Language in Guyana

This page was first published on the 15th of November, 2015 and last updated on the 8th of May, 2017 by Patrick Carpen.

language photo“How has language changed in Guyana over the last decade or two? And what factors have contributed to the changes?”
During my childhood, and that was about 2 decades ago, standard English language was not an “everyday conversation”. Most of my friends and relatives spoke a certain dialect which was essentially a washdown of the English language influenced by either languages from India or Africa.

That is because most Guyanese came from India and Africa to work on the plantations. The minority British whites were rulers of the plantations and the then colony.

Even though Guyana was a British colony, Guyanese immigrants didn’t adopt a British accent; but neither was their accent American. They had a special “Guyanese accent” whenever they did decide to speak standard English language. And even when they did, their version of standard English was not so standard. A myriad of words were mispronounced and misaccentuated.

Starting in the mid 90’s, the rapid and widespread commercialization of TVs caused many youths and adults alike to become more aware of English language usage, accent and pronunciation. But this was mostly with an American twang. Almost all the shows and movies were “Made in the USA”. Few, if any, where British. The great, unsurpassable “Hollywood” churned out creation after creation and dominated every scene.

The hypnotic influence of American television shows turned the tides on language in Guyana. But it didn’t break down the Creolese language barrier completely. In fact, it merely dented it. Even though more Guyanese are now able to communicate more effectively in English, they don’t keep up this “show” for long. They only use ‘standard English’ in ‘official’ and ‘formal’ situations, quickly and automatically switching back to their Creolese dialect when they’re in familiar circles.

In terms of educational achievement, what seemed impossible a few decades ago, is now a common occurrence. In other words, very doable. For example, in the 1990s, a student with 10 CXC passes was considered exceptional. And nobody dared to take on 17! But today’s results show a striking 18, 19, and even 20 CXC subject passes in ONE sitting by many students. And these occurrences keep increasing with mathematical regularity.

What could be the cause of this? One major factor is “the internet”! This phenomenal invention/creation/concoction of the greatest human minds have really put information and perhaps even “the world” at our fingertips.

Some of my once “almost illiterate” schoolmates who couldn’t pass a composition test even if their next meal depended on it are now glued to their tablets, smart phones and PC’s and “comprehending” just about everything.

On top of that they are spinning out the most stunning status updates that were once attributed to only the most creative minds.

In conclusion then, language as well as literacy in Guyana has dramatically improved – shifting towards American English – over the last two or three decades. Television and the internet has most largely contributed to this improvement.

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