Dr Walters, who currently lectures in the Department of Language, Linguistics and Philosophy at the University of the West Indies (UWI), told All Woman that while growing up she had hopes of becoming a lawyer, and even though she often “played school” with the children in her Portmore community, she vowed never to teach.
“Growing up, my teachers always wrote on the report cards that I was an outspoken student and I have always been an advocate for change. Though sometimes it may have be misunderstood for being a trouble maker,” she said.
After leaving Excelsior Community College, she applied for a student visa to attend The City University of New York where she had been accepted, but her visa application was denied. She then decided to apply to UWI to pursue studies at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC).
As it turned out, she did not pass the entrance test to CARIMAC, but was given an offer to read for a bachelor's degree in linguistics. Although not excited by the offer, she took the chance as she felt it was better to have one foot in than both feet out the door.
“Like most people, I thought I was going to come and study many languages and that was not really appealing, even though I did French while at St Hugh's. However, when I got to UWI I realised that was not the case, but I still didn't like linguistics. I was just going through the motions, doing the assignments, getting good grades,” she said.
But she recalls that during her final year when she did a course called Language Planning, then taught by the current Chief of Defence, Staff Major General Rocky Meade, she fell in love with the discipline, as it spoke to advocacy through language — an area she is passionate about.
“It looked at language rights, and that was the topic that popped for me as my love for advocacy came in. Language Planning looks at how we use language in society in terms of the structure of the language and the function of the language. It looks at societal needs, problems, and how we can use language to solve the problems. We also learnt about forensic linguistics — that's really how we use language in legal situations, crime investigations, and it opened up a whole new perspective,” she admitted.
And so she graduated with first class honours with a bachelor of arts in linguistics and a minor in international relations and a master of philosophy degree which she upgraded to a PhD which she received with high commendation for the thesis: The anatomy of linguistic discrimination in a diglossic situation.
Her main push currently is for policymakers and citizens to accept our mother tongue — patois. She explained that the research in her thesis looked at linguistic discrimination regarding customer care in public agencies and how the high language (standard English) and low language (patois) were treated in society.
“The findings showed that people got the information they wanted, but were made to feel bad or uneducated during the process, as when the same people sought assistance using standard English there were no interrogations or belittlement as opposed to when they spoke in patois,” she explained.
Other research she has led for the advocacy of patois include Forensic Linguistics: The role of language in the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry, which pointed out that the residents would have been better able to articulate if the lawyers had used patois, as they were dominant patois speakers.
Dr Walters also hopes to see the Jamaican dialect being used in formal settings.
“A language and attitude survey which we did in 2015 had people asking for the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to deliver their speeches in patois in Parliament. You're talking about money and governance, so say it in a way that the normal man knows. Why don't people watch the budget debate? It's not that they aren't interested, [but] many times they don't understand. Also, if a [police] statement is given in patois, it should be written in patois. It's time we put away beliefs that it is bad,” she said.
She remains grateful to Professor Hubert Devonish who supervised her thesis and inspired her along this path, and is hopeful that progress will be made in this regard.
“Who would have thought you'd have the New Testament in patois? We recently had the Jesus film, and though it wasn't perfect, people were interested, and we have a book published called Writing Jamaican the Jamaican way, which deals with the standard writing of the language. In the ABC islands — Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao – papiamento, their creole language, is used in formal settings and taught in schools. We can make progress,” she said.
She added: “The Jamaica Language Unit (JLU) has a news programme on News Talk 93 FM where the news is read in Jamaican at approximately 12:10 pm and 5:10 pm. This is a great achievement regarding the promotion of Jamaican creole in a public formal domain. There is also an app for the programme where people can access the script and the audio. Students from Language Planning have been hired by the JLU to translate and read the news daily.”
A devout Christian and graduate of the College of Theological and Interdisciplinary Studies (the Open Bible Standard of Churches Bible college) with a major in biblical and pastoral studies, Dr Walters is highly involved in deliverance and youth ministry with her church, and has penned her book which she hopes to publish later this year called Soul Triggers: A Biblical and Practical Guide to Healing Soul Wounds.
She also conducts seminars called Soul Deep where conversations are started around individuals' soul wounds — issues that led to their brokenness, unforgiveness, rejection — and deliverance is given at the end.
She also enjoys dancing, cooking, hairdressing and making wigs, and believes wholeheartedly in Jeremiah 29:11 which says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”