“A Broke-Up Mirror”: Representing Bajan in Print

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Essay Excerpt

In this article, I explore cultural strategies of persuasion that contribute to the maintenance of linguistic hierarchies in Barbados, a former British colony and a contemporary nation-state whose official language is English but whose population speaks both English and Bajan, an English-related creole. By locating these strategies in newspaper representations of Bajan-in the texts, in the practices and policies of text production, as well as in texts' reception by Barbadian village readers-I attempt to identify mechanisms that contribute to the marginalization of that linguistic variety and its speakers.  (Fenigsen, 61)

About the Author

Fenigsen is a Professor at the University of South Carolina.

Her research interests are: Political economy of language, linguistic ideologies, gender and emotion, politics of representation, postcolonial selves, Creole languages, plantation societies, Caribbean art and belief systems. My research in linguistic anthropology emphasizes the integration of social theory and analysis with the analysis of linguistic forms and practices. By studying the linguistic practices through which people negotiate and (re)produce social relations and cultural forms, I engage with the ways in which language figures in the calculus of social inequalities.  

My work centrally concerns language relations in postcolonial and diasporic settings. I have been doing fieldwork and research  in Barbados on processes through which linguistic distinctions, and postcolonial personhood are discursively engendered. I examine two legacies of colonialism, cultural alienation, and racially inflected inequality. Using macro and micro politics of language as a point of entry, I consider topics such as the politics of pressing Bajan (Barbadian Creole dialect) into print and linguistic standardization; language, modernity, and nationalism; the discursive production of racial identities; and the linguistic influences of romance tourism in Barbados.

I am currently preparing a book concerned with the relationship between language, colonialism, and the formation of postcolonial identities in the British West Indies. In my ongoing research project I seek to further a theoretical understanding of the socio-semiotic processes by which discursive regimes of identity come into being, and to trace the ideological forces and interactional practices that propel the renewal of Barbadian official and popular commitment to English. I probe multiple sites that are pivotal in the production and licensing of cultural orders of language, and where ideological tensions surrounding language and its coupling with social and national identities are scripted and articulated -- mass media and popular theater.

During the summer of 2002, I did research with Barbadian writers, journalists, and performers. I investigated the ways Bajan and Barbadian English are drawn into projects of producing culture and Barbadian identities within insular and diasporic Barbadian settings. Through this research, I seek to interrogate the semiotics of values and emotions that forge linguistic forms into trophies to be defended or acquired, or into stigma and liability -- into emblems of identities celebrated or hard to embrace.

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