groups.
Studying nonstandard languages could also be a lively way to teach history. A history class doesn’t have to live up to the commonly held misconception that history is mostly about memorizing important dates and events. To alleviate this memorization mundanity, educators and history faculty members could place more emphasis on teaching history classes by using skits, sketches, or plays with dialects.
Apart from being a learning tool, dialects may also help students to increase their cultural awareness. Instead of just reading a book about the language, students who actively engage in speaking dialects may connect and learn more about the people of the country.
While it’s worthwhile to question the usefulness of allocating time, money, and resources to learn a non-English, nonstandard language spoken by a few people, I believe the benefits may outweigh these concerns. Students can gain a lot from increasing their cultural or historical awareness through dialect studies.