January 21, 2018

Guyanese Writers: Clement Aloysius Yansen (1906-1976)

By Petamber Persaud

Clement Aloysius Yansen was an educator for over 50 years; teaching at Queen’s College, Berbice High School and Modern High School, teaching during the colonial and post-independent periods, teaching the classics including English, Latin and French, yet he chose to leave his legacy in a book on local dialect, “Random Remarks on Creolese”.
There is more to this unusual tale. His nickname, The Roman, was conferred on him because of his great love for the classics. At Queen’s College, he gained distinction in Latin for five consecutive years and won many prizes in English. His speech delivered in a soft mellifluous sway was impeccable as was his manner of dress and his gait striding down hallowed halls or astride his ‘big-ben’ bicycle. Further, he was in the first panel of judges at the inaugural staging of the Patrick Dargan Debating Competition, pronouncing on the proper use of the English Language – enunciation, pronunciation, elocution and articulation.
In 1929 he, along with other luminaries of the day, founded the Modern High School – an institution that produced significant leaders and notables who relied heavily on the proper use of the English Language, including Sir Harry Annamanthado, Professor Drayton, Bishops Benedict Singh and Randolph George, Justice Guya Persaud, R. B. O. Hart, Balram Singh Rai, Carl Blackman and Lloyd Searwar. Yansen along with others was instrumental in having Queen’s College built and expanded in Camp Street in order that more Guyanese future leaders would be groomed.
He wrote a column called ‘Random Remarks’ for the Daily Chronicle on topics like education and music. His programmes on classical music – “On Wings of Song” and “Music in the Air” – were broadcast on local radio stations during the 1930s, ranking him as a pioneer in broadcasting in Guyana.
Why then a book on creolese? In his foreword to “Random Remarks on Creolese” (revised edition, volumes 1 and 2 combined), published in 1979, Yansen declared: “Creolese is a living thing and clearly reflects the activities of all Guyanese in every walk of life: their hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, vices and virtues, achievements and failures… and, above all, their sense of humour, without which life indeed will not be worth much.” So it’s not surprising that Yansen staked his life on this edition – he died days after final editing, after leaving Guyana for England in the sole pursuit of publishing that book.
‘Random Remarks’ was first published in 1966 – the year of Guyana’s independence, a time of national identity fostered by a peculiar way of speech, creolese.
But that’s only part of the story of ‘Random Remarks in Creolese’. In 1968, Yansen gave a talk on the BBC, an institution that is the leader in use of the Queen’s English; since then his friends prompted him to put his random remarks in a book form. Yansen was honoured by Queen’s College for his work in education and conferred with a National Honour – The Golden Arrow of Achievement (awarded posthumously) for his works in linguistics and education.
And this is what Yansen would have contributed to the current debate/discussion in the local newspapers concerning English and creolese: “English must, and will be, at least in the foreseeable future, the official language; but Creolese, modernized and streamlined, will ever remain the true idiom of all Guyanese. The reason for this belief is clear. In Creolese today, as has always been the case, there are patent signs of enduring strength. All the elements of such strength are there. In spite of what its critics and detractors may wish, say, or do, Creolese will continue to flourish in every walk of Guyanese life.”
Educator, columnist, broadcaster, Clement Aloysius Yansen gave his last breath to creolese, dying a few days after editing the second edition of “Random Remarks on Creolese”.
Responses to this author please telephone 226-0065 of email oraltradition2002@yahoo.com
What’s happening:
Over GYD$1,000,000 in prize monies up for grabs in the 2018 issue of he Guyana Annual. Closing date for entries to the various competitions is November 30, 2017. For further information, visit The Guyana Annual on Facebook or email theguyanaannual@gmail.com (Guyana Times Sunday Magazine)