Upcoming events

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]


GLU events

This first awards ceremony of the Guyanese Languages Unit is our expression of gratitude to the team of translators who willingly volunteered their precious skills during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workshop videos

Clip from lecture at University of Guyana by Professor Hubert Devonish, Department of Language, Linguistics & Philosophy, University of the West Indies, Mona: ‘Caribbean Languages as International Language of Popular Music? Reggae, Dancehall and Other Genres’.

Three clips from Writing Creolese the Creolese Way. The session was led by Charlene Wilkinson, a lecturer in the Department of Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Guyana.

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


http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0017/001787/178702e.pdf (Home language and education in the developing world)

http://www0.sun.ac.za/taalsentrum/assets/files/ML%20Afr%20Lang%20&%20Cost.pdf  (Why & how Africa should invest in multilingual education)



What are language rights?

What are Language rights?

As human beings, we use language to do a variety of things on a daily basis. Try to come up with a list of all the purposes for which you use language in one day. The list below could be a start.

  • We greet each other and exchange pleasantries: How are you? How are the children? When last did you see so and so? Is your father better? etc.
  • We conduct business with officers of government and others: We may need to register the birth of a child; get our child admitted to a school; find out what the new law says; write a will; get information about how to protect ourselves from diseases and natural disasters, and information on how to lead a healthy life; etc.
  • We need to educate ourselves and our children
  • We need to participate in the running of our communities
  • We need to give creative expression to our feelings and ideas
  • We need to take part in the rituals of our ancestors and to celebrate and develop our traditions
  • We need to preserve the knowledge and the creative works of our culture and we need to be able to access any documents or other recordings of our history, our folklore, our culture.
  • Etc, etc, etc.

Now imagine a situation in which we’re all allowed to use our home language to do all those everyday things. That demonstrate the ideal example of what we mean by language rights.

Nations that try to respect the language rights of their people, do so by first identifying the language communities within their nation. A rough definition of a language community is a group of people who speak a common language and want to be identified as such. In the case of Guyana, this would mean that speakers of Creolese (Guyanese) would make up one speech community. Speakers of each of the different Amerindian languages would represent different speech communities. And speakers of English will form another speech community.

Each speech community will have the same language rights; the language of each such community will be given equal treatment. This means that Creolese and each of the Amerindian languages will be treated just like English is now treated. Each group will be able to use its language to conduct its everyday affairs.

In Guyana at this moment, only the language community that speaks English enjoys all the language rights. To extend these rights to all, it would require that we provide what is necessary to allow this to happen. For example, documents will have to be written in each of the languages, education will be offered in each of the languages, and materials and facilities will be provided so that each community can broadcast in its own language.

 The European Charter for regional and minority languages is one document that details the rights which it recommends that member governments give to the minority groups within their countries. 

http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/en/Treaties/Html/148.htm  (Council of Europe: European charter for regional & minority languages)



English once had low social status!

The social status of a language is NOT set in stone.

Mention the value of Creolese in the classroom and someone is likely to point out that Creolese is a low social status language while English is a high social status or prestige language. The assumption seems to be that high or low status is part of the “genetic makeup” of these languages. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The social status of a language is often tied to the social status of its speakers. When a group changes its social status, its language may follow suit.

At one time, Greek was the language of high status in Europe; later, the title passed on to Latin. For most of its 1500 years, English speakers regarded their language as having lower social status than Latin or Greek and then, a little later, lower than French. It was only in the last 150 years or so that English has become a language with high social status.

French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Rumanian are now respectable languages but in their earliest period, each would have been identified as one the low status Latin dialects labelled Vulgar Latin. In a sense, Latin, that is Classical Latin (the high status dialect ), preferred death rather than acknowledge that these Vulgar Latin dialects were its legitimate siblings.

So the dialects called Vulgar Latin survived and they each got a name change and a change in status.  (NB: vulgar  meant ‘belonging to the common people’.)


How did the social status of English change from low to high?

British Imperialism and all that it entailed could be said to be the most important factor in the rise in status that the English language now enjoys. Imperialism contributed significantly to Britain becoming a wealthy nation and with that wealth, its political and military power increased as well. It was soon joined by its eldest daughter, the USA, and together their combined wealth and power (political and military) secured the continued high social status of the two largest populations of speakers of English. This increased the political and linguistic status of English speakers in Britain.

More importantly, British Imperialism laid the groundwork for the spread of English around the world. Through its policies and practices, it created English-speaking elites in all its colonies and these elites continued the same policies and practices to perpetuate new English-speaking elites in their countries.

BBC radio broadcasts and British Council programmes maintained the language in all these places long after the colonies gained (regained) their independence. The Voice of America joined in later. American programmes via cable television continued this process and later advances in various types of communication media found a ready-made audience in all these “English-speaking” countries. By this time, it was difficult to stop the myth that there is something special about the English language.


There is nothing about the structure of English that gives it its social status. All languages are equally capable of expressing the thoughts, emotions, and aspirations of their speakers. Ironically, the British Council is now advocating for children to be educated in their home language.




Two areas of Guyanese Grammar

Linking verb or copula

All of the Guyanese sentences below will translate into an English sentence containing a form of BE. In these examples, that form is the verb is. Look closely and you will find three ways by which the Guyanese sentences do the same job as the English BE. See if you can find those three ways.

  1. Joo a wan dakta                            (Joe is a doctor)
  2. Joo de pan tap a di hous tap      (Joe is up on the roof)
  3. Joo pan di hous tap                        ( Joe is up on the roof)
  4. Joo honggrii                                       (Joe is hungry)

For sentence (1), English BE (in the form of is) translates into Guyanese a.

Sentence (2) has two options in Guyanese: some speakers use de, others use nothing and sometimes we use both ways.

English BE translates into nothing, zero, in the case of sentence (4). And zero can have a value in language.

Three ways of doing the same job?!  Sometimes we use a, sometimes de, and sometimes nothing. Looks like anything goes.

Well, not so fast. Let’s take a closer look. Can we switch them up? Can we use de or a in front of hongrii? Can we use de in front of wan dakta? Or a in front of pan (tap) di hous tap? Try to switch them and you will find that the result is an ungrammatical Guyanese sentence.

So why did we get ungrammatical results? The answer is that these three sentences have three different kinds of predicates and the Guyanese rule requires a different “linking verb” for each of the three kinds of predicates. (English requires just the one linking verb, the verb BE (in one of its six forms: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been.)

In sentence (a), the predicate is a Noun Phrase; in sentence (b), the predicate is a Preposition Phrase indicating a location; and in (c), the predicate is an Adjective Phrase. (Note that phrases can contain just one word or they can be several words long. Consider these two examples: Joo a dakta and Joo honggrii baad baad.)

Why do we have two ways of translating ‘Joe is up on the roof’? Well, some speakers who have had more exposure to English may become self-conscious about using words that are obviously different from English. The word de is one such case. It marks the speaker as a genuine Creolese speaker. By dropping de, some feel they are using a more English form of speaking.


Number-marking: Does Guyanese Dem mark plural Nouns?

Examine the use of dem in the sentences below. The English translations would require the plural –s. Can we add dem to all of the noun phrases below? Does Jaan dem mean ‘several Johns’? Why is dem not allowed in three of these sentences?

  1. Di buk dem faal dong                    (‘The books fell’)
  2. Di tuu buk dem faal dong             (‘The two books fell’)
  3. Mi buk dem faal dong                    (‘My books fell’)
  4.  Mi invait Jaan dem                         (‘I’ve invited John and the others’)


  1. Tuu buk faal dong                            (‘Two books fell’)
  2. Nof buk faal dong                             (‘Many books fell’)  
  1. Da shap a sel buk                              (‘That shop sells books’)


You may have noticed that dem comes after definite Noun Phrases (di buk, di tuu buk, mi buk, Jaan). It doesn’t come after indefinite Noun Phrases (tuu buk, nof buk) nor those with non-specific reference (buk). The challenge is to find an explanation for these facts. Why should dem be restricted to definite noun phrases? Why is *tuu buk dem ungrammatical?

 One writer (Stewart 2011) would argue that languages such as Jamaican and Guyanese are not number-marking languages. She argues that what we mark with the use of dem is “inclusiveness” (belonging to a group); that inclusiveness is a feature of definiteness and that plural is just part of the meaning of “inclusiveness”, that is, being part of a group implies plural.

(Note: Inclusiveness and/or exclusiveness is marked in many non-European languages.)


  1. Jaan a dans wid gyal                        ‘John is dancing with a girl/girls’
  2. Jaan a dans wid tuu gyal                 ‘John is dancing with two girls’


  1. Jaan a dans wid di gyal dem           ‘John is dancing with the girls’
  2. Jaan a dans wid Sali dem                ‘John is dancing with a group that includes Sally’


In the sentences above, gyal does not refer to any specific girl or girls; just to the set called “gyal”. The set may be represented by any number of entities; the number is irrelevant. Jaan a dans wid gyal communicates that John is interacting with the opposite sex (a sign of his age or of his precociousness, etc). The sentence with tuu gyal refers to a set of two.

 On the other hand, di gyal dem, refers to a group of entities. This is obvious in Sali dem.





Stewart, Michele M. 2011. The expression of number in Jamaican Creole. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages. 26:2. 363-385.