We are How We Speak – Rhoda Arrindell’s Language, Culture, and Identity in St. Martin by Rochelle Ward

Everyone—students, linguists, cultural workers, educators, policy makers in St. Martin and abroad— can partake in this buffet of hard truths and innovative research that displays the complex realities of the St. Martin language, which its author, Dr. Rhoda Arrindell, connects to national identity and education in her new book, Language, Culture, and Identity in St. Martin, published by House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP).

Is the way we speak a language, a Caribbean English Creole or just some mash up form of the English language? What makes the St. Martin language different from Caribbean English Creoles and Standard English? Should it be used in the educational process? Which language can promote solidarity and maintain national identity in St. Martin despite the influx of additional language speakers and multiple languages? The answers to these questions are buried within the book’s 240 pages.

The dance of many languages throughout the island’s history is unique, complex and worthy of this kind of scrutiny and attention. The one language that emerged from many, the one that is often scorned by its own speakers, who are not familiar with its grammar, that is the one that Dr. Arrindell has rolled out and lengthened the red carpet for. She has built on the works of Daniella Jeffry, Linda Richardson, and Ken Decker, collaborated with Dr. Mervyn Alleyne and others and by proposing a number of essential studies, invites current and future linguists and scholars to get involved and fatten up the meager pickings of available information.

Language, Culture, and Identity in St. Martin is based on Dr. Arrindell’s Ph.D. study, which she completed at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. In her introduction, Dr. Arrindell explains that speakers who are unfamiliar with the grammar of their language are often insecure about it. This insecurity is detrimental as the speakers would label the way they speak as incorrect; this hampers self-expression and inhibits the birth of creative ideas in the educational process.

In her findings, only a pinch from the four hundred people polled described the way they speak as positive and poetic and the in-the-river-on-the-bank approach to language by policy makers only makes matters worse.

Dr. Arrindell illustrates how the education systems on both sides victimize too many of the island’s children. She argues the water and oil relationship between a democracy and a colony, and observes how the word “country” is placed before St. Maarten, yet important symbols like its flags, national anthem, and aspects of its governance remained the same as in the pre-2010 “island territory.”

“These contradictions are not fortuitous; they indicate the state of mental colonization of St. Martin politicians and the bankruptcy of a colonial educational system, intent on self-preservation, and designed to damage the minds and souls of St. Martin’s children. They are also meant to confuse the people who, faced with such chaos, would then be expected to opt for the status quo.”

The book is divided into five sections: “Introduction,” “St. Martin: A Brief Sociohistorical Background,” “Of Creoleness and Identity,” “Language Contact and the Creolization Process in St. Martin” and “Toward a National Identity.”

And although some technical explanations and linguistic terminology slows down the reading, this book is an invaluable resource and it will empower people. Dr. Arrindell makes the way we speak important, devoting her research not just to its DNA but its place in the education system and the future of St. Martin. She is frank about the challenges she’s faced and is careful to present both sides of the story and significant sources for further reading and exploration.

St. Martiners need to stand the bull’s eye of national identity and shed the skins of the colonizers’ cultural symbols. St. Martiners need to pursue and consistently uphold the symbols of this St. Martin and embrace what too many of our people refer to as broken or broke up English. Language, Culture, and Identity in St. Martin is the genesis of greater works to come; by it, we begin to digest difficult truths, and understand who we are.