Thursday, 14 October 2010

How Jamaica should be more like Switzerland

I was having lunch with a business associate from Switzerland the other day. He told me that the German that is spoken natively in his homeland, known as Swiss German, has no written form. Their written language is "High German", as he called it, also called Swiss Standard German. High German can be understood by non-Swiss German speakers. Swiss German can not.

Swiss German is spoken in all but a few contexts - the classroom (though not the playground - not only do the schoolkids use Swiss German on the playground, but so do the teachers); in multi-lingual parliamentary sessions; on the main news broadcast; and in the presence of German-speaking foreigners. There are many formal contexts in which Swiss German is the norm, such as business meetings, and court testimony.

He didn't say this (it would have been un-Swiss to say it out loud) but it seemed clear to me that the use of Swiss German was a matter of pride, and perhaps an important differentiator for the Swiss people.

Somehow it didn't seem important that his native language was not a written language. Nor that, as he admitted, Swiss German speakers are usually far less fluent in High German. Nor that their language was not intelligible to German-speaking foreigners.

It hasn't crippled their economy to have a native language that is unknown outside their borders. There is no social stigma associated with the use of Swiss German.

It has its place, and High German has its place, and that's all there is to it.

I can only wish that the same will one day be true for Jamaican Creole.
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