Introduction to Writing in Creolese

‘Introduction to Writing in Guyanese Creole’ has been for me – a life changing – better – a life renewing experience

Joan Cambridge, 2017 course participant


Participants will learn a writing system for Guyanese Creole (GC), and increase their awareness about the phonology, vocabulary and syntax of GC. This course will be useful for teachers, media workers, medical practitioners, people in the natural sciences and technology, and others whose professions require keen understanding of the differences between GC and English. Literacy specialists and teachers of CAPE Communications will find it particularly relevant to their work.


The course is open to persons who have achieved the highest tertiary education credentials as well as persons who have had just a basic primary education. Individual competencies will be taken into account, and the collective competence of the class will be engaged to accomplish all tasks. At least one field trip will be scheduled.



June 11 to July 4
Mondays and Wednesdays
5:00PM to 7:30PM
(1700 hrs to 1930 hrs)
Venue: Education Lecture Theatre, University of Guyana (Turkeyen Campus)

July 4 to 30
Mondays and Wednesdays
9:30AM to 12:00PM
(930 hrs to 1200 hrs)
Venue: University of Guyana (Turkeyen Campus)


July 5 to 27
Thursdays and Fridays
9:30AM to 12:00PM
(930 hrs to 1200 hrs)
Venue: University of Guyana (Berbice Campus)

NB: Unable to make any of the times above? Contact us anyway and we can explore the possibility of adding an evening course.


Email or call 222 5501 / 691 7938 / 655 6625

Wakapoa field trip report

Lokono Revitalization Workshop in Wakapoa. Photo by Osei Browne

By Tamirand Nnena De Lisser

On Saturday January 13, 2018, nine students of the Language and Society course (ENG3204) of the University of Guyana commenced a six-day field trip to Essequibo. The main objective of the field trip was to carry out two surveys, namely the General Language Attitudes Survey among Afro- and Indo-Guyanese in the Anna Regina and Queenstown villages, and the Revitalization Survey in the Lokono-speaking Amerindian villages of Mainstay, Capoey and Moshabo.

The students were also participants in a Lokono Revitalization Workshop in Wakapoa, where the orthography of Lokono was presented.  The field trip fostered inter-campus research collaboration as students were from both the Tain and Turkeyen campuses. Our aims included research in language planning, language revitalization and language attitudes, all which will be beneficial to not only our students, but also to the communities involved.

The field trip also allowed students the opportunity to make connections from the theoretical parts of the course to the practical aspects and the complexities of language. The trip was headed by the lecturers of the Language and Society course, Dr. Tamirand Nnena De Lisser and Mr. Alim Hosein. Also present were Prof. Ian Robertson, retired professor of linguistics and language educator at the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies; and Ms. Dhanaiswary Jaganauth, lecturer at the University of Guyana. Ms. Sinnika Henry, Ms. Charlene Wilkinson and Dr. Daidrah Smith – members of the Language Revitalization team – were also involved.

Following the field trip, students objectively reflected on their experience, examining its enhancement to academic learning, personal growth and skill, and intellectual development. In general all the objectives of the trip were met and the event was deemed a successful one. We are grateful to the Learning Resources Centre for making this trip a possibility.

UG-UWI collaborate to initiate revitalisation of Lokono

Revitalization Poster_All is not lost (1)

By Charlene Wilkinson, for GLU

January 11, 2018, marked the beginning of a new language revitalisation project in the Arawak community of Wakapoa, Region Two, Guyana. For some time now, observers both inside and outside the community have noted that the only people who can and do speak Lokono, the traditional language of the community, are the elderly.

The Toshao and Council of Wakapoa, in order to reverse this situation, approached the Guyana Languages Unit (GLU) for help, after the Toshao and I met at the National Toshaos Council Conference last year. GLU in turn made contact with the International Centre for Caribbean Language Research, University of the West Indies, which funded a 10-day visit to Wakapoa by Lokono language scholar Daidrah Smith. UG’s Office of Planning and International Engagement helped to fund the UG contingent.

Smith met with the families whose elders still speak Lokono and did some preliminary language documentation. An indispensable support person on the project was UG’s Learning Resource Centre camera operator Osei Browne. The high point of this leg of the project was the presentation of an orthography (writing system) to the community over two workshops, where the community members present were asked to make decisions about the final details of the orthography. Students and their lecturers from the University of Guyana were on hand to witness and participate in the first workshop, which took place on January 15.

The poster “All is not lost” (pictured above) is a pictorial journey through the January project and a projection of activities to come.

PHOTO GALLERY: WAKAPOA VISIT (photos by Osei Browne)

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Fos Klaas graduation speech 2018

This address was made by the coordinator of Fos Klaas, Janice Imhoff, at the inaugural graduation ceremony for the group, which aims to promote the usage of Guyanese Creole in writing and society more widely.

On an evening resembling this one, in 2017, the University of Guyana created history with its first-ever course titled An Introduction to Writing Guyanese Creole. Its criteria for selection were a basic primary education. I liked that! It meant anyone just knowing to read and write could walk through the university door. On the last day of class, Tiicha Charlene suggested we form a group. And so, UG fos Kriiyoliiz kors gave birth to a baby we called Fos Klaas: Guyanese Creolese Advocates.

This however was no ordinary baby. It embodied 14 spirits representing the 14 students who were eager to transfer all we learnt to the rest of our beloved Guyana. Yours truly is the coordinator for this first year and we will be rotating this leadership. So, here I stand, to bring you greetings and to warmly thank the University of Guyana, especially our three teachers – Charlene Wilkinson, Dr. Tamirand De Lisser, and Dhanaiswary Jaganauth – for making our birth equally historic… Awi diiz jomp, plee skuul, lil ABC, big ABC, fos standard an awi miit aal di wee to yuuniivorsitii, an tonait, awi iz fo get wi sorfitiikeet dem. Tangk yu a-plenti.

Ladies and gentlemen! This baby is still growing. We are still being nurtured by our “parents”, each bringing their unique growing-food to help us through the creeping stage. Each “parent” is helping us to develop firm walking legs, so that while we have many stumbles and falls, we will be able to get up and continue to acquire skills, and so become responsible Guyanese Creolese advocates.

Fos Klaas, like all babies, has a mind of its own. If you don’t believe a baby has a mind and knows what she or he wants, think again. Put down a baby who wants to remain cuddled, or try to pick up a toddler who has found the glory of walking… iz sheer woriiz.

So, Fos Klaas has many plans and dividing them into short and long term may not be the ideal thing. For example, mastering writing in the Guyanese Raitin Sistem, perfecting the art of transcription and translation from English to Creolese, and vice versa, all start as short-term plans but will continue well into the long term. Also, acquiring data collection skills will start in the short term and continue into our long existence.

What we know is that through both our long and short-term plans, we will be challenging some misconceptions about Guyanese Creolese. I will briefly mention three.

First misconception: that the Creolese language is bad English in action, and it is a poor man’s play thing. No such thing! Bad English is bad English! Don’t use it to write Creolese. Guyanese Creolese, developed by our ancestors, has structure.

Second misconception: teaching the Guyanese Writing System will confuse school children who already have trouble learning to “speak properly”. That, ladies and gentlemen, means speaking the English language correctly. Maybe, the real question to ask is: why did the children have difficulty in the first place!

Third misconception: that the writing system is meant to regularize the different varieties of Guyanese Creoles into one standard Creole. Let us pause here… the Guyanese Writing System will do no such thing. It has no such intention. So whether you speak the Creolese of the African villages, or of the sugar estates, or of the urban working class, or whichever type of Creolese you speak, all the writing system will do is help you write it just the way you speak it. So if for the English word ‘we’ you say ‘wii’, ‘awii’ or ‘abii’, you will write it likewise.

One of our definite long-term plans is to, one day soon, gallop enough running speed so we can lift off and fly. To where are we flying? To meet with other groups, like the already established Informal Working Group, and the soon to be established Guyanese Languages Unit. Together we hope to advocate for the Creolese language to become an official language, right alongside the English language, not in front of it (even though madam chairperson that mightn’t be a bad idea!), but definitely not behind it – where it is now and where it is not being taken seriously. We want it accepted as a language with equal respect.

Gone must be the days when those who speak Creolese hear their mother tongue ONLY through the telecommunication giants who use their language in advertisements to enrich themselves. Gone must be the days when their mother tongue is heard on the drama stage at the National Cultural Centre for actors to receive awards predominantly for cheap melodramas or slapstick comedies. And gone must be the days when the only time politicians seem to find the mother tongue useful is when they seek electoral votes. Those who speak ONLY Creolese must have their voices heard and their writings read and accepted in our legal system, our education system and in our health system. “Wa gud fo di guus mos gud fo di gyanda, ya!”

In closing, may I ask you to imagine this: Students about to take an examination – for example, the one we once called Common Entrance. Imagine the invigilator saying, “Raise your hand if you want to do this examination in the English language… And raise your hand if you want to do this examination in Guyanese Creolese”. And then she concludes, “All those who can do this examination in either language say, yes!”

Yes! This we must accomplish…. in my lifetime and in yours.


[NB: This is an edited version of a previously published post.]

Creolese language activists form ‘Fos Klaas’ group


By Janice Imhoff, Coordinator, Fos Klaas

Very high energies were released when the University of Guyana (UG) held its course: Introduction to Writing in Guyanese Creole. This made history: one, because it was the first of its kind after more than a half century of UG’s existence; and two, it must be considered among the firsts of all other sincere attempts to build upon a post-emancipation creation.

Those energies led a group of participants to form Fos Klaas (First Class). This is not yet the definitive name; others, such as Creolese Language Activists, either as an extension or a replacement, are being considered. The group’s philosophy and its main objectives have not been finalised. Fos Klaas has 13 members: 9 females and 4 males with ages ranging from the 20s to 70s. Our three Creolese teachers – Charlene Wilkinson, Dhanaiswary Jaganauth and Dr. Tamir De Lisser – are ex officio members. We boast inclusivity! We reflect the diversity of our Guyanese heritage by way of race/ethnicity, geographic location, occupation and more. Our visually challenged participant used Braille to write Creolese!

So, what are some of Fos Klaas’s plans? For this quarter, we’re heading to Parika for our first data-collecting exercise. This was organised by one member, Robert Samaroo. Next is a trip to University of Guyana’s Berbice Campus, Tain. There we will meet and collaborate with other Creolese-speaking enthusiasts. Finally, in 2018, we’ll publish a booklet titled Why a Guyanese Writing System? and develop a working relationship with the Informal Working Group for Language Policy at UG.

These combined efforts are meant to agitate for a Guyana language policy, the pillars of which must be the acceptance of Creolese as an official language, and the introduction of multilingualism alongside English Language into our education, legal and social systems, throughout the Guyanese community.

Fos Klass is currently open only to members of the Introduction to Writing in Guyanese Creole course, but may open up in future. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates.

Proposal to the National Toshaos Council 2017

This is an extract of the document submitted by The Informal Working Group for Language Policy and Language Rights in Guyana to the National Toshao’s Council, concerning indigenous language rights and preservation:


To: The National Toshaos Council (NTC) Meeting 2017

From: The Informal Working Group for Language Policy and Language Rights in Guyana, University of Guyana

Subject: Message to the National Toshaos Council (NTC

Date: 21 August, 2017



A. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples (Ref. Articles 13, 14, 16) states that …

Article 13

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
  2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.

Article 14

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
  2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
  3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.

Article 16

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous media without discrimination.
  2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity. States, without prejudice to ensuring full freedom of expression, should encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect indigenous cultural diversity

B. Indigenous languages of Guyana (and elsewhere) are in danger of becoming dead languages. As an ever increasing number of languages disappear, so too do the cultures of the people who speak these languages. The world loses the wisdom, knowledge, problem-solving and other perspectives of these civilisations.

C. The Global Education Monitoring Report (UNESCO) Policy Paper 24 of February 16, 2016, “If you don’t understand how can you learn?’ announced six essential messages:

  1. Children should be taught in a language they understand. Yet as much as 40% of the global population does not have access to education in a language they speak or understand.
  2. Speaking a language that is not spoken in the classroom frequently holds back a child’s learning, especially for those living in poverty.
  3. At least six years of mother tongue instruction is needed to reduce learning gaps for minority language speakers.
  4. In multi-ethnic societies, imposing a dominant language a school system has frequently been a source of grievance linked to wider issues of social and cultural inequality.
  5. Education policies should recognize the importance of mother tongue learning.
  6. Linguistic diversity creates challenges within the education system, notably in areas of teaching, notably in areas of teacher recruitment, curriculum development and the provision of teaching materials

D. Colloquium 2016: Languages of Guyana—Theory, Policy and Practice in education and beyond was held at the University of Guyana during August 10 and 11, 2016. This colloquium was an initiative of the Informal Working Group for Language Policy and Language Rights in Guyana within the Department of Language and Cultural Studies of the Faculty of Education and Humanities. Out of this colloquium participants made several recommendations for the way forward. One of the main recommendations was the invitation that the working group present the Charter for Language Policy and Language Rights in the Creole Speaking Caribbean to the NTC with recommendations for implementation.

We therefore recommend that the National Toshaos Council take the following actions:

i) discuss and sign the Charter for Language Policy and Language Rights in the Creole Speaking Caribbean

ii) support the drive to set up a national council on languages in keeping with the recommendations of the charter

iii) adopt a position which demands the formal use of the indigenous languages in education in Guyana, starting with Early Childhood and Primary School

iv) adopt the principle of Mother Tongue Education in the indigenous communities over which it has responsibility

v) adopt the principle of the need to preserve and revive those indigenous languages which are no longer being learnt and used by children and young people

vi) support bilingual and trilingual education projects which involve, as appropriate

  • a) indigenous language as native language/mother tongue  and English [and optionally Creolese], or
  • b) Creolese as native language/mother tongue, indigenous language as second language, and English

vii) call for an amendment to the constitution that would provide for ‘freedom from discrimination on the ground of language’.

viii) in relation to mother tongue education in the indigenous languages and Creolese, authorize and support

  1. the development, where necessary, of writing systems and
  2. the training of teachers already competent in these spoken languages, to use these writing systems
  3. the development of the terminology in these languages needed to teach specialized school concepts
  4. the development of reading material at the infant and primary levels to support literacy in the indigenous languages and Creolese,
  5. the development of an appropriate teacher education process, in anticipation of implementation in 2017,
  6. coordination between the existing UNICEF/Government of Guyana early childhood education in indigenous mother tongues and the proposals coming from the Colloquium.


[Reproduced from press release]

Guyanese-American Professor John R. Rickford of Stanford University was recently notified that he had been awarded one of the highest academic honors in the United States: Election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the oldest and most prestigious learned societies and independent policy research centers in the U.S., convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing—and opportunities available to—the nation and the world.

The Academy’s work is advanced by its elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs from around the world.

Current and former members of the Academy include Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Mead, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Georgia O’Keefe, John Hope Franklin, John Updike, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Laurence Olivier, Nelson Mandela, and more than 250 Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners.

Academy research currently focuses on education, the humanities and the arts; science, engineering, and technology policy; global security and international affairs; and American institutions and the public good.

John R. Rickford is the J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Linguistics and the Humanities at Stanford University. He is also professor, by courtesy, in Education, and Bass University Fellow in Undergraduate Education. He has been at Stanford since 1980, after teaching Linguistics at the University of Guyana from 1974 to 1984 and serving as Vice Dean of the Faculty of Arts there. Prior to leaving Guyana for his university education on a US scholarship in 1968, he attended Sacred Heart RC elementary school and Queen’s College, where he also taught English for a year after completing his GCE “A” levels.

Professor Rickford received his BA with highest honors in Sociolinguistics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1971, and his Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1979. He won a Dean’s Award for distinguished teaching in 1984 and a Bing Fellowship for excellence in teaching in 1992. He also served as President of the Linguistic Society of America in 2015, and in 2016 won the award for the Best Paper in the journal Language—one of the leading journals in his field—for a paper he authored with a graduate student on the systematic vernacular of Rachel Jeantel, a close friend of Trayvon Martin, and the reasons why her testimony was misunderstood and disregarded in the 2013 trial of George Zimmerman for Trayvon’s murder.

The primary focus of John’s research and teaching is Sociolinguistics: the relation between linguistic variation and change and social structure. He is especially interested in the relation between language and ethnicity, social class and style, language variation and change, pidgin and creole languages, African American Vernacular English, and the applications of linguistics to educational and legal issues.

Professor Rickford is the author of numerous scholarly articles, and author or editor of several books, including A Festival of Guyanese Words (ed., 1978); Dimensions of a Creole Continuum (1987), Analyzing Variation in Language (co-ed., 1987), Sociolinguistics and Pidgin‑Creole Studies (ed., 1988); African American English: Structure, History and Use (co‑ed., 1998); African American Vernacular English: Features, Evolution, Educational Implications (1999); Creole Genesis, Attitudes and Discourse (co-ed., 2000); Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English (co-authored, 2000, winner of an American Book Award); Style and Sociolinguistic Variation (co-ed., 2001); Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-First Century (co-ed., 2004); Language, Culture and Caribbean Identity (co-ed, 2012); African American, Creole and Other Vernacular Englishes: A Bibliographic Resource (co-authored, 2012); and Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes Our Ideas About Race (co-edited, 2015). A collection of his papers is scheduled for publication in 2018 by Cambridge University Press in a book, entitled Variation and Change in Sociolinguistics and Creole Studies: Theory and Analysis.

Professor Rickford stated that he was both exhilarated and humbled that the Academy had bestowed this signature honor on him. Election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is the pinnacle of his long, distinguished career. He will spend part of this summer at the Rockefeller Foundation’s research center in Bellagio, Italy, working to develop new ways to expand linguistic versatility among vernacular speakers while reducing dialect prejudice and discrimination against them in schools, courtrooms, workplaces and other gatekeeping institutions.

John is married to Angela Rickford, née Marshall, who attended Bishops High School (Guyana), and is now Professor of Education at San Jose State University. They have four children: Shiyama, Russell, Anakela and Luke.

[The letter of invitation]

Mother tongue-based education

Mother-tongue-based education

The United Nations has finally accepted that every child has the right to be educated in his or her home language. Now, after centuries of trying to erase the languages of some speech communities within their borders, some countries are now reversing their policies. After witnessing the failure of past policies, many former colonies have already been exploring ways of implementing “mother tongue-based education” and sharing their insights on how to make it work.

  • What do we mean by “education in the home language” (or “mother tongue-based education”)? Does it mean we no longer get to learn English?
    • No, it doesn’t. It means that we will still study English during English class. But we will learn our Math, Science, Social Studies, Health Studies, and all other “content areas” in our native language.
  • How long will this learning in our native language last? We have several options.
    • We could go for the option with the shortest period of native language learning, that is, at least 2 years before we switch to education in English only.
    • We could continue education in the home language all the way up to university level, with English as a second language. This is the ideal and will give the most benefit.
    • Or we could go for an in-between option with the programme lasting longer than 2 years but stopping somewhere before university.
  • What are some of the benefits of education in our native or home language? Reports from those who have tried education in the home language list the following benefits.
    • Children do better at exams
    • Children even do better at learning another language.
    • Fewer children drop out of school.
    • Fewer children have to repeat classes.
    • Children are happier, more enthusiastic about school and about learning.
    • Children are more confident.
    • Children are more motivated to learn
    • Children are more creative
    • Children become more patriotic, more civic-minded
    • Children are more innovative, more willing to look for local solutions to problems
    • Children become more interested in their own history and culture
    • Parents are more involved in their children’s education
    • Parents are more comfortable talking to their children’s teachers
    • Parents participate more in school activities
    • Some parents themselves begin to take classes to improve their own education
    • Children learn about their own language and about those of their classmates (Home language and education in the developing world)  (Why & how Africa should invest in multilingual education)