In creole-speaking Caribbean nations, when only the former colonial language has standing as the nation’s official language, citizens with restricted or no fluency in that language are ill-served by the country’s institutions. An investigation of the criminal justice system in St. Lucia shows that Kwéyòl monolinguals, as well as those who are strongly Kwéyòl-dominant, must rely on the competence and good will of those with whom they interact. A simulated interaction between police officers and a suspect, who is monolingual in Kwéyòl, shows the ways in which the suspect’s statement is subject to distortion when it is translated into English. St. Lucia’s constitution does provide for an interpreter in court proceedings, but this function is routinely fulfilled by the clerk of the court, someone who has neither studied Kwéyòl, nor translation practices formally. As long as the administration of justice in St. Lucia has to pass through English, Kwéyòl monolinguals remain at a built-in disadvantage. The system impedes individual and national development.

Personal and national development in western societies is premised on official languages and, ultimately, on the ability of citizens to control them. In particular, the standard/official language is the medium through which education is disseminated, and in which the legal practice is conducted. Consequently, vernacular languages are not normally central to planning for development at either the individual or societal level. However, the failure to recognize the significance of these languages for development militates against individual and national success.