Legislating Language

October 1st, 2006
by George S. Crimmin

[private] v4-10-Speaking OutAs a boy growing up on Roatan during the 1950’s, I spoke no Spanish. Neither did most of my fellow Bay Islanders at that time. In fact, in my hometown of West End, there were maybe two individuals that were fluent in Spanish. One was the local public school teacher, Professor Victor Stanley, whom we all called “Maestro.”

The public schools were supposedly conducted in Spanish, yet I graduated from elementary school (primary) knowing practically none. What I recall best with some acrimony of this period, was the central government’s ridiculous attempt to eliminate the English language from the Bay Islands.

Yes, there was a period of time when the study and use of English was officially forbidden. I wonder how many of today’s youth are aware of this. Needless to say, for the most part, this attempt failed.

In 1998, the congress finally passed a law giving the Bay Islands the right to teach English in the public schools. ‘What is most sticking to me’ is the fact that while trying to deny Bay Islanders the right to study and speak English, those responsible were making sure that English was readily available to their children.

Why this apparent duplicity? I have pondered this question for decades, and I still cannot comprehend why the leaders of a nation would try to deny some of its citizens such an important part of their cultural history, something essential to their historical identity. Please feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Is recognized as the financial language of the world, and recent events suggest that it has replaced French as the diplomatic language as well. To put it bluntly, the most important language on this planet is English, and its popularity continues to grow daily. Allow me to demonstrate. In the year 2000, the United Nations mandated that all 185 permanent members select a language from the three choices available, English, French, and Spanish, as their official language. Although the U.N. recognizes six languages, Chinese, Russian and Arabic are not easily read by word processors. When the responses were in, 130 nations had chosen English, 35 selected French and 19 Spanish. One country, Canada, selected both English and French.

With over 70% of the world choosing English, I would conclude that this is pretty close to being universal. No other language even comes close. While the use and pursuit of English is on the rise all around the world, here on the Bay Islands, it has been steadily in decline, to the point of no longer being use at public functions.

I have never seen or ever heard of a people so eager and willing to thrust themselves into oblivion as we Bay Islanders. Do we realize what we are losing? Do we want to become carbon copy of the mainland? There are other factors that make us different, even special. However, English is the most glaring, and if we lose it, make no mistake, we lose our identity.

Can we reverse the course we’re on? Perhaps, only if the right leader comes along and very soon. Unfortunately the ones that we’ve had in recent years have been nothing more than economic predators. If we do not come to our senses, or awaken from our stupor, and make a stand for the preservation of our linguistic heritage, like the man who buried his talent, we’ll be making a grave mistake. Bear in mind, if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything! [/private]

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