Geoff Pullum is not happy with David Starkey’s notorious foray into the horrors that immigration has brought to Britain (“The whites have become black”), and he’s done a good post about the linguistic aspects of the situation over at the Log; herewith an excerpt:
We’re talking about a regular language, the native tongue of probably two or three million people, with a grammar that needs to be mastered. (Its grammar is reasonably well studied now. Fifty years ago Robert B. Le Page, the founder of the department at York where I earned my undergraduate degree, started pushing for the study of Jamaican Creole to be taken seriously, and his controversial efforts did eventually bear fruit.) Very few white people speak JC well. It is somewhat deprecated in Jamaica: middle-class people often refer to it (incorrectly) as bad, ignorant English, and claim (falsely) they do not speak it at all, which makes it hard for a linguist without family connections to get native speakers to provide information about it.
English with a Jamaican accent is not to be confused with JC. There are hundreds of thousands of native speakers of JC in England, but they are mostly older people, and very few of them monolingual the way my mother in law was. They would typically be the sort of middle-aged and Victorianly conservative Jamaicans who were furious at the sight of the rioters and looters, and spoke out angrily against them. I heard many rioters and looters speaking on radio or television reports, and none of them were speaking JC.
His conclusion that Starkey is “pig-ignorant about JC and about language generally” seems to me unassailable. (As always for Geoff’s posts, comments are turned off, so if you have anything to say on the topic, feel free to say it here.)
Update. A nice response to Starkey by Peter Trudgill (Honorary Professor of Sociolinguistics at the University of East Anglia in Norwich), via Arnold Zwicky at the Log:
During the Newsnight interview in which David Starkey complained about “this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that has been intruded in England” (13th August), it was shocking to note that he himself used a form of language which was distressingly alien. I estimate that at least 40%, and quite possibly more, of his vocabulary consisted of utterly foreign words forced on us by a wholly other culture – words which were intruded in England from the language of Norman French immigrants to our country, such as “language” and “false”. And there were many other alienating aspects to his speech. It was unfortunate, for instance, that he chose to use the term “intruded”, employing a word insinuated into our language by sub-cultures in our society who abandoned their true Anglo-Saxon heritage and instead imitated the wholly false language of Roman invaders.