Silvina Woods

Miss Lady, you need wa taxi?” My head jerked aroun seeking the voice from which !hose words carne. couldn’t believe it! The words, !he intonation, the phrasingit sounded just like !he way I talked!

“Oava ya, Miss-da mee aksin ifyu need wa taxi.” I peered

through the mesh border, which separated arriving passengers from the waiting park area at the Bluefields airport. And there he was. A young, outspoken Nicaraguan taxi driver was energetically waving at me. He saw me as a potential fare - 1 just gaped and gaped at him. To me, he could have been my brother, uncle, boyfriend (okay, okay, except for the age difference) or fellow citizen of my home country of Belize. Not only did he look like me he sounded likeme.

Well, almos!. The Nikaragwan Kriol (Nicaraguan Creole) he was speaking had slight grammatical and phraseology differences from the Bileez Kriol (Belize Creole) 1 speak. For example, his “da mee aksin ifyu need wa taxi” would be said in Bileez Kriol as “da mee di aks if yu need wahn taxi.” Belize is a multicultural country of sorne 250,000 people located north of Nicaragua, just above Honduras.

lts eastern border faces the Caribbean Sea.

I was in Bluefields to assist with a Kriol language appreciation and training workshop for sorne 35 language teachers who taught in schools situated in Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coas! (sorry, Caribbean Coas!). The week-long sessions were held at URACCAN’s southern campus (Universidad de las Regiones Autónomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaragüense). From April 1st to 71h , 2002, 1 hadthe privilege to share what was being done with the English-based Creole language in Belize with lhe teacher-experts of Nicaragua who were faced with the daily challenge of teaching English and Spanish to Nicaraguan schoolchildren who spoke Nicaraguan Creole as theirfirst language.

The workshop took place in the context of the on-going PEBI work (Programa de Educación Bilingüe lntercultural) of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Educalion, being conducted with native languages ofthe Nicaraguan Atlantic Coas! (sorry, 1 mean Caribbean Coas!). Funding and technical assistance towards this endeavor is provided by FOREIBCA (Fortalecimiento de la Educación lntercultural Bilingue en la Costa Atlántica), a Finish Government sponsored project, and the University of the Autonomous Region.s of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast-URACCAN.

Along with me was a colleague from Belize, Jessie Castillo, an expert in the teaching of oral and written Garifuna. She stayed an additional week, going on to Orinoco to share methods of teaching how toread and write Garifúna, another native language which Nicaragua and Belize have in common.

The minute I stepped off the airplane in Bluefields, 1 felt like 1 had come home. Belize and Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coas! (sorry, its Caribbean Coas!) share so much history and culture. Apart from the language connection of our almos! identical Kriol languages, we have so much lifestyle practices in common. On a walk through the Bluefields market (that’s maakit in Kriol!), 1 saw the coal pots and flybrush and so many other household items many Belizeans use or have used. Sure, there are sorne differences, not so much of content but of use. For example, eating a typical Bluefields breakfast al the maakit meant eating rice and beans with cheese. Now, rice and beans is the national dish ot Belize Kriol people, but whoever heard ot eating il tor breaktast! And with cheese? And why do Bluefields people call that fried flour cake “try cake” when it’s obviously the same “fry jack” that we eat in Belize? Oh, well ... a rose by any other name ...

And ot course, !he history ot Belize and the history ot Nicaragua·s Atlantic Coas! (sorry, 1 mean its Caribbean Coas!), clear1y drive home exactly why I tell so much al home. Both countries’ history ot slavery involved transshipment ot common ancestors from Africa’s western coas! via Jamaica to work for English-speaking colonizers. While British interests have continued in Belize virtually up to the present day, with Belizean lndependence gained from Britain in 1981, British interests in Nicaragua’s Mosquito (or Miskitu) Coast were strong up to the Treaty ot Versailles in 1783, when Britain gave up claim to sovereignty there. As recorded by Dr. Colville Young in his book Language and Education in Belize, 2002 (p. 17):

« ... !he British had !he chiets ot !he Miskito crowned with what mus! have been impressive pomp and ceremony in SI. John’s Cathedral, Belize ... Before Brilain abandoned her claims to the “Mosquito” ooast, there was frequent movement ot people, especially ot timber workers, between Belize and the southern settlement. A Spanish raid on one often mean! seeking temporary shelter in another; after the British finally abandoned the “Mosquito” coas!, much ot its population found permanent homes in Belize.”

lt is no wonder, then, that I tell so much al home in Bluefields, the heart ot that “Mosquito” coas!. 1 tell like I was the modern embodiment ot lhat 300-year old intimacy between our shared ancestors. Note that the workshop participants and1 have begun using the term “Nikaragwan Kriol” to refer to all the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coas! varieties of Kriol (Bluefields, Rama Cay, Corn lsland, Pearl Lagoon. Puerto Cabezas - Bilwi). Another term found in previous literature has been MCC (Miskito Coast Creole) - a nomenclature that reflects the initial stage of the development of Nikaragwan Kriol which began with contact between Miskito (also called “Miskitu”) Amerindians and African slaves who were shipwrecked on the coas! around 1640.

11 is also quite natural, too, that both countries’ Kriol languages thus developed “in situ” as a mixture of primarily English vocabulary with African grammatical patterns. Additionally, borrowings of Miskito, Spanish and other lexical items are found. African word origins and grammatical patterns have been traced by Dr. Joseph lyo (2001, National Tour Guide Training Program Manual. Belize) currently working in Belize, to such African groups as the Eboes and Nagos (Nigeria). Ashantees (Ghana). Congoes (Democratic Republic of Congo). Mandingoes (SeneGambia) and Mongolas (Angola). Dr. John Holm’s sociolinguistic work done in 1978 on the Creole English spoken in Nicaragua also reveals the source of sorne of the common Miskito words in, not just Bileez Kriol, but in Belizean English in general (words like soopa, the Central American peach palm, kuhune. a large palm with edible nuts; doary, a small dug out canoe ).

Additionally, the shared history also has meant shared folktales (like Bra Anansi stories) and shared folksongs (like Wait Gaalin Soop: meaning a soup/soop made from the white/wait egret bird/gaa/in). Above all, though, what I can only calla shared “personality” -a manner of being, a warmth -is what I best reta in about my visit to Bluefields. 1 instinctively interacted with every elderly woman as though she were mygranny; every workshop participan! quickly became a dear colleague with a level of camaraderie marking the workshop sessions unlike any I have ever experienced before. And evening interactions with sorne participants quickly made them my bombaliz (a Bileez Kriol word meaning “wonderful friends and companions”). And their names! lt was just like a roster of Belizean surnames - Parham, Hansack, Simmons, Cox.

Perhaps it was the inslinctive familiarity I felt with the teacher-experts in the workshop that made us have such mutually beneficia! sessions. My substantive mission was to share and present on the following topics:

Supporting my input was input from Nicaraguan linguist and URACCAN affiliate Guillermo Mclean, and Finnish linguist Arja Koskinen. The tangible result of the workshop was the development of a draft phonetic orthography for Nikaragwan Kriol (Nicaraguan Creole) which was generated andvalidated by the participants and which, of course, needs to be tested and reviewed and used and re-tested and revised over the coming years, if Nlkaragwan Kriol-speakers so deslre to pursue the development of a written verslon of the warm and wonderful Kriol language spoken along Nlcaragua’s Caribbean Coast.

I have in this article given jusi a laste of sorne of the orthography symbols considered al the workshop. During the workshop, too, participants were appraised of the on-going steps in the process of standardization of an orthography for Bileez Kriol, a process which began in earnest in 1993 by local Kriol enthusiasts and educators, with voluntary linguistic expertise solicited from the Summer lnstitute of Linguistics. Their experts, Ken and Sandy Decker, joined the local team and the Belize Kriol Orthography Project was started. The Project is now approaching a majar ten-year revision to make the system more internally consisten! - that is, phonetic with only one symbol for ea ch sound.

Many of the symbols that may eventually be chosen for standard use in Nicaragua will, no doubt, share a lot in common with the orthographies being developed in Jamaica and Belize - but sorne may well be closer to the orthography being developed in nearby San Andres. Let’s jusi look ata few examples: Bluefields workshop participants appeared to prefer the symbol / ii/ for the representation of the long e sound, which is what the curren! San Andres Kriol orthography uses. The Bileez Kriol orthography, on the other hand, uses /ee/for the long sound. Another difterence is with the long u sound. In the draft Nikaragwan Kriol spelling system, this is represented as /uu/while the Bileez Kriol revised orthography uses loo/. Both Bileez Kriol and the burgeoning Nikaragwan Kriol spelling systems, however, favor the use of /k/forthe hard e sound; both also favor /j/for the soft g sound and both favor the use of /ai/for the long i sound.

How far will the Nikaragwan Kriol writing system be developed? How well will it be accepted? How widely will it be used? Clearly, the answers to these questions lie with the speakers of the language in much the same way as it is up to Belizeans to advance the case for Bileez Kriol. What is critica! to bear in mind is that while a country’s education system is an obvious vehicle for the development of an orthography system, ultimately, it is the users ofthe written system that will make it viable and productive - a cultural enrichment to its people in addition toan educational too!. So, it is critica! to get writers involved in the standardization process - poets, novelists, lyricists, advertisement copy writers, court stenographers, police statement writers - in short, anyone who has a real need to use a written version of the Kriol, should be involved in the process at sorne point. So ... maybe the next time I arrive in Bluefields Nicaragua, and I see the warm welcome sign that is currently in English and Spanish, maybe it will then proudly be in three languages

with !he addition of Welkom tu Bluufiilz

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