[lg policy] FW: bak to jumieka taak/More on Starkey

Damien Hall D.Hall at KENT.AC.UK
Wed Aug 17 18:33:49 UTC 2011

John Rickford has just sent the following message to the Variationist List.  With apologies for cross-postings, I am forwarding it to the Language Policy List, as David Starkey's comments about 'Jamaican' language in the UK and the link he supposes it has with rioting have also been discussed here.



Another take on Jamaican and the Starkey commentary from Hubert Devonish, Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Jamaica Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.

Begin forwarded message:

> From: "DEVONISH,Hubert S L" <hubert.devonish at uwimona.edu.jm>
> Date: August 17, 2011 4:48:08 AM PDT
> To: John Rickford <rickford at stanford.edu>
> Subject: RE: bak to jumieka taak
>> Attached is a letter to the Jamaica Gleaner which addresses the issue from a Jamaican perspective, and which has not (yet) been published.  With best wishes, hubert
>> <Riot and Rastamouse.docx>


Of Riot and Rastamouse

Hubert Devonish
University of the West Indies
Kingston 7
13th August, 2011.

The Patwa versus English debate has flared up again, this time, not in Jamaica but in
good Olde England, the home of the English Language. It threatens to burn to black ashes
the linguistic purity of the Mother Country. And the fire with which is blazes is part of
the '... flames lambent, wrapped around Tottenham, wrapped around Clapham ...' which is
how the British historian, David Starkey, described the past week's rioting across London
and other English cities. This he does in a controversial BBC Newsnight TV programme
on 12th August. He goes on to say, ‘The whites have become black. A particular brand of
destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy
and girl operate in this language together. This language which is wholly false, which is
this Jamaican Patois that has been intruded in England. Which is why so many of us have
this sense of literally a foreign country.’ This is indeed the end of civilisation as we know
it, or at least as David Starkey knows it.

The riots have been satirically described in at least one publication as the Rastamouse
Riots. The reference here is to a BBC Children's cartoon series featuring Rastamouse,
an animated dreadlocked, reggae-singing mouse. Rastamouse fights crime and spreads
the gospel of peace and love. He, his crew and other characters, speak mainly using the
Jamaican Language, albeit heavily anglicised. This anglicisation, one suspects, is in
order to ensure understanding across the wider, non-Caribbean population in the UK.
The series has been a huge hit for the BBC amongst children across all communities
in England. The BBC has, however, been bombarded with complaints about the series
on two counts. The first is that of racial stereotyping. The second,interestingly enough
given the heavy anglicisation of the Jamaican spoken by the characters, the use of 'slang',
read 'Jamaican Language'. According to one source, up to March this year, the BBC had
received over 100 complaints about the series, 6 about racism and 95 about language.
The language of this Jamaican language speaking mouse gnaw out the heart of linguistic
rectitude in the land of Milton, Shakespeare, Chaucer and the King James Version of the

It seems that the Jamaican Language has as many enemies in England as it has in
Jamaica. In England, it has come be viewed as the source of riot, of fire and the
flames. The English speaking whites of Olde England are in the process of becoming
linguistically and culturally black, if we are to believe David Starkey. This is happening
through the infiltration of Jamaican language and culture via a Patwa-speaking Rasta
mouse, children's cartoon character who undermines the citadel of the English language
at its centre. This he does by contaminating the speech of children and young people in
Olde England. Rastamouse is an honest, crime fighting, peace and love rodent. However,
a desire to imitate the Jamaican language he speaks, however heavily overlaid with
English, is, if we are to believe David Starkey and his ilk, sufficient to inspire thousands
of otherwise good, peace loving, law abiding white, English young people to rise up, loot
and torch huge portions of the great English industrial cities of London, Birmingham,
Manchester and Nottingham.

This then is the power of the Jamaican language! The Empire has struck back or, in
the famous words of Miss Lou, the Hon. Louise Bennett Coverly uttered early at the
start of the Jamaican migration to England in the 50s and 60s, ‘Jamaica colonising
England in reverse’ / Jamieka kalanizin Ingglan in rivors. The heat generated by the
Jamaican language has turned white people black and burnt the shining buildings of
English cities to black ash. There are those back home here in Jamaica who argue that the
Jamaican language should not be given any official recognition in Jamaica nor used in the
education system. The reason they give is that Jamaican is not an international language
and not used outside Jamaica. Well, perhaps, they should ask Rastamouse or, better yet,
David Starkey.

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