Say it right

The Cayman Islands Immigration Department has over the past several months developed and implemented a new and improved English language skills test.

This test is now used to better determine whether newly arriving prospective Work Permit holders have the communications skills necessary to effectively function in Caymanian society. All indications are that it is an excellent test that eliminates the subjectivity of the one used previously.

Recently, Mr. Franz Manderson, the Chief Immigration Officer, said that new Work Permit holders who did not take the test upon arrival prior to its implementation may be required to do so on renewal of their permit.

Upon deeper reflection, there may be merit in expanding this requirement to make it mandatory for all Work Permit holders to take a further language skills test upon their first permit renewal.

While one may get by using the Queen’s English here in the Cayman Islands, we Caymanians generally don’t speak it as a rule. For lack of a better term, we speak Caymanglelish and it is important that Work Permit holders learn the rudiments of our native tongue in order to confabulate with us in the same manner as they need to know passable English to speak to everyone else.

In addition, in this day and age when our unique Caymanian cultural traits are evaporating one by one before our very eyes, for example, stately Caymanian architecture bulldozed under in the name of someone’s warped idea of progress, the Sunday Christian tradition of limited commercial activity swept aside in the stampede of Chamber of Commerce hacks to squeeze every last dime from a full seven days a week of trading, our general temperance discarded to make room for a liquor store in every new strip mall, and the self reliance and stoicism of our grandparents replaced by the incessant whining heard daily on the radio talk shows, we must make every effort to preserve what is left.

Conservation of Caymanglelish should be No. 1 on the list, and the best way to do this is have those who come here from elsewhere learn the basics so we may speak it to them lest we forget how.

I am continually reminded of the erosion of my Caymanglelish skills when for example I use terms like ‘ras clot!’, ‘bloody hell!’, and ‘what the frig!’, in place of the grammatically proper ‘jeeze-um-peeze!’ when conversing with the various nationalities with which I come in contact (these expletives unfortunately make up a large percentage of my daily vocabulary).

I am profoundly troubled on seeing young Caymanians ignorant of Caymanglelish but fluent in the latest MTV lingo. Every parent will tell you without exception that communication with their children is one of the toughest things to do, but when our youth don’t know the difference between a flitter and wompas, a maycow and catwowlin’ is it really their fault, or is it ours? Have we failed them yet again?

Therefore I would like to make a few suggestions for questions that may form the nucleus of a new Caymanglelish skills test as follows.

Q. Spell cat.

A. a) C-A-T, b) deh puss dem c) D-I-N-N-E-R d) K-E-Y-A-T, ‘key-AT’

Q. What is the plural of unnah?

A. a) unnahs b) all unnah c) unnah

Q. What is the proper verbiage to use in order to get someone’s attention?

A. a) Pardon me. b) Yo! c) Sssst! d) Look-yah.

Q. Use the word ‘mek’ in a sentence.

A. a) I haven’t the foggiest what mek means. b) Mek not no word, Cha! c) Dun’t mek me have ta come tru dis hair speaka an’ tell you ’bout your parts, I seh, single weh cheese, no pickles!

Q. What is the proper response to being told you have failed this test?

A. a) Que? (accompanied by a vacant grin) b) Ras man, wha da bumboclot do you! c) I shall contact my barrister straightaway.

As you can see these questions are designed to test only an extremely basic level of comprehension of Caymanglelish. It is not reasonable to expect anything more from expatriates after only one year given the complexity of our vernacular. Also the fact that 99.99 per cent of those who now come to live and work here will only be around for seven years or less, conversational Caymanglelish is all that is necessary without being unduly burdensome on newcomers.

For those very few wishing to stay here and become permanent residents I would suggest adding a Caymanglelish test as part of the current points qualification system. Clearly this test must be far more comprehensive with short answer questions as well as an essay section in addition to multiple choice questions, similar to the SAT or ACT tests given for university entrance in the United States.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, CI Immigration is like a Dominican brothel, ‘you never know what you gone get’, but you can bet it won’t be very pleasant.

I admit that the schizophrenic Cayman Islands’ Immigration policy is not the most stable place to stake one’s hopes on preserving something as vital to our sense of self as Caymanglelish, but what else do we have?

There really is nothing or nobody preserving traditional Caymanian values.

Nothing is sacred.

Our only measure of things is, how will it affect business? making money? from debate about fundamental tobacco legislation to preservation of our most hallowed places. If it potentially threatens our ability to make the maximum return on investment, it’s just unCaymanian.

Come to think of it, maybe that is what makes us truly Caymanian? We know the value of a dollar.

Unnah decide.

Gregory S. McTaggart

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