Literacy Development in Vernacular Speakers: Phonological Awareness

Literacy Development in Vernacular Speakers: Phonological Awareness

Kathy Depradine (Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, Saint Lucia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4075-6.ch006
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The unique language situation in St. Lucia and the heterogeneity of the St. Lucian classroom suggest the implementation of an innovative way of using students' first language. Furthermore, the inability of many infant and primary school students to attain satisfactory marks in certain components of national English examinations are two factors which should influence the method of classroom instruction. Thus, the data in this chapter address the use of home language in instruction. In particular, the investigation of eight infant level students exposed to a model of vernacular instruction which included both English and Kwéyòl instruction produced comparative results of phonological awareness in the two languages. The data revealed that over time the students were better able to perceive sounds common to both languages and that their ability to perform phonological tasks may depend on the cognitive nature of the tasks and the cognitive operations required to perform them.
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St. Lucia is a bilingual country with English and a French Creole (Kwéyòl) as the main languages spoken by the population. Isaac (1986), giving what can be considered a fairly recent assessment of the language situation, stated that “it seems reasonable to consider the existence of four linguistic codes in St. Lucia: St. Lucian French Creole (SLFC), St. Lucian Basilect (SLB), St. Lucian Creole English, (SLCE) and that variety closest to Standard English, St. Lucian Standard English (SLSE)” (pp. 32-33). However, she made a distinction between SLFC, which would be the basilectal variety in other contexts (in countries where the creole variety is lexically related to the Standard variety) and SLB. This distinction emphasized the St. Lucian complexity. Simmons-Mc Donald (2014) offered a similar assessment of the St. Lucian linguistic situation with specific reference to the unique composition of learners in the typical St. Lucian classroom. She contended that “ . . . in the early years of primary school, particularly in the rural areas, classroom composition consists of learners who speak Kwéyòl, vernacular English (a Creole-influenced variety) and St. Lucian Standard English as first languages” (p. 124). She further stated that “… in the early years of primary school, particularly in the rural areas, classroom composition consists of learners who speak Kwéyòl, vernacular English (a Creole-influenced variety) and St. Lucian Standard English as first languages”. Simmons-McDonald (1996) also made the point that it is highly likely that those children who live in urban areas will have greater competence in SLSE or SLCE. Simmons-McDonald has since replaced the nomenclature SLCE with SLEV (St. Lucian English Lexicon Vernacular). This is the designation used throughout this chapter.

It must be recognized that the existence of the vernacular SLEV, also underscores that St. Lucia, like most of the English-speaking Caribbean, is also defined by the existence of a bidialectal situation. Craig (1978) posited that a language situation may be described as bidialectal if “…the natural language of children differs from the standard language aimed at by schools, but is at the same time sufficiently related to this standard language for there to be some amount of overlap at the level of vocabulary and grammar (p. 93). That SLEV is lexically related to English means that the language in St. Lucia can also be described in this respect. In fact, recognizing the co-existence of a bidialectal language situation and a creole language situation is necessary if one is to adequately understand the parameters within which teachers and students are required to function in St. Lucia.

Stakeholders in St. Lucia must identify and implement innovative and transformative means of using learners’ first language (L1) within the classroom context. This instructional shift is necessary because of the island’s unique language situation but particularly if, as suggested by Simmons-McDonald (2014), the formal classroom is reinforcing vernacular structures rather than those of Standard English.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Literacy Acquisition: The processes which allow a speaker to transition from the oral form of a language to its written form.

Vernacular Instruction: The formal study of the language (s) which form part of the everyday speech of the people, as a means of developing literacy in the standard language.

Bidialectal: A situation which exists when the official language of a country differs from the natural language used by children but contains overlaps in terms of grammar and vocabulary which may cause children to view them as mutually intelligible, particularly during continuous speech.

Kwéyòl: This language was created by African slaves who were brought to Caribbean to work on sugar plantations in the 17th and 18th centuries. Hence, the language evolved from French which is manifested in the lexicon and West African languages as reflected in the syntax.

Phonological Awareness: The ability to process and manipulate the sound structure of one’s language, which develops along the dimensions of linguistic complexity and cognitive operations.

Vernacular: The everyday speech of the majority of people in a particular country/region.

Bilingualism: The status of the speakers of two languages, determined based on when languages are learnt in relation to each other, degree of competence in each language, proficiency in the second language or whether the languages are acquired naturally or are learnt.

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