About language

Dear Editor,

In no way am I professing to be a language guru. Nothing could be further from that, because when I am among my people, I hardly concentrate on speaking correctly. I umpired baseball, I played softball, I was in the middle of carnival for years dealing with visitors from all over the world, so I had to make myself understood and make everybody comfortable on those occasions. But I was a police officer working in the Netherlands Antilles, where tourism was and still is the pillar of the economy, and that is where correct grammar matters.

I Googled “language” and it says, “The principle method of human communication, consisting of words used in a structured and conventional way and conveyed by speech, writing or gesture.”

“Wah she want”, “Go by dah window”, “Wah yo com for” and I can fill up a page with the different ways we, the vast majority of (permanent) residents of St. Maarten, express ourselves when dealing with the community as well as tourists.

My father was a stickler for speaking correctly. He sailed the universe while working for the LAGO lake fleet and from experience he understood that it is not the accent, it is the grammar. After reading the article on page 7 of the paper of February 28, “Toastmasters present course for mastering art of public speaking”, I realised that along with the grammar, there is mastering of speech structure, body language, etc.

And I am also overjoyed to have read that members of Parliament have participated in a similar workshop. I have been pondering for a while now how to write about this specific topic. Mainly to avoid, in case the letter is published, for your readers determining that I am discriminating against anyone from a particular country or island.. I had this letter in my computer for a while now and on reading that the members of Parliament accepted to participate in that course, given by the Toastmasters, the floodgate was opened.

Over the years I have had too many tourists come up to me and ask me questions, which I definitely am aware that the hotel employees could answer. So I would ask the tourist if they had asked the hotel employee because the employee should be aware of the regulations of their workplace better than I should. And it always came down to the same thing: “We only understand bits and pieces because they talk so fast.” I have also had cases where one employee would accuse the other employee, who made an extra effort to make him- or herself understood, of “Yanking”.

On the other hand I have also seen tourists who arrived at the airport and wanted a taxi, decide not to go with that particular driver because they could not understand what the driver was saying. That particular question I have been asked on several occasions, by people who were waiting for their family or friends to exit the arrival hall and experienced arriving tourists not being able to understand the taxi driver.

I do not have to point out anyone, but by now we know which Caribbean people are the most difficult to understand.

In a conversation when I asked the former leader of government of Aruba the deceased Betico Croes, what he meant by asking his bodyguard if the person siting in a taxi which was parked in front of the airport in Aruba was an Aruban, he told me that his policy is that bus and taxi licenses should only be issued to native Arubans. He said that they had to complete a special course of two months and that language was not a problem because the majority of the Arubans speak English and Spanish. He said to me every adult man is entitled to have a family, including those who cannot learn a trade or become a doctor or lawyer. So once they are taken care of, I am sure that everybody will be happy.

I believe that just like I have been hammering on civics (how the country is governed) being taught in schools from the fifth grade, so should topography and geography of St. Maarten be part of the curriculum in schools on St. Maarten.

In closing, it is time enough for us to stop accepting that St. Maarten people do not like to work. Have not we figured out yet that the St. Maarten people understand the difference between minimum wage and liveable wage? If the government would start collecting the taxes in the correct way, I do not believe, I know that every employer would be obliged to pay that which is fair to all. Also if parents are not obliged to work two and three jobs to make ends meet, they should have enough time to be home and take care of the supervision of their children with the ensuing consequences.

I have written this before and will repeat it: Every day the price of at least one article in supermarkets rises at least US $0.25.

Thank you Toastmasters.


Russell A. Simmons

The Daily Herald

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