A Legal Tantrum, The PNP Prolongs The Agony, and Foreign Languages Are Actually Very Useful: Saturday, June 11, 2016

Goodness! A whole week has flown by, and a roundup of our news is well overdue. It’s been a slightly hectic week and I am attempting to “refocus.” Our yard is also full of mangoes (the Bombays are coming into their own), bees…and heat. Phew. I’m searching for a nice cooling thunderstorm. Or a place with A/C.

Get over it, already: Julian Robinson (left), chairman of the People's National Party Appraisal Committee, and Senator Mark Golding (looking glum in the background) at a press conference at the party's headquarters. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)
Get over it, already: Julian Robinson (left), chairman of the People’s National Party Appraisal Committee, and Senator Mark Golding (looking glum in the background) at a press conference at the party’s headquarters. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

The agonizing continues: The People’s National Party (PNP) have still not quite got over their election loss. More than three months have passed, yet they are still chewing it over. This week, they wanted the whole of Jamaica to know the results of their investigation into how on earth they could possibly have lost! So, they held a press conference. Julian Robinson (who seems to be the only Comrade whom everyone trusts, thus elevating him to being the spokesman for just about anything) talked endlessly to the media. Why was the President of the party not at the press conference?

I don’t understand why Jamaicans are getting so hot under the collar (especially our friends at the University of the West Indies) about a statement made by the Prime Minister. I guess I must have read it differently than others, but what he said makes perfect sense to me. Why not make Spanish an official second language? Why not make learning Spanish compulsory in schools? The PM made this suggestion against the background of recent talks with Cuba, which of course is opening up rapidly – commercial flights to and from the United States got the green light this week. The Cubans are, no doubt, learning English; an agreement between the two countries on language training seems a good idea. But somehow it has got all muddled up with a debate on patois, which almost every Jamaican speaks anyway. It’s time Jamaicans get serious about learning foreign languages. As a linguist myself I am always puzzled that they are given such low priority, especially considering that our closest neighbors are all Spanish-speaking (and a little French wouldn’t do any harm, either). We live in a global village – it’s a cliché, but true!

West Kingston Commission of Enquiry: The final report was sent to the Governor General on Friday afternoon. I wonder how long it will take before we, the public, have details? Sir Patrick Allen is away at the moment, so on his return it will be waiting for him. Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry made several recommendations – including that then Chief of Staff of the Jamaica Defence Force should face criminal charges. One wonders whether any of these will be taken on board.

K.D. Knight could have been charged with contempt of court, perhaps? He's a man who pushes the envelope…
K.D. Knight could have been charged with contempt of court, says Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn. He’s a man who pushes the envelope…But then, I am not a brilliant legal mind and I must be missing something.

Court histrionics: Former government minister K.D. Knight, Q.C. is what they call a “larger than life” character. He can be so witty, so smart – and very aggressive at times, almost bullying. He has always been this way. This last week, while representing his PNP comrades in court on the Trafigura matter, he went too far in my view. Mr. Knight is among those highly-paid defense attorneys who sweep into court, aiming to put the fear of God into witnesses. They put on an exaggerated dramatic show; anyone who has actually seen this in court, as I have, will know what I’m talking about. That is what their clients pay them to do. It is not right though, in my view, to turn to the judge and say one is going to ignore his ruling, and that one is going to be “very hostile” towards him, as Mr. Knight did. The case was to have been settled (perhaps) last Monday, but it was not to be. After more than ten years, lawyers for the former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller et al have managed to get yet another delay. What must the Dutch investigators be thinking? After all, it’s not that our politicians are on trial; why then the histrionics and posturing? Why not just get it out of the way? Why not just answer the darn questions in open court? This article really accords with my thoughts on the matter..  http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-Trafigura-case-a-matter-of-bad-PR-for-Jamaica_63214 

Zika update: The number of confirmed cases has risen to 21, but as Health Minister Christopher Tufton says, suspected cases are far higher. I’m a little concerned about 13 cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) – a rather nasty and sometimes fatal auto-immune disease – but am told that since it’s not contagious, it’s not a worry. But if it is connected to Zika…?

Local Government and Community Development Minister, Hon. Desmond McKenzie (left) and Medical Entomologist in the Ministry of Health, Sherine Huntley-Jones (second left), point to mosquito larvae in an abandoned tyre on a vacant lot being used as an illegal garage, in Portland. Looking on are Regional Environmental Health Officer in the Ministry of Health, Karen Brown (second right) and Chief Public Health Inspector, Portland, Lorenzo Hume. Occasion was a recent clean-up exercise in Port Antonio. (Photo: JIS)
Local Government and Community Development Minister, Hon. Desmond McKenzie (left) and Medical Entomologist in the Ministry of Health, Sherine Huntley-Jones (second left), point to mosquito larvae in an abandoned tyre on a vacant lot being used as an illegal garage, in Portland. Looking on are Regional Environmental Health Officer in the Ministry of Health, Karen Brown (second right) and Chief Public Health Inspector, Portland, Lorenzo Hume. Occasion was a recent clean-up exercise in Port Antonio. (Photo: JIS)

And watch out! Our energetic and at times over-zealous Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie is out and about, with the word “clean up” firmly imprinted on his brow, seeking out mosquito breeding sites, illegal garages (good), and under the campaign has been removing large items – old cars, furniture and appliances – in several inner-city areas. Keep going, Minister!

Compassion is key: I love the idea of volunteers making themselves available to help patients in recovery, through what Health Minister Christopher Tufton calls a “Compassionate Care” program. Getting over a serious illness such as cancer is just as much about psycho-social support as it is medical care. I would be definitely willing to volunteer for this! I have seen lonely people in the hospice where my father was a patient, who just needed someone to cheer them up. Volunteers would sit and chat with them, bring them a “cuppa tea,” etc… The Minister is quite right, though. Many health care workers do not show that caring, and have been known to shout at suffering patients, women in labor, etc… This is welcome, anyway.

Former Mayor of Lucea Shernett Haughton is having a few more problems. She has been charged with failing to file statutory declarations for 2012 and 2013, after the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption reported her to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Her attorney says she was just a few years late in filing them. The Office of the Contractor General is also investigating the sale of a Toyota Prado to the former Mayor.

Talking of corruption… What on earth has been going on at the Factories Corporation of Jamaica? Auditor General Pamela Ellis Monroe has uncovered all kinds of goings on. It’s hardly surprising that the much-touted logistics hub has remained elusive for years, come to think of it, with so many irregularities. After the audit, the FCJ reported an unnamed attorney (why unnamed?) to the Fraud Squad, for not returning J$70 million from the sale of a property. But that’s not all. Money has been wasted left, right and center, according to the AG’s report.

State Minister for Education, Youth and Information, Hon. Floyd Green, addressing the UNICEF ‘Keep the Children Safe from Sexual Violence’ forum back in April. (Photo: JIS)
State Minister for Education, Youth and Information, Hon. Floyd Green, addressing the UNICEF ‘Keep the Children Safe from Sexual Violence’ forum back in April. (Photo: JIS)

Our vulnerable children: Big ups to junior minister for youth Floyd Green, who has begun a strategic review of children’s homes; this is to be completed in December in time for the next budget. The plight of our children in state care is one of ongoing concern; I’m glad Minister Green mentioned children with special needs – just one of the areas that must be addressed. USAID Jamaica is also funding the Transitional Living Programme for Children in State Care Project, which I think is well worthwhile. I am really sorry USAID Director Dr. Denise Herbol will be leaving – I believe this month. She has been terrific, and very down to earth.

“Zero Tolerance” (ZT) is one of our favorite expressions when discussing law enforcement. Now the police Traffic Division are claiming accidents have been reduced, after issuing 33,500 traffic tickets in the past month during “Operation ZT.” 166 Jamaicans have died on our roads this year, 48 of them motorbike riders (glad to hear they have at last prosecuted some for not wearing helmets). There is so much lawlessness on the road that they will simply have to keep up the pressure, day after day. While they’re at it, why not start looking at JUTC bus drivers? We are not impressed by their driving habits. They all need to go back to training school – Minister Henry, over to you, and before you start expanding JUTC services outside Kingston, as you plan to do? Yes, the Transport Minister hopes to have buses rolling into Clarendon in September as part of a pilot project.

EPOC man Richard Byles sounded quite jolly at a press briefing this week. Tax revenues for April were above target, he noted, and both the primary surplus and Net International Reserves are ahead of target. “I think it is (safe) to say that Jamaica remains on track with the International Monetary Fund programme, and this is excellent news,” said Mr. Byles – who rarely smiles, but the tone of voice was, I would say upbeat.

Co-Chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), Richard Byles.
Co-Chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), Richard Byles.

Smoking dumps: Just when we thought it was safe to breathe again, we are apparently still suffering from smoking dumps. One at Myersville in St. Elizabeth caught fire last week (deliberately set?) and television footage showed garbage strewn openly across a wide area – including tires. Please fix this problem, National Solid Waste Management Agency!

I enjoyed so many chats with Glenroy Sinclair, a marvelous crime reporter and a total sweetheart. (Photo: Gleaner)
I enjoyed so many chats with Glenroy Sinclair, a marvelous crime reporter and a total sweetheart. (Photo: Gleaner)


Gary Spaulding was a wise and insightful political reporter.
Gary Spaulding was a wise, witty and insightful political reporter.

Farewell… In a strange turn of events, two well-known Gleaner journalists passed away within three days of each other – suddenly, and both relatively young. I first met Glenroy Sinclair when he was a crime reporter – he was meticulous in his work, and never reported in a sensational way. I really liked him. Then he became Assignment Editor, and I understand he used to mentor many younger journalists along the way. He was a completely lovable, kind and sweet man – apart from being a damn good journalist. I did not know the political editor Gary Spaulding very well at all, but he was equally highly respected. Glenroy was 49, Gary 53. This is ridiculously young, but I do know Glenroy worked incredibly hard, perhaps too hard. My deepest condolences to all my friends at the Gleaner, and to Glenroy and Gary’s respective families. Jamaica – and the world – has lost two wonderful journalists.

There is no doubt that crime (violent crime) is a huge thorn in our side. It is creating a huge, infected wound, and needs to be removed. Now a foreign national has been killed while walking down the road with his girlfriend and his father, in the tourist resort of Negril. The residents say very little has been done to enhance security in the town, despite motorbike riders racing up and down the road, robbing people. Also, the two American missionaries were murdered in a very quiet rural district on April 30/May 1, but the police are only now saying they are seeking two suspects (no description, or anything). It’s a little baffling to me. Have the murderers escaped overseas, I wonder? Meanwhile, Commissioner of Police Carl Williams emphasized that ALL lives are valuable – not only foreigners’ lives – while visiting the Canadians to offer condolences. I am glad he did that. The police have seized 12 firearms in the past 24 hours (six in St. James, that crazy parish where over 100 Jamaicans have already been killed this year) and arrested two gang members in Spanish Town – which is good news. My deepest sympathies go out to all the families. How much longer can we go on like this, though? Answers are needed.

Ramone Cummings, 24, Denver Crescent, Maverley/Kingston (killed by police) and his twin brother…

Rameish Cummings, 24, Denver Crescent, Maverley/Kingston (killed by police)

Garnett Hall, 25, Caribbean Estates/Portmore, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Buck Town/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

“Peter,” Mitchell Town, Clarendon

Unidentified man, Mango Walk/Montego Hills, St. James

Unidentified man, Spring Mount/Niagara District, St James

Romaine Myers, 29, Barrett Hall, St. James

Orrett Hutchinson, 44, Barrett Town/Mount Zion, St James

Rohan Atkinson, 33, Prospect, Hanover

Kimberly Brown, 27, Prospect, Hanover

Oliver Hayles, 35, Bethel Town, Westmoreland

Robert Gunn, 22, Horse Pass/Bethel Town, Westmoreland

Clinton Wedderburn, 60, Herring Piece/Grange Hill, Westmoreland

Ralph Blair, 55, Grange Hill, Westmoreland

André Palakia, 35, West End/Negril, Westmoreland (Canadian national)

Ilroy Bennett, 26, Phantiland, St. Elizabeth

Robert Riley, 42, Coffee Walk/Jeffrey Town, St Mary

Rohan Atkinson and Kimberly Brown were shot dead by men on a motorbike, while going to help at what appeared to be an accident scene in Prospect, Hanover. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
Rohan Atkinson and Kimberly Brown were shot dead by men on a motorbike, while they were going to help at what appeared to be an accident scene in Prospect, Hanover. Another motorist who went to help was shot and seriously injured. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

16 thoughts on “A Legal Tantrum, The PNP Prolongs The Agony, and Foreign Languages Are Actually Very Useful: Saturday, June 11, 2016

  1. It might surprise you, but modern Spanish uses more verb tenses than modern French. Modern Spanish uses the subjunctive present, past, imperfect and pluperfect tenses. Modern French only uses the subjunctive present and past (the subjunctive imperfect and pluperfect only ever and rarely used in literature). Spanish even has a subjunctive future tense (though rarely used); French doesn’t.

    Modern Spanish uses “tú”, “vos”, “usted”, “vosotros” and “ustedes” (though it varies depending on where it’s spoken), whereas modern French only uses “tu” and “vous”. Modern English only uses “you” (“thou” only ever and rarely used in literature).

    Modern Spanish has two verbs for “to be”: “ser” and “estar”. Modern French only has one: “être”. Spanish also has more articles and determinants than French…

    To be fair, French has more past participle rules than Spanish, but other than that, French is quite easier. French has grammatical gender, but so does Spanish. In both languages, adjectives and past participles can either be singular or plural.

    And unlike Spanish and English, French has NO WORD STRESS!!! Meaning, the stress usually falls on the last syllable of ever French word, whereas it constantly changes in Spanish and English (which makes it harder for new speakers).

    Spanish & French are obviously very close, but I still find French somewhat closer to English. Keep in mind about 45% (fair estimate) of the English vocabulary originates from French, and the sentence structure is often similar. Add to that all English words that originate from Latin, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, and you’ll find English has quite some Romance in it (which sets it apart from other Germanic language).

    French is also the easiest language to learn for an English speaker (followed by Spanish and Dutch).


    1. I can’t speak about Spanish but have been learning French since primary school and studied it at advanced level on into university. I also did German at A Level and found that easier than French too – and in terms of vocabulary there are many close links too of course – basic words like house, bread, brother, sister etc… From what I have tried to learn of Spanish (I did a few basic classes) the grammar seemed so much easier to me compared to French! Ah, I didn’t know about the word stress. On what basis do you say French is the easiest language for an English speaker? It was not considered so in the English education system, when I was growing up. The “slower” kids did Spanish…?


      1. I’m a native French speaker and half-native English speaker from Canada. I have watched a number of YouTube videos on which languages are the hardest to learn versus the easiest, and according to one of them, French is the easiest language for an English speaker followed by Spanish and then Dutch.

        English mostly originates from German and then French, which makes its vocabulary very similar to that of French. The Wikipedia article entitled ‘List of English words of French origin’ literally lists THOUSANDS such words from A to C, D to I, J to R and S to Z. Just the A list has hundreds of words… French is definitely the closest thing to English after German.

        The French sentence “Cette loi est toujours en vigueur.” is very similar to the English sentence “This law is still in vigour.” The structure is exactly the same, and the word “vigour” comes from the French “vigueur”. But then comes passion; the more passionate you are about a language, the easier you might find it.

        One tip for not only learning, but also mastering a language, is to really “get into it” to a point you even start thinking in that language; not necessarily all the time, but some of the time—that helped me with English. Listening to lots of music, TV shows, movies, reading, conversing and talking also help a lot. That plus all the phonetic work…

        I’m also fluent in Haitian Creole, and I’m currently learning Spanish (quite complex, in my opinion).


      2. That’s great. Languages have always been my passion. I studied Japanese and basic Mandarin at university and lived in Japan for over two years. I guess by then I was really “thinking” in Japanese, but it takes time to reach that point. I also visited France almost every year from my teens onwards (I was born in the UK). My mother grew up there and spoke fluent French, and my parents ended up buying a house there. So I used to practice my French in my parents’ village too, trying to get through the difficult “Midi” accent of the south! S I also lived in Germany for six months with a family who refused to speak English with me. It’s the best way to learn.ince living in Jamaica my languages have become very rusty, but I still keep up my French at the nearby Alliance Francaise, and took the DELF/DALF exams up to B2. I need to do C1 and C2 now – it’s really hard to do exams at my age!


  2. From personal experience, having taken both Spanish and French, I actually found French much easier. However French was not offered after a certain level due to a lack of teachers and hence the ONLY option was Spanish – which didn’t turn out too well for quite a few students.

    As you said, some pupils don’t take to languages at all. In some cases it may be how it was taught.

    On the other hand in some cases it could well just be that some pupils will more readily get different languages for different reasons. Perhaps some will take to French due to the similarities between French and English (due to the historical influence of French on English). Others may find the Spanish easier grammatically. Others may well find French more familiar since grammatically it is not as simple as Spanish and so in a weird way, it feels more like English. Some may get Dutch better than Spanish or French.

    It all boils down to individual differences. But too often in Jamaica, we adopt a “one size fits all” attitude towards education.

    And yes, we do need to step up our language training.


    1. You found French easier?! Wow. It has far more irregular verbs etc than Spanish and is considered a more complex language. The grammatical rules are very tough. Actually though, there are more similarities between English and German, especially in terms of vocabulary. Spanish and French are in the same language group and have more similarities. Nevertheless, as you say, some students will take to a particular language more than others. I feel we should just get going on language training, whichever one (or two) students decide they want to focus on.


  3. I think Grasshopper has it right. When I heard what Holness said, I had to roll my eyes. Not because I think Spanish isn’t useful, but that what Holness appeared to be calling for was to make Spanish Jamaica’s second official language (i.e. the language of government) rather than to just make Spanish education more pervasive (in which case all he had to do was say it was time for Jamaica to take Spanish more seriously and for there to be a concerted effort led by the Ministry of Education for improved Spanish education in schools – he should have avoided using the words “official” and “language” in close proximity to each other within the same sentence). I found it rather sad that the political class seems to have such a poor grasp of English that they regularly come up with such gems of confusion.


    1. Yes, absolutely. The Prime Minister confused the issue with his talk of “second language.” There is certainly a need for language teaching in Jamaica to be more widespread. I came across this, coincidentally, when the Principal of Ebonique’s school (see an earlier post about the schoolgirl who won a trip to Mexico) told me they don’t teach Spanish. This is where the focus needs to be: enhanced language education in Jamaican schools, in particular Spanish. I saw a report that 65 per cent of the population of the Caribbean speaks Spanish – compared to 15 per cent English speaking. It just makes sense!


      1. Hmmm…to be honest while 65% of the Caribbean does speak Spanish, I think the focus should not be only on Spanish. Sure Spanish is extremely useful in this hemisphere. But not every pupil will take to Spanish (as I’ve witnessed from own school days) and the lack of options is something that really stymies the adoption of a second language among many Jamaican students.

        I think there needs to be a concerted effort to ensure that at a minimum two foreign languages are on offer at every school and that students must be taught at least one foreign language up to perhaps Grade 9/Third Form.

        If two languages are offered then the obvious choices will be Spanish and French, which makes sense given those two would be the predominant languages in the Caribbean alongside English and French itself is quite useful. Some schools though might be able to offer German, Dutch, Portuguese or even Hindi or Mandarin. All of which would be useful for different reasons (Dutch because it is also spoken in the Caribbean; Portuguese due to Brazil being in this hemisphere and a growing power; Mandarin due to China and Hindi due to India; German as it is useful on its own and can open opportunities in parts of Europe).

        And for children who don’t take to the Spanish or the French and whose schools don’t offer them any other languages, perhaps a Ministry of Education-led extra-class program could be launched where these students would all attend special classes at some of the language schools on the island with tutors in one of the other languages.


      2. Well, Spanish is by far the most widely spoken language in our region so it seems logical to me. Some pupils don’t “take to” languages at all, but perhaps it’s because they are not being taught properly. Compared to French or Portuguese or Dutch – other languages spoken in our region – it is actually much simpler grammatically. Believe me, French is much harder. Mandarin (which I learnt at a basic level while learning Japanese) is extremely difficult! But if one wants to live and work in China, yes. The main thing, though is not which language to learn but just to really step up our language teaching!


  4. Trying to learn a foreign language without teachers and other persons around speaking that language fluently is, from my experience, almost useless when out in the real world and in situations where that language is the norm. I grew up in WW2 England where learning to speak English was no great problem since we were surrounded by English speakers. Learning French in high school (as I did) had very different results for me. We learnt tons of vocabulary and grammar but were never given an opportunity to attempt a conversation with French-speaking people (they were all, of course, on the other side of the English Channel suffering from the German occupation). Now, in my 88th year I can still remember nearly all the vocabulary and can conjugate most verbs, but for the life of me I cannot hold a conversation with a French person because my ear was never trained to actually use French. I say all this because I hope the children of Jamaica will actually learn to use Spanish (if that’s what is proposed) rather than simply learn about it academically. There’s no shortage of Spanish speakers to call on for help in the Caribbean!


    1. I agree with you to some extent. I grew up in post-war England and learned languages from an early age and ended up doing French, German and Latin for A Level. Then went on to do Japanese at university. Quite true though – if my parents hadn’t made the effort to set up a kind of exchange program with a family in Marseille, I would not have had the opportunity to speak French on a regular basis. I still try and practice French here in Jamaica though, through classes at Alliance Francaise and through conversation with a native French speaker who lives here. But I agree – my German came to life after I spent 6 months working in Bavaria, and similarly I lived in Japan for two years and became fluent at speaking, after ramming all the grammar etc. into my head. 🙂
      I DO think though – times have changed! There is no excuse really, if one really wants to learn and practice a language properly in the 21st century, there are native speakers almost everywhere, travel is much easier and there is much greater mobility in society. There are many opportunities for Jamaican children to learn to use Spanish! Spanish speakers are all over the island nowadays, and our nearest neighbor is Spanish speaking. We should not need to call on foreigners from outside. PLUS even if one cannot speak fluently, there are many opportunities for translators nowadays.


  5. The comments I have heard re: second language express concern about Jamaican patois (or whatever the correct term) and the fact that English is taught in our schools as if it is the “first” language of all the students when really it is not – therefore students struggle with and never learn to speak, read or write English properly. Since students never really learn English grammar (in my view – and I don’t think I did either) they then struggle to learn Spanish or any other language grammatically either. Personally, I think schools up to Grade 11 should focus on getting English right as well as focusing on Spanish rather than French – but both English and Spanish need to be taught in really practical ways.


    1. Yes, absolutely. But then why isn’t English Grammar taught properly in school, anyway? In the UK, I learnt all the English grammar, vocabulary and we had a special Use of English exam which was actually quite difficult. At the same time, I was learning French from nine years old… I agree, teach in practical ways …


  6. I heard the PM say separate things and he may not make any distinction in his mind between OFFICIAL second language and second OFFICIAL language; others do. If he means that Spanish is to be the mandated second language taught at school then he should say that, as he seemed to try to at the end of his comments in Parliament. Whether it’s taught well and learnt well are other things to be achieved. Being more qualified linguistically would do wonders for most people and the country overall. Any let’s get the simple matter of communicating clearly in our OFFICIAL 1st language sorted out 😊🇯🇲


    1. Yes, Dennis. He did rather confuse the issue by saying two different things. I agree though, we just need to get on and teach Spanish properly – give language teaching much more prominence in general. I would definitely support that and it would certainly work wonders for Jamaica and for Jamaicans, I agree!

      Liked by 1 person

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