Our Readers' Opinions
March 31, 2006

Breadfruit Talk

Editor: Sir Louis Straker, in a recent address at the CXC National Awards Ceremony, used the words “breadfruit talk” to describe and discourage a deteriorating standard of English expression tolerated in the school system among teachers and students. The opinion has since been stated and published that the Minister went adrift on several counts.

First of all, anyone who heard Sir Louis’ presentation or who heard even only the excerpt containing the unfortunately paired words would have been left with little doubt as to his sincerity about a matter that he believes is helping to put brakes on the personal development of far too many of today’s and tomorrow’s stakeholders. And, I share that view. {{more}}

I am no educator; neither am I versed on matters of culture. But, I reject the notion that our literacy skills would thrive in a dialect-first, standard English-second setting. I just can’t see it. What I am apprehensive about is the unjustified risk at which we may unwittingly place our critical and somewhat shaky planks of reading, comprehension, communication and learning. Moving along in that vein, we may even limit the options of our people in this liberalized and shrinking world, a world in which we will need to be understood by as many as possible, with great efficiency and in quick time. This is not to say that our present efforts and initiatives towards self-sufficiency and self-determination would be all for naught but… like every wily investor, perhaps we ought to hedge our bets.

To take on dialects and to bring them into their own, many more of us must first strive to get the elements of standard English and standard communication under our belts. I would imagine that there are tested and tried pathways upon which our people would be able to position, structure and formalize our own dialects as obtains in Dominica, St. Lucia and other dialect-rich territories. But, would mastery of standard English at differing levels not be a key tool in achieving this positioning? The long and short of it is that those of us who need to should now eagerly board the literacy bus at whatever stop we now find ourselves and “lively up” our standard English skills. That way, we would likely reduce our chances of ending up with small, demarcated dynasties of standard English facilitators forever ministering unto growing masses of those who will need to be facilitated.

Finally, and on a lighter note, I take a bit of comfort in the thought that Sir Louis’ unfortunate words were well and properly understood by the intended beneficiaries of his advice.

J. Williams