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  Specially Featured Languages >> Arawak | Garifuna | Kromanti | Saramaccan | Berbice Dutch Creole
Community Language Activity (By Country)
 
    Hubert Devonish
Jamaican Language Unit
31st January 2004
 
 
Suriname
Suriname, with its large number of small linguistic groups, shows the least signs of community level activity in the area of protecting indigenous language.
 
Guyana
Macushi/Makushi
There is a series of community initiatives in the preservation of indigenous endangered languages of Guyana. Miranda La Rose (Stabroek News, April 2, 2003) reports on the launch of two books, a 19-page primer written by Miriam Abbott (2003a,b), entitled ‘Let’s Read and Write Makushi’, with illustrations by the Makushi Teachers’ Language Workshops, as well as a beginners’ book with the title ‘My First Grammar Book’ aimed at Makushi-English speakers. According to the Stabroek News (April 2, 2003), this was the outcome of a series of four workshops, involving 26 teachers and Makushi researchers, aimed at developing the teaching of Makushi literacy in primary and nursery schools in the Rupununi area. As part of this thrust, a tri-lingual, Makushi-English-Portuguese dictionary is being developed to cater, not just for that section of the Makushi population, estimated at 9,000, living in Guyana where English is the official language, but also the estimated 14,000 living in Brazil where Portuguese plays that role.
Wapishiana/Wapishana
Basing themselves on work already undertaken by linguists from 1967 onwards, the Wapishiana Writers Workshop, has been in operation. It consists mainly of teachers who have as their goal the promotion of literacy in Wapishiana in their schools and communities. They are reported as having produced a number of publications in the language (La Rose, 2003), as many as 20 according to Melville (2003, p. 3). Other Wapishiana language promotion activities at the community level have included training nursery school teachers to read, write and make teaching aids in Wapishiana. In addition, a Wapishiana dictionary is being compiled by a speaker of the language, Collette Melville (GINA, 2003). At the level of overall language policy and practice, Adrian Gomes, the coordinator of the Wapishiana Literacy Association and head teacher of the Aishalton Secondary School is reported as seeming to favour a formal policy on native language literacy and bi-lingual education (GINA, 2003).
Lokono (Arawak)
Melville (2003, p. 3) reports the absence of any focused activity in favour of Lokono (Arawak). He does suggest, however, that some villages have, from time to time, organised classes. He indicates, however, that the work of the group organised by the Catholic Church at Santa Rosa, a Lokono community, appeared to be developing well. All of this is against the background of the pioneering work done by Father John Bennett (19??), a Lokono Anglican priest, who has produced an Arawak-English dictionary as well as a set of ten lessons in Lokono.
 
Belize
Garifuna
It is difficult to deal with the fate of Garifuna in Belize without linking it to its fate in the other countries where it is or has been spoken. In the country of origin, St Vincent, Langworthy (n.d. p. 42-46) suggests the last speaker of Vincentian Garifuna died in 1932. Fortunately for the survival of the language, the majority of the Garifuna speaking population of St. Vincent had been deported by the British to Central America at the end of the 18th century, as a result of an uprising against the British. In Central America, the language has thrived and spread across several countries, notably Guatemala, Honduras and Belize.

In Honduras, within the ethnic Garifuna community, some children are L1 Garifuna speakers, others have passive competence and others have no knowledge of the language. The state of affairs varies from one community to another. A bilingual education programme has been pioneered for Garifuna communities in Honduras. In Honduras, isolation and the concentration of the Garifuna community has helped with language preservation but language shift is taking place there as well. In the case of Belize, five out of the six Garifuna communities have reportedly shifted to Creole. The apparent exception is Hopkins.

A significant a bold step in the area of language policy with reference to Garifuna was taken when the Central American Black Organisation (CABO) issued a declaration in 1997, on the initiative of the National Garifuna Council of Belize, in the form of a ‘Language Policy of the Garifuna Nation’, along with the ‘Garifuna National Language Preservation Plan’. According to Langworthy (n.d., p. 45), however, the response to this quasi-legal framework at the level of individual communities seems to have been patchy. Individual communities have initiated small scale language preservation activities but this has been localised and limited in its effect. The trans-national nature of the project and the assumption that ‘trickle down’ would work has proven to be false. The suggestion is that the declaration must be made more widely available to the Garifuna communities and language maintenance materials shared across communities. Teachers and language activists need to meet more regularly to share materials, strategies and methodologies, in particular for teaching literacy in Garifuna and for teaching the language as a second language. Hopkins has been suggested as the venue for an immersion summer school programme in the language for children from communities such as St. Vincent where the language has been lost.

Significant amongst the developments supporting Garifuna in Belize is the compilation of Garifuna-English English-Garifuna dictionary (Cayetano 1993). There is, as well, an orthography which has been agreed upon for the language by speakers of the language across the various countries within which the language is used.

At the level of international recognition, Garifuna stands out head and shoulders above the other Caribbean indigenous endangered languages. In 2001, UNESCO declared Garifuna to be one of the 19 masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (UNESCO, 2003).

In keeping with its relatively high profile, Garifuna is the only one of the indigenous languages under discussion that has significant support at the level of the Internet and the Worldwide Web. Links between Garifuna activists across the various countries in which speakers reside have been fostered by the GarifunaLink, an e-mail list, and the Garifuna-World Web site. However, the vast majority of users of these technological resources do not reside in Central America and the Caribbean but rather in North America. The home communities within which the language still resides and within which it is threatened, remain on the periphery of the information and communications technologies being employed for language preservation.

 
St. Vincent and Dominica
There are community groups representing indigenous communities in St. Vincent and Dominica which have expressed an interest in the revival of Garifuna and Karifuna, the two closely related Arawakan languages which became extinct in these two countries in the first decades of the 20th century. In the case of St. Vincent, there is the potential for help coming from the Garifuna of Belize and the rest of Central America.
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