Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Jamaican Dialect Talks on ZQI

Radio broadcasting began in Jamaica in 1939. The first transmission was from an amateur radio enthusiast, John Grinan aka VP5PZ. Mr. Grinan convincing the Government to use his equipment to operate a public broadcasting station. Starting that November, they began weekly broadcasts. PM Dennis Glick diversified the programming to include news, and live music. In 1940 it changed calls to ZQI, as it was known for a decade. The Jamaica Broadcasting Company took over the operations in 1950 turning it into a commercial station using the call sign RJR "Radio Jamaica and the Re-diffusion Network." In the white paper A History of Jamaican Creole in the Jamaican Broadcasting Media [SOURCE] author Michael Westphal described those early broadcasts: "There was no independent news section and articles from the Daily Gleaner [newspaper] were read out one by one." More here, here and here.

While it survives today as RJR, it's eccentric public radio tenure was more interesting. In 1941 ZQI aired a series of "Dialect Talks" about the WWII situation in Europe which was entirely scripted phonetically in a Jamaican dialect. For an American I find it as difficult to read as Ridley Walker.  A sentence like "Bwoy Hinglan' week me son, but all'wen "Itler t'row dung de body line bowling Hinglan' was gettin' right behin' de ball an' showin' de Jarman dem de face a de williow." It was written by "Oliver Kirkpatrick under the pseudonym "John Canoe." But, frankly I'm not sure what they're saying. Thankfully it has a glossary.

Some of the scripts were later bound into a book titled Country Cousin: A Selection of Dialect Talks; it was published by Gleaner in 1941. Kirkpatrick published one other text, a folk tale children's book Naja the Snake and Magus the Mongoose. He also published some poetry in Bitterroot Magazine. (That tiny bibliography actually comes from another book, Caribbean Writers (1979) by Margret and Donald Herdeck and Maurice Lubin.) The introduction to Country Cousin was written by Philip Manderson Sherlock, a well-known intellectual, Caribbean scholar and at the time, Secretary of the University of the West Indies. He wrote:
"Books and the radio do not work against each other; rather, they reinforce each other, the written word giving permanence to the spoken word; and the radio reaches it's public at once; working like a flash of light; the written word spreads more slowly, but not less effectively; and it is fitting that talks that have been so successful over the air should be recorded more permanently."

Sherlock is the lynch-pin in this tale. He wrote introductions to many other notable Jamaican books of that era including Louise Bennett's first book of poetry Dialect Verses which was also published by Gleaner. Though it was founded in 1834 as a weekly, during WWII the Daily Gleaner was an 8-page daily news paper. Culturally, The Gleaner was more like ZQI than RJR. ZQI was very BBC, using a lot of foreign content, so the "dialect" program stood out among the rest of it's programming, which was targeted at the colonial audience. RJR aired more local productions. However, it still was required to broadcast 10 hours of BBC programs, and 1.5 hours of government programs weekly. RJR also broadcast cultural programs in conjunction with the University of the West Indies. Whether Sherlock broadcast on ZQI is unknown but it's certain he did perform on RJR no later than 1957.It is likely the connection between the three goes back all the way to ZQI.