In this morning’s Gleaner a Mr Carlton Reynolds is upset with one of my former professors (as people so often are) and rightly so! In Sunday’s column in the Jamaica Gleaner, Prof. Cooper goes a step too far by suggesting that even if God doesn’t quite speak patois, it should be hoped that he at least understands it, for if not then the prayers of thousands of Jamaicans have been falling on deaf ears.
Cooper’s point is probably logical, but I don’t care! I’m through with liberal thinking! I’m now championing conservative opinions like the one in Reynolds’ letter. So hoorah for him! And look, I’ve even begun using the exclamation marks that so pepper his outraged epistle. (Forgive me, until this morning I used to be suspicious of people who wrote with an excess of exclamation marks – because sometimes their arguments seemed more passionate than thoughtful, more reactionary than reasonable. So maybe, in a way, I have been a conservative all along?!)
Anyhow, Reynolds calls Cooper’s latest column, amongst other things, ‘sloppy journalism’. I think he’s using the following definition. Journalism: The style of writing characteristic of material in newspapers and magazines, consisting of direct presentation of facts or occurrences with little attempt at analysis or interpretation.
Some smarty-pants may point out that Cooper’s column is an ‘Opinion Piece’ – not standard journalism. It is in fact supposed to make every attempt at ‘analysis or interpretation’. But let us ignore that pesky matter lest it dampen our righteous anger. Because Reynolds is right! Cooper pretends to tell us how the almighty God might speak, but doesn’t even have the decency to go trekking up Mount Sinai or to a little burning bush in her back yard, to have discourse with the big man (or ‘big woman’, for Cooper insists on the plurality of God’s gender as does the Bible, but that is another topic); the point is, Cooper doesn’t at all provide a transcript of a taped interview she should have had with God in a professional attempt to gather the much needed evidence to support her column. So for shame, Professor Cooper! For shame! And if the vernacular prayers she includes are all just made up (actually, she says as much) – are all just literary flourishes, the incorporation of fictive elements, of anecdotes to make a bigger point, then I do not care for them!
I should point out, by the way, that this is how Reynolds begins his assault: “ ‘Even God speaks patois’ thunders the headline but what follows is nothing short of shameful!” (In actual fact, Mr Reynolds, the headline thundered ‘Even God speaks PATWA’. Could this ever-so-slight misquote on your part be an example of the ‘sloppy journalism’ you are complaining about? And as heretic as the suggestion may be that God speaks patois/patwa, I think you will find that there is equally little to no evidence that God speaks English. Shocking!)
In all seriousness – it’s interesting, in Reynold’s very short letter, the litany of adjectives he calls into service to dismiss the possible beauty of the Jamaican language and also the academic project of validating that language. Some of these adjectives are – ‘irreverent’ ‘most sloppy’ ‘futile’ ‘unworthy’ ‘broken’ ‘misspelt’ ‘shameful’. The letter makes me despair, because sometimes I confess I have been a litte bored by the kind of project that Cooper and many other bright people have been engaged in. I think (sometimes) – come on, hasn’t that battle been won already? But it hasn’t. In her columns, Cooper is clearly not preaching to the choir. She is taking the gospel of language rights to people who don’t wish to be converted.
The angry Mr Reynolds concludes: “What I cannot understand is what would drive someone to such extremes for such an unworthy quest. Such zeal correctly applied could accomplish a great good.” Is there any thing more heartbreaking than this idea of what would be a ‘great good’ and what ought to be the correct application of intellect? Surely, for Mr Reynolds, it would be someone who used her broad and interesting mind to degrade the language of ordinary people, to insist that it was unbeautiful, unintelligent, and backward. It is truly odd that Reynolds talks about ‘extremes’ — but who is the real extremist here? Isn’t it the little man with all his incendiary adjectives and his great arsenal of exclamation marks?!!!