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THE AL GILKES COLUMN: The elegant use of speech


Al Gilkes

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I like Freundel Stuart. As one who is forced to use “proper” English on a daily basis in my professional capacity, I am amazed at the seemingly endless range of his vocabulary coupled with his all but flawless mastery of all the elements of language including syntax, grammar, functionality, structure and pronunciation.
He is able to string words together in sentences that artistically and pictorially translate even his most complex thoughts into relatively easily understood language for the listener.
Yet, despite this ability, Freundel is not like one of those small band of geeks with whom I shared classrooms in College whose major occupation during free periods was to “swallow dictionaries” the study of the biggest words in order to be able to constantly regurgitate “big words” while the rest of us were running in mass behind a football, trying to bat as often as possible in hit and run firms, or licking the maximum number of marbles out of a ling with the maximum size “taw”.
Former government minister, Dr Don Blackman, would be a classic example of the latter and his debut on the political platform was a nightly attraction for thousands who got their thrill, not from what he said but from the endless boulders for words that he used to say what he said.
Unfortunately, it would seems that such super-masters of language find themselves inextricably stuck like a car in a cart road of soft mud after heavy rainfall and are unable to communicate in the vernacular, dialect, creole, street or whatever form of their own language in common use.
I always contend that my first language is Bajan dialect and my second is the standard English to which I was introduced and forced to cram when I first entered the then St Mary’s Boys School at the age of four. I am still learning it and will die without learning everything about it.
Nevertheless, with this bilingual ability I am able switch from proper English for business and certain social purposes to Bajan when relaxing with family, friends and co-workers. Like most such persons, I more often than not use a hybrid of the pure language and the dialect.
I have said all of that to tell you that I nearly died with laughter some nights ago while watching CBC’s Channel 8. With my dream in the same graveyard as Kevin’s, I normally watch the 7 p.m. news and as soon as that ends scan the MCTV channels for something action-packed, entertaining, educational or hilarious to watch.
However, on this particular night something distracted me and before I could switch channels, there was Freundel on the screen in a repeat of the address he had delivered to the recent DLP annual conference in the absence of Prime Minister David Thompson.
Since I had not attended the event but had only read and seen extracts in the newspaper and on the radio and TV, I decided to watch and listen to the full thing.
It turned out to have been a well prepared speech but one which failed to create any above normal excitement or ecstatic outbursts of applause or laughter from the audience simply because it was standard Freundel, very proper, not overly hot or overly cold.
But then the unexpected happened. As he neared the end, Freundel unbelievably went full ghetto saying that when people hear BLP, the voice in their heads is that of Li’l Rick saying “guh dung, guh dung, guh dung”. The crowd bawled for murder, screaming, jumping and laughing their eyes full of water.
As soon as the din subsided enough for him to be heard again, Freundel, like Archie, brek dem up again when he noted that when people hear DLP, the voice in their head is again Li’l Rick’s telling them, “Doan stop down dey – cum up, cum up, cum up”.
But would you believe that while everybody was “deading with laughter” my boy remained as emotionless as a god horse as if he didn’t understand what he had just said?

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