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The Jamaican Language Unit
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Background
Functions
Structure and Funding
 
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The Jamaican Language Unit (JLU) is a Unit in the Department of Language, Linguistics and Philosophy, UWI, Mona, with effect from September 2002.

In May, 2001, representations were made to the Joint Select Committee of the Parliament of Jamaica on the draft Charter of Rights (Constitutional Amendment Bill) on the need to include within the charter freedom from discrimination on the grounds of language. The point was made that many citizens of Jamaica lack competence in English, the language in which services of the state are normally provided. The vast majority of such persons are speakers of Jamaican, widely referred to as Patwa. It was argued that failure to provide services of the state in a language in such general use or discriminatory treatment by officers of the state based on the inability of a citizen to use English, was a violation of the rights of citizens so affected. The proposal was made that freedom from discrimination on the ground of language be inserted into the Charter of Rights. To support such a right, it was recommended that a language planning agency be set up to deal with issues such as:

  1. a standard writing system for Jamaican,
  2. the development of technical and administrative terminology in the language for use by officers of the state,
  3. the monitoring of state agencies with respect to the non-discriminatory provision of services in the two languages in general use, i.e. English and Jamaican,
  4. public education on the language issue.

The Joint Select Committee (Report, 2002, pp. 29), states that ‘The general consensus of the Committee, after discussion on the matter, is that the establishment of an agency of the type mentioned … would be a pre-requisite to any constitutional guarantee of protection from discrimination on the ground of language and that such an agency should be established. Such an institution would assist in educating and enlightening people on the issue of discrimination on the ground of language so that, eventually, a guarantee of protection from such discrimination would find its place in the Constitution.’ The Report goes on to state (p. 30) that the Committee was strongly of the view that Parliament should encourage the Dept. of Language, Linguistics and Philosophy of the University of the West Indies to pursue this work and to report appropriately on that work as it progresses.

In a letter from the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee, dated 28th February, 2002, from the Chairman of the Committee, Senator The Honourable A. J. Nicholson, Q.C., Attorney General and Minister of Justice, reports the recommendations of the Committee with regard to the setting up of a language agency modelled on the Antillean Linguistic Institute of the Netherlands Antilles and pledges that ‘The Ministry of Justice stands ready to assist as may become necessary.’…

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