Fry’s Planet Word, Belizean Creole and Steve Jobs’ global speech

Writer and actor Stephen Fry has made a documentary series for BBC TV. It’s a five-part history of language that draws on academic research but is intended for a general audience.  Not unlike The World in Words.  The pod features an interview with Stephen Fry, in which he waxes lyrical about how language has driven human development. One example: our ability to convey the past and the present.  (Fry speaks of this in terms of verb tenses, though it’s broader than that: languages like Chinese don’t use tenses, but they can still more than adequately convey any number of points in time. )

Here’s how Fry puts it:

“Without this extraordinary thing…we couldn’t have got anywhere, because tense allows you to say what you’re going to do tomorrow. Or the day after tomorrow. Or it allows one person to say to another person ‘Do you remember that thing we saw yesterday? Three sunsets ago, that place there. Let’s meet there in four sunsets time.’  That’s immediately a plan, instead of having to improvise like a wolf pack by instinct…You set out a plan and then implement it. It underwrites everything that is our civilization.”

O, Lan a di free bai di Kyaribeeyan See

Thirty years after Belize won independence from the British, Belizean Creole (or Kriol)  is winning respect alongside English. The latest sign of that is a version of the Belizean national anthem rendered in Kriol.

Leela Vernon wrote the Kriol version (the full lyric is here). Vernon is world famous in Belize. She popularized Brukdown, a rural dance music– so much so that’s she’s now known as the Queen of Brukdown.

In the pod, I talk with longtime Big Show contributor Amy Bracken about Belizean Creole’s make-up and status. It’s primarily a mix of English and several West African languages. But it’s outgrown its roots: most Belizeans use it as a link language. For example, if your native tongue is one of Belize’s several Mayan languages, you’re going to need a second language as soon as leave your home town. While English and Spanish are available, they’re not as widely understood as Kriol.

Finally in the pod this week, our own tribute to Steve Jobs: Calestous Juma of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government talks about how he introduced desktop publishing to Kenya in the 1980s using an early iteration of a Mac.  The fast and cheap publication of speeches and essays helped a new generation of Kenyans rise to public prominence. Some were later elected to parliament or became judges.

Macs– and later iPods and iPhones– helped globalize local speech and localize global ideas in ways that we are only beginning to understand.

Listen via iTunes or here.


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4 responses to “Fry’s Planet Word, Belizean Creole and Steve Jobs’ global speech

  1. Pingback: Word of the Year: The Middle Squeezes its Way to the Top | the world in words

  2. Pingback: A Dubious Award For The Squeezed Middle | PRI's The World

  3. Hello Patrick,
    I love listening to your podcasts and usually learn a lot from them
    but this time, I was offended by this episode.
    Amy Bracken claimed that certain Belizean creole words come from the Igbo
    language. Being Igbo myself, I was intrigued.
    Imagine my dismay when she went on to list certain words which have little or no relation to my language.
    “Feet” in Igbo is called “ukwu” or “okpa” hence “big feet” translates as “nnukwu ukwu” or “nnukwu okpa”
    “Children” translates as “nwa”(singular) or “umuazi” (plural) not “pickaniny” as Bracken reported.
    (The NIgerian pidgin word for children is “pickin” but this is not derived from Igbo)
    The plural “You” in Igbo is “Unu” not “una”.

    This has made me question the authenticity of previous reports on this podcast.
    Please make sure to get your facts right in future.

    Thank you.

  4. I like the valuable information you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check once more here regularly. I’m rather sure I’ll be told lots of new stuff proper here! Good luck for the following!

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