Mark the soldiers: Is Political English Hon Brantley speakingWritten by Llewellyn Parris
Clement Gordon (De Unexpected) gave people in the Federation food for thought when he said, in the lyrics of one of his songs, ‘English is a funny language’. The phrase ‘English is a funny language’ captured the nation’s attention and soon became the vehicle to get people out of tight situations when they fail to understand what is being told to them.
Experts of English Language appreciate the fact that someone might say one thing but it ends up being understood in different way. West Indian English speakers easily fall into this trap either because the person addressing them does not understand the metaphoric meaning of the words, or the other way round, giving credence to the phrase ‘English is a funny language’.
In his book ‘Is English We Speaking’ (Ian Randle Publishers 1999), University of the West Indies Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing and West Indian Literature, and eminent writer, Mervyn Morris, made the following observation on page 2:
“People using West Indian English and people using English are mutually intelligible, most of the time. But because, in a sense, we share a language, it is easy to overestimate the levels of understanding.
“If I may give a trivial example - for years I had wondered why the English ate mince at Christmas time, only when I first spent Christmas in England did I learn at least that the Christmas mince pie of my reading is a sweet!”
An example closer to imagination is when a person says that they want to eat Johnny cake and salt fish. Others have erroneously referred the bake as ‘journey cake’. Nothing unusual about eating a Johnny until a Jamaican walks in and orders his favourite ‘festival’. You wonder what this ‘festival’ is a grown man wants to eat until it is put on the table and you say to yourself, “that is a Johnny cake he is calling a festival.”
But it was a different ball game when the Deputy Leader of the opposition Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) party the Hon Mark Brantley elected to go on the Voice of Nevis (VON) radio on Wednesday April 18 on his weekly live show ‘On The Mark’ to give an interpretation of what Nevis’ Deputy Premier, the Hon Hensley Daniel had said in a community announcement.
“And interestingly Mr Hensley Daniel (note: not Hon Daniel)...., was heard to say in the media publicly, that he is calling on his soldiers to come out,” said Hon Brantley. “He’s called on the NRP soldiers to come out, and as a friend of mine said to me, and as I heard here last night you call soldiers to fight wars.”
Speaking in his characteristic impeccable English Language intonations, he went on: “Soldiers are called to fight wars, and so how can you call on your soldiers on Saturday night and then say to us (CCM) on Monday morning, join us in fasting and prayer for healing?
“You can send to the CCM a letter on Friday inviting us, but I do not even know if it was an invitation, saying to us there will be this event, that is how it was described and if we wish to participate we should indicate and then you will decide what role we will play.
“And then, at one and the same time go into the airwaves to call on your soldiers to come to town on Saturday to deal no doubt with your perceived political enemies and yet on Monday you say you want us to sit and fast and fold hands and pray in unity and for healing.”
A simple question to Hon Mark Brantley: Is that how funny English Language is? That is not funny. How unfortunate.
The honourable scholar Brantley is, the language he used on his show was intemperate and gratuitously disrespectful to the people of Nevis. He believes they have no right to speak metaphorically; or worse they do not understand English as a spoken language.
‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ is a 19th century English hymn. The words were written by Sabine Baring-Gould in 1865 and the music was composed by Arthur Sullivan in 1871. Sullivan named the tune ‘St. Gertrude’, after the wife of his friend Ernest Clay Ker Seymer, at whose country home he composed the tune.
The Salvation Army adopted the hymn as its favoured processional. The hymn’s theme is taken from references in the New Testament to the Christian being a soldier for Christ, for example II Timothy 2:3: “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
Fast forward to the 21st Century, and in Nevis one Hon Mark Brantley has no problem reading in his Bible of the gallant Christian soldiers; has no problem singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ in Church. He is however mortally afraid when his political rival, Hon Hensley Daniel, uses the word soldiers metaphorically and accuses him, on national radio and the world-wide-web, of arming NRP soldiers to fight wars.
Come off your high horse Hon Brantley. Are you suggesting that Christians should tear off from their hymn books all pages with the song ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’? Your explanation can rightly be interpreted to suggest that Christians have been carrying guns and all manner of arsenals to church because they are soldiers on the march. If Hon Brantley’s interpretation holds water, then Commissioner of Police Mr Celvin G. Walwyn needs to talk to somebody as there are dangerous soldiers on the loose.
CCM’s political leader, the Hon Vance Amory, is a respected church elder. He ought to have advised his junior that in the Church Language the word ‘soldier’ is not offensive. If that had happened, it would have stopped Hon Mark Brantley from marshalling the CCM team to partake of the now infamous boycott of the prayer and fasting session, as no offensive soldiers were in presence.
As far as the word soldier is concerned and in the context Hon Hensley Daniel used it, if it is English Hon Mark Brantley is speaking, then it is not English English. It is not Caribbean English that Hon Mark Brantley is speaking either. Is Political English Hon Mark Brantley speaking.
At the rate where things metaphoric are mowed down to suit the whims of the beholder, then the advice to be given to animal lovers is never use the metaphor ‘it is raining cats and dogs’. This might be interpreted to mean that whoever is saying it would go to all villages rounding up cats and dogs to launch them into the atmosphere so that when gravity kicks in they will fall back to earth -- of course as cats and dogs.
No one should masquerade to be the gate keeper of things English. It does not augur well to exercise selective interpretation of the age old English Language to satisfy ones whims. Call a spade a spade. After all, to borrow from Mervyn Morris, “All the same, is English we speaking.”
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