A September 6, 2015 story in The Jamaican Gleaner about Jamaican boys resisting English because it is considered “girlish” is at once surprising and familiar to me. It is surprising because I had always thought Jamaica was a native English-speaking nation. I had no idea that most people in this Caribbean nation of nearly 3 million descendants of enslaved West Africans are so wedded to their English creole (called Patois or Patwa), which is similar to Nigerian Pidgin English, that they don’t give a care for the English language.
But the feminization of English proficiency in Jamaica doesn’t surprise me because a somewhat parallel attitude exists in predominantly black communities in America, where speaking Standard English is often derided as “acting white” or being “bourgie.” As I wrote in my February 16, 2014 article titled “25 Black American English Expressions You Should Know,” “Bourgie (pronounced boo-zhee)… is a corruption of the Marxist term ‘bourgeoisie.’ American blacks use the word to describe someone who has pretentious airs and taste, who is fake. It is also used to describe black people whose politeness, cultivated manners, and courtesy are considered contrived, excessive, not natural. ‘She bourgie’ is a common putdown for girls that are considered pretentious.”
So while working-class black Americans consider speaking Standard English as “acting white” or being “bourgie,” their cousins in Jamaica consider it “girlish” or “sissy.” What is it considered in Nigeria? I hear young people call it “forming” nowadays. Whatever it is, English has become the passport to social mobility in today’s world. You ignore it at your expense.
"A recent survey by the British Council has found that the tendency of Jamaican boys to view reading and language proficiency as a mark of effeminacy has contributed to the decline in students' performance in English over the last few years.
The survey, which was a precursor to the implementation of a 'Teaching teachers to teach English' programme in Jamaica, saw language consultants from outside the island visiting six non-traditional high schools, one primary school, one traditional high school and two teacher-education colleges to do assessments.
The team noted in the report of its findings that the decline in students' performance in English was being fuelled by a non-reading culture, the use of Patois as refuge against standard Jamaican English, as well as boys seeing reading and language proficiency as effeminate.
These factors, the team found, have contributed to the inability of some Jamaicans to speak English and a less-than-stellar performance in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English."
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