To use English or not to use English is a question that still lingers in the Caribbean. Kimberly Scott, a senior English major from Springfield, examined the issue in her senior thesis, which she presented recently to a packed room in Amaron Hall.
Scott said writers such as Merle Hodge and Louise Bennett have chosen to use non-standard dialect in their writing as a means of asserting their independence, pride and nationalism, while other writers such as Jamaica Kincaid and Derek Walcott have for the most part, chosen to cohere to the Standard English language.
"The English-speaking Caribbean went through a process of decolonization in the mid-20th century and thereafter sought to establish for themselves a unique identity. This process is known as creolisation and embodies aspects of the African, Chinese, Indian, and British culture," she told the audience."
Scott said for many years, Caribbean writers have grappled with the decision of what language is best to use in composing Caribbean literature. She cited examples of writers who have chosen to use Standard English, like Nobel prize winner, Derek Walcott.
"Walcott is a Caribbean poet and playwright who does most of his work in English and finds that he rather enjoys writing that way. He believes that English is his birthright- being born and raised in the English speaking Caribbean, specifically from St. Lucia. His ability to assimilate and his love for the English language has gained him international recognition," she said.
While it is more feasible and logical to use Standard English since it would appeal to a wider audience especially outside the Caribbean, Scott points out that not all Caribbean writers see it that way.
Jamaican poet Louise Bennett is the first Caribbean writer to gain any recognition for her use of Creole in writing. Highly critical of Black self-contempt, she expresses that for too long society has rejected its own language and that there are things which are best said in the language of the common man. "She is a radical, whose insistent and rebellious use of Creole earned her respect among the Caribbean community," Scott said.
There are some Caribbean writers who take a different approach. "On the other hand, Merle Hodge is a pioneer for the Creole culture of the Caribbean. She advocates that fiction is a tool for self-empowerment and as such, she writes her novels in English with dialogue in Creole," she said.
Scott said Caribbean literature has suffered many setbacks because of this disparity among writers. Recently, linguists have recognized Caribbean Creole as a language, but writers have rejected it because it is not perceived to be as sophisticated as the English language. "It is however the persistence and determination of individuals such as Bennett and Hodge that will encourage Caribbean people to embrace their own unique identity and improve their linguistic self-image," according to Scott.