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#3629: How another Caribbean country deals with its Creole language (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
Perils of Papiamento
By DAN PERRY
WILLEMSTAD, Curacao, April 29 (AP) -- For years Roxanne Tore has pushed
the use of Papiamento, arguing that for dignity's sake the local language
should be taught in Curacao's schools instead of Dutch.
Now, with her 6-year-old boy at a linguistic crossroads himself, she
finds herself strangely undecided.
She could send Denzel to the sole private school that teaches in his
mother tongue. Or there are the regular schools, where he would suddenly be
immersed in the language of the Dutch colonizers who enslaved his African
ancestors -- but who currently provide the elite of the island with nearly
free university education in the Netherlands.
"Emotionally I've decided for Papiamento," said Tore, a radio producer
in her 30s. "But intellectually, I haven't yet made the leap!"
As elsewhere in the Caribbean -- where African-descended populations
often retain emotional ties to former colonial powers -- language has
become a symbol of national identity in Curacao. The use of Creole and
dialects at the expense of an arguably more practical colonial tongue is a
matter of pride.
Papiamento is one of the more bizarre hybrids. According to the
Caribbean Islands Handbook, the language originated with the Portuguese
spoken by Sephardic Jews who were once numerous here. Developing since the
17th century, it has taken on elements of Spanish, English, a few African
words and Dutch, with the latter providing much of the accent.
Hispanic and Dutch place names coexist in a startling jumble: The
"Roodeweg" cuts through the district of Otrabanda. A home's "mesa," or
table, stands beside the Dutch "stool," for chair.
But Papiamento remains a largely spoken language -- by perhaps 300,000
people in the Dutch Caribbean, the former colony of Suriname in South
America and the Netherlands itself -- and many here fear that abandoning
Dutch-language schooling is unwise considering the reliance on Dutch
The Netherlands basically subsidizes about 350 students from this
autonomous Dutch territory who go to Holland annually for various levels of
higher education, said Yvette Michel of SSC, the quasi-governmental
foundation that administers scholarships.
Could Dutch be sufficiently mastered if studied merely as a foreign
language? Curacao's government thinks so, and is pushing to convert the
island's schools -- especially the Roman Catholic schools that educate most
pupils -- from Dutch to Papiamento.
Charine Isabella, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, said
a government committee is preparing to begin shifting schools to Papiamento
next year. The change will be made one grade at a time, over 12 years.
Parents will be allowed to choose Dutch or bilingual schooling, too, but
the government plans a publicity campaign on "why they should choose for
their own mother tongue."
The debate has divided and unsettled a normally placid society.
The teachers union supports Papiamento, blaming difficulties with Dutch
for relatively high dropout rates.
"We think Dutch had its time here in Curacao and now it's time to move
on," said union president Bicho Justiana. "You have to let a child feel
himself at home."
"I cannot agree with this," said Ingrid de Maayer, director of Amigoe, a
Dutch-language newspaper with a Papiamento name. "I already speak
Papiamento at home to my kids. We have to be sensible. Who will pay for all
those new books?"
Isabella said one possibility is the Netherlands itself, but there's a
certain lack of enthusiasm from that quarter.
Frank Wassenaar, spokesman for Gijs de Vries, the undersecretary for
kingdom relations in The Hague, the Dutch capital, said Papiamento "is a
matter for the Netherlands Antilles to figure out."
But he cautioned that "someone who speaks only Papiamento will not be
able to get along very well in the labor market" and that Antillean
arrivals under 25 must take a "naturalization course" in which Dutch
language classes are central.
The Catholic school system also is lukewarm.
"Papiamento isn't developed enough for secondary education," said Ronald
Statia, superintendent of Curacao's 103 Catholic schools, noting the
language lacks many scientific terms. "Papiamento will always have its
Still, the Catholic schools are offering a compromise: They would teach
pupils in Papiamento for the first four years, then switch to Dutch.
Tore's husband, an Internet buff, dismisses the university issue as
irrelevant in tomorrow's virtual world.
But Tore has trouble with this concept. As she struggles with her
choice, she condemns her conservative instinct for sticking with Dutch.
"It's a matter of how you think of yourself, your self-worth. It's
thinking more of the colonizer, looking up to the Dutch, considering them
in some way superior."
Her boss, radio station owner and prominent local commentator Orlando
Cuales, is more upbeat about the prospects for Papiamento. "This place
moves in Papiamento," he says. "Dutch is dead here."
Outside the 19th century mansion housing the station lies the main route
for the annual carnival, an explosion of color and revelry and thumping
local "tumba" music. The songs are in Papiamento. The signs are in
The beer -- Amstel and Heineken -- comes from Holland.
On the Net:
University of Oregon site on Papiamento:
Site on Papiamento translation: http://travlang.com/Ergane/papiamen.htm
Papiamento-language newspaper: http://www.laprensacur.com