Jamaican Bible Translation Should be a Grassroots Movement

I write in reference to the recent debate regarding the patois translation of the Bible, which I think would be a significant waste of time, effort and money for several reasons. It must be acknowledged from the outset that patois is a dialect, as opposed to a language. A dialect is a variation of a language usually based on regional or social class speech patterns that is typically unwritten.

This point is significant because a dialect is primarily for oral communication. Patios is a much more individualized form of expression than I think most people realize. Any subjective attempt to translate the Bible in patois would be done in an ad hoc or piecemeal basis because patois is not standardized in terms of spelling, vocabulary, grammar or pronunciation.

The ability to speak patois does not translate into the ability to read or write in patois. In the context of the rampant illiteracy in Jamaica, it is a waste of resources to translate the Bible because those who cannot read standard English will not be able to read  patois. Therefore, the translation exercise would not accommodate or cater to the proclaimed target audience.

The issue of a standardized communication in the nation should be handled well because it is the key to development of the nation.

First world nations have very efficient means of communication. Patois is not a particularly effective or efficient means of communication, imparting or disseminating knowledge. It has very little place in formal written texts such as the Constitution, statutes, and regulations. Although patois lends itself well to artistic expression, comedy and the expression of anger, I believe it contributes to the conflict or lack of conflict resolution in the nation.

I have observed that patois lends itself to stating conclusions rather than develop a point. In fact, instead of explaining how a conclusion is reached, most Jamaicans prefer to merely repeat their conclusions in a louder voice, with the preamble “Mi seh…! ” In order to communicate to resolve conflict one must be able to articulate the interests, rationale, or reasoning behind their stated positions to foster understanding and find common ground. Patois does not lend itself to this nuanced process.

The goal of our education system must include preparing our students for the globalized world economy. This is best achieved by using the national language of English, which happens to have major international influence. It seems as if we are not appreciating this
advantage by complicating the issue by advocating that literary works should be translated into patois for individuals who are not particularly literate in any language.

English is not necessarily superior to patois. But English is obviously more developed or sophisticated than patois. By definition, languages are more developed than dialects. This is trite. The fact that many students may consider English a foreign language is evidence of a failed public policy that has negatively affected the Jamaican population.

It is unfortunate that so much focus is being misplaced on this issue when illiteracy is so prevalent and the best international practices are not being followed in our Education system. The matter of translating the bible does not appear to be a grass roots movement, but rather an ivory tower intellectual debate with little merit.

Antonn Brown
Mandeville, Jamaica

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