CLEMENT ALOYSIUS YANSEN 1906 – 1979
By Petamber Persaud
CLEMENT Yansen was an educator for more than 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.
And there is more. In 1929, he founded the Modern High School along with M. M. Beramsingh, J. I. Ramphal and others; an institution that produced significant leaders and notables who relied heavily on the proper use of the English Language including former president Arthur Chung, Brigadier C. A. L. Price, Sir Harry Annamanthado, Professor Drayton, Bishops Benedict Singh and Randolph George, Justice Guya Persaud, Dr. Balwant Singh, R. B. O. Hart, Balram Singh Rai, Carl Blackman and Dr. Lloyd Searwar. Then, Yansen along with A. A. Thorne, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow and Theo Lee were 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 of 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.
C. A. Yansen was born to Francis and Elizabeth Yansen on September 9, 1906; his father who came from Suriname was multi-lingual. He attended St. Philip’s Anglican School where, through a Blair Scholarship, he entered Queen’s College, entrenching himself in various activities. He was Head Prefect and captain of Percival ‘A’ House. Later, student became teacher.
In 1929, he co-founded, along with M. M. Beramsingh and J. I. Ramphall, the Modern High School at lot 47 Robb Street, Bourda. He was not satisfied with just starting an institution; he peopled it by becoming a benefactor of the Children Dorcus Club, giving the underprivileged free places to attend Modern.
Yansen devoted his time also to other service oriented organisations like the Y. M. C. A. He co-founded the League of Coloured People with John Carter and Claude Denbow.
Yansen was a rounded character; apart from his educational pursuits, he was deeply involved sport at various levels. He participated in weight-lifting and wrestling, he was athletic coach to Bishop’s High School between 1925 and 1926 and treasurer to the Berbice Football Association between 1927 and 1929.
`Random Remarks’ was first published in `The Lictor’, a symbol of authority. `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. In 1969 and again in 1972, this authoritative school magazine reprinted `Random Remarks’.
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 Arrow of Achievement (awarded posthumously) for his works in Linguistics and Education.
So no one else could have written such a book. According to the Newsletter published by The Queen’s College of Guyana Association (UK), ‘this is the essential ‘Yango’ with his unique amalgam of dialectological and literary eclecticism – who else would have had the temerity to compile appendices in which quotations from Virgil, Lucan, Beowulf (in the original Old English) and Shakespeare coexist in harmonious symbiosis with a list of Georgetown rumshops’!
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, modernised 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’.
* Author’s biography in `Random Remarks’
* The Queen’s College school magazine, `The Lictor’
* Chronicle, November 1979