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Playing with Languages

Playing with Languages: Children and Change in a Caribbean Village

Amy L. Paugh
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Playing with Languages
    Book Description:

    Over several generations villagers of Dominica have been shifting from Patwa, an Afro-French creole, to English, the official language. Despite government efforts at Patwa revitalization and cultural heritage tourism, rural caregivers and teachers prohibit children from speaking Patwa in their presence. Drawing on detailed ethnographic fieldwork and analysis of video-recorded social interaction in naturalistic home, school, village and urban settings, the study explores this paradox and examines the role of children and their social worlds. It offers much-needed insights into the study of language socialization, language shift and Caribbean children's agency and social lives, contributing to the burgeoning interdisciplinary study of children's cultures. Further, it demonstrates the critical role played by children in the transmission and transformation of linguistic practices, which ultimately may determine the fate of a language.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-761-5
    Subjects: Education, Linguistics, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Maps, Figures, and Tables
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Note on Transcription
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-27)

    In Dominica, children are at the center of a linguistic paradox. Two languages are in tension on their post-colonial island nation: English is the official language of government and schools, while an Afro-French creole commonly called Patwa (also Kwéyòl) has been the oral language of the rural population for centuries. In the past education officials and urbanites denigrated Patwa as the impoverished language of poor rural peoples and did not allow their children to speak it. Since independence from Britain in 1978, however, the state and an urban intellectual elite claim that Patwa is integral to the nation’s development and...

  7. Chapter 1 Discourses of Differentiation, Unity, and Identity
    (pp. 28-56)

    Those who have tried to govern Dominica have for centuries struggled with issues of differentiation and unity, exclusion and inclusion, at multiple levels. The island experienced a complex colonial history of French and British rule with an associated “spatial dismemberment” (Trouillot 1988) and linguistic divide isolating villages from each other and from the towns. Its history, geography, and particular configuration of cultural and linguistic contact mark its uniqueness from other Caribbean nations, expect perhaps for St. Lucia with its similar French–British colonial past. Since colonization, the multiple ideologies surrounding Dominica’s languages have been complex and often oppositional. They have...

  8. Chapter 2 Childhood in a Village “Behind God’s Back”
    (pp. 57-85)

    Located on a winding road in northern Dominica, Penville has approximately 750 residents in just over two hundred households.¹ Approximately one third of its population is under the age of fifteen years with about eighty children under the age of five years. Residents describe their community asdèyè do Bondyéor “behind God’s back,” referring to its remote location and lack of development. A metaphorical framework of “bringing in” things from the outside shapes how villagers conceive of their community and languages. Despite these perceptions of isolation, however, villagers are thoroughly integrated in the national and global speech economies within...

  9. Chapter 3 Learning English: Language Ideologies and Practices in the Classroom and Home
    (pp. 86-114)

    This quote from a Penville teacher in her late thirties suggests villagers’ ambivalence toward their vernacular language. They talk about their historically predominant use of Patwa as being responsible for “keeping them back,” both caused by and contributing to their isolation. Many speak of how English had to be “brought in,” principally by the school, but also by residents who brought spouses from more English-speaking villages or were return migrants. This metaphor of movement and bringing things in is rooted in the history and location of Penville (see chapter 2). Residents now overwhelmingly cite the shift away from Patwa to...

  10. Chapter 4 Becoming “Good for Oneself ”: Patwa and Autonomy in Language Socialization
    (pp. 115-142)

    Alisia’s mother and I are sitting at the table while she peels carrots for lunch. Alisia (one year and eleven months), who frequently urinates on herself, suddenly leaves the room and returns a few minutes later without her shorts on. This follows: The mother’s aggravated stance and threats to “beat” Alisia suggest that the child is in for a punishment for wetting her shorts (line 1). Alisia has heard this threat from her mother before, however, as the family struggled to toilet train her with limited success. She boldly replies, “No” (line 2). Her mother then threatens her in a...

  11. Chapter 5 Negotiating Play: Children’s Code-Switching as Symbolic Resource
    (pp. 143-170)

    Jonah (two years and two months), Theodora (five years), Claudette (thirteen years), and Jonah’s mother Marlena are sitting in their outdoor kitchen. The children are discussing if a hen nesting in the corner will lay an egg, while Marlena washes clothes in a basin on the floor. The conversation is in English until Claudette sees an egg that was not there earlier. She is unaware that her cousin Roma (eleven years) put it there to fool her, making her the butt of a joke as Roma often did: Patwa attention-getter, “Ga” (line 1). Use of this imperative is so common...

  12. Chapter 6 Acting Adult: Children’s Language Use in Imaginary Play
    (pp. 171-198)

    It is a warm sunny day and the adults have left Reiston (three years and nine months), Junior (nine years), Alex (five years), and Sherona (four years) under Marcel’s (eleven years) supervision while they are at work. After playing school the children begin a new game in which Marcel becomes akochon(pig) and the boys are hunters trying to catch and butcher it. Sherona, however, is excluded for not assuming the role of “mommy” the boys assign to her and instead trying to enact the high status position of head teacher.¹ This is one segment from their imaginary play:...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 199-221)

    The above quotation is a common Dominican expression for taking leave from an interaction and when discussing the future. It is also what comes to mind concerning the ongoing language shift from Patwa to varieties of English in rural villages. As in many Caribbean post-colonial societies language purism in schools and historically negative attitudes toward creole languages spilled over into Dominican homes, resulting in a community-wide English only policy with children and displacement of Patwa from many settings. The course and outcomes of language shift are known, however, to be difficult to predict. Social, political, and economic factors may come...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 222-240)
  15. Index
    (pp. 241-250)