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Pidgins et Créoles en contact
Belizean Kriol is an English-lexified Creole and has symbolised ‘Belizeaness’ since the 1970s (as documented in Le Page and Tabouret-Keller 1985). Today, Kriol serves as oral lingua franca in the highly multilingual, officially English-speaking country, in which Spanish is the demographically dominant language. Constructions of Kriol as broken English or lower class ‘dialect’ exist; yet, the acquisition of Kriol by Hispanic, Maya, Asian and North American populations demonstrates its prestigious social status. Informants have mostly positive attitudes towards Kriol, irrespective of their ethnic background, their home language use and their potentially negative attitudes towards the ethnic Creole population. The colonial history of Belize, an Afro-European Anglocentric political elite, a border struggle with Guatemala, and the overall Hispanic environment have brought about a discourse in which Kriol has gained indexical functions of expressing Belizean belonging, despite Kriol’s demographically non-dominant status. This is enforced through language activism of the National Kriol Council, which aims at making Kriol a unique written language medium of Belize.
Besides these activities, whose objectives are to stabilise the indexical links of language and nation in the face of continuing colonial hierarchies, visible in the continuing prestige of English, we find another meaning of Kriol in the talk and practices of informants. Kriol has transnational ties to Jamaica, in terms of history, and today reproduced particularly through popular culture. It also has ties to US American popular culture through migration networks, media and economic relations. Both transnational relations impact on an understanding of Kriol as part of a non-territorial, multi-ethnic and non-hegemonic culture that is not regarded in terms of national identity but framed in discourses of non-White belonging and resistance to Western capitalist imperialism. This includes resistance to the standardisation of language, where Kriol – and any other Creole language – is seen as an expression of ties to transnational and counter-hegemonic pan-American space.
Both meanings, the national and the transnational one, exist simultaneously and both contribute to the positive attitudes towards Kriol of informants. Yet, they are also in a state of tension as the creation of a ‘focused’ and monolithic indexical meaning of Kriol as ‘Belizean’ language contrasts with its meaning as non-standardised and fluid expression of belonging to an ethnically diverse, transnational cultural sphere. The observations invite to ponder more generally on the discursive development of ‘languages’ as systemic entities and their dialectical relationships to social structures.