Creole diplomacy: ‘We glad yu cum visit. Nuff respect and walk good’

Screenshot of the South Korean charge's message to the people of Jamaica

Screenshot of the South Korean charge’s message to the people of Jamaica

“Korea and Jamaica a frien from long long time,” says the South Korean charge to the Caribbean nation.

“It a gwaan since dem independence inna 1962 and we cooperate wid each odar pon nuff things. We help we one anoder,” he goes on to say, in presumably impeccable Jamaican patois.

(Click here to read the whole message).

So here’s a question:

Should Jong Seon Lim have tried to be quite so communicative? Should he have addressed Jamaica in patois (or patwah as it would be spelt in patois)? Does it, someone asked, “degrade” an ambassador to use a language that is so obviously a perversion of the original?

This is a familiar argument. A creole of any sort is always considered a “low language” , Haitian Kreyol was considered bad French and Jamaican Patwah bad English.

Yes and no.

That’s how they started out but then a creole develops a beating heart and a soul and a syntax and a grammar. And then there’s an attempt to standardise it and create textbooks and write stories in the national language. 

There is a rich body of literature in Jamaican Patwah, more than in Haitian Kreyol. Apparently, Jamaican writers and poets started using the Patwah more than a hundred years ago. One of the greatest champions of Patwah was Louise Bennett aka Miss Lou who argued that it should be recognised as a full language.

Back then to creole diplomacy, as practised by the South Korean charge in Kingston.

I was reminded of the US Embassy Haiti’s Kreyol twitter feed and its attempt to have French and Kreyol translations of everything. I remembered too the injunctions to non-Kreyol speaking American diplomats to start a speech with “Ki jan ou ye”, Kreyol for how are you?

Language, at the end of the day, is about communication and diplomacy is about effective communication. What could be more effective than addressing a people in the language they understand?
“So dis yah web site sure fi mek Koreans and Jamaicans understand bout each other,” wrote Mr Jong, “We glad yu cum visit. Nuff respect and walk good.”