Nation language

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"Nation language" is the term coined by scholar and poet Kamau Brathwaite[1][2] and now commonly preferred to describe the work of writers from the Caribbean and the African diaspora in non-standard English, as opposed to the traditional designation of it as "dialect", which Brathwaite considered carries pejorative connotations that are inappropriate and limiting.[2]

In the words of Kamau Brathwaite, who is considered the authority of note on nation language and a key exemplar of its use:[3]

"We in the Caribbean have a [...] kind of plurality: we have English, which is the imposed language on much of the archipelago. It is an imperial language, as are French, Dutch and Spanish. We also have what we call creole English, which is a mixture of English and an adaptation that English took in the new environment of the Caribbean when it became mixed with the other imported languages. We have also what is called nation language, which is the kind of English spoken by the people who were brought to the Caribbean, not the official English now, but the language of slaves and labourers, the servants who were brought in."[1]

Writers who also notably use nation language include Samuel Selvon, Louise Bennett, John Figueroa, Archie Markham, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Marc Matthews, John Agard, Jean Binta Breeze, as well as others of a younger generation. Poet and scholar Mervyn Morris ("one of the first academics to espouse the importance of nation language in helping to define in verse important aspects of Jamaican culture", according to Ralph Thompson)[4] identifies V. S. Reid's 1949 novel New Day as the first literary work to use Jamaican vernacular as the language of narration.[5]

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  1. ^ a b Brathwaite, History of the Voice: The Development of Nation Language in Anglophone Caribbean Poetry (New Beacon Books, 1984), pp. 5-6.
  2. ^ a b Tom McArthur, "Nation language", Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1998.
  3. ^ Montague Kobbe, "Caribbean Identity and Nation Language in Kamau Brathwaite's Poetry", MEMO FROM LA-LA LAND, 23 December 2010.
  4. ^ Quoted in "Professor Mervyn Morris Named First Poet Laureate In 60 Years", The Gleaner, 15 April 2014.
  5. ^ Morris, Mervyn. “Introduction” to V. S. Reid’s New Day. Caribbean Writers Series 4. Kingston & London: Heinemann, 1973.

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