The Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics was pleased to host the 6th Conference of Patois Speakers of Venezuela and the Caribbean as this was the first time that Trinidad & Tobago has acted as the host nation. Since 2005, all previous conferences have been held in Venezuela, either in Güiria (Estado Sucre) or El Callao (Estado Bolívar), where Patois is barely alive and highly endangered, even more than it is in T&T.
The conference aimed to highlight the historical, social and linguistic links between T&T and its nearest neighbour, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The focus of one of these links was the Patois language (French Creole), still spoken on both sides of the Gulf of Paria, as are Spanish, English, English Creole, and at least three Amerindian languages, including Warao. During the conference, issues of language resources, vitality, documentation and revitalisation, and the necessity of central and local government support and legislation were discussed. Community elders and language practitioners were honoured and they engaged in all of the matters, as Patois-speaking communities in both countries chart their way forward.
This sixth conference was organised by Dr Jo-Anne Ferreira and Nnamdi Hodge, who have been part of the conferences since the first in 2005. Their Patois project involved documenting speakers and Patois traditions in Trinidad and Venezuela, and is now also a part of an RDI-funded project based in DMLL and focusing on three autochthonous languages of T&T. The Conference was made possible because of grants from the Government of Venezuela, especially the Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Cultura, the Ministerio del Poder Popular para Relaciones Exteriores and the Embassy of Venezuela, as well as support from the Asociación de Patuaparlantes de Paria, the Sociedad Conservacionista de Güiria, and the Instituto Venezolano para la Cultura y la Cooperación (celebrating 50 years in T&T this month).
The one-day UWI segment of the conference was well attended and took place at the Centre for Language Learning and the School of Education on April 10, in conjunction with the Society for Caribbean Linguistics (SCL), the Caribbean Yard Campus (CYC) and the Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean (CENLAC). The Santa Rosa First Peoples Carib Community was represented by Cristo Adonis, and Paramin was represented by Errol Felix, Bernard Fournillier, Kenneth Romain and Cecil St. Hillaire. The Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was host to more workshops on Thursday morning, and the rest of Thursday as well as Friday were taken up with field trips and community visits.
At the UWI leg, entirely in Spanish and interpreted by UWI’s own CITB (Caribbean Interpreting and Translation Bureau), Her Excellency Ambassador Coromoto Godoy gave the feature address, Dr. Ramón Mansoor focused on Trinidad as a microcosm of Venezuela, and Dr. Lancelot Cowie of CENLAC looked at the histories of Afro-Venezuelans. Anthropologist Omaira Gutiérrez Marcano gave an overview of the Venezuelan government’s initiatives to preserve Venezuelan languages and cultures, and of the constitution which protects all languages, spoken or signed. Professor Emilio Mosonyi of the Universidad Central de Venezuela spoke on Venezuela’s Patois (Patuá), while Saturnino and Rosa Olivino de Briceño shared their experiences as native Patois speakers. Workshops were given by Dr. Joseph Farquharson (multilingual lexicography), Cristo Adonis (Trinidadian folk medicine, which uses a number of Patois words for our flora), and at the Embassy, by Rosa Bosch Teriús (Franco-Creole Venezuelan cuisine) and Rondel Benjamin of the Bois Academy (Stickfighting). Visitors were also treated to singing by the Vini Chanté choir at the Caribbean Yard Campus, and were welcomed by the communities of Paramin and Blanchisseuse.
The conference is expected to grow to include all the Créolophone territories of the region: Brazil, Venezuela, Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Haiti and the USA, and any country that has a Patois-speaking community.
To learn more, visit the Annou Palé Patwa (Let’s Talk Patois) page and group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/annoupalekweyol/ and visit the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics: http://sta.uwi.edu/fhe/dmll/