Facts about the Jamaican language

Jamaica is a ‘likkle but we tallawah’ island situated in the Caribbean Sea with a melting pot of cultures, people and languages. We use language to communicate on a day to day basis, whether it is to send greetings to someone, ask for something, tell a great story, or cuss out a man for ‘badminding’ you, it is the way we speak and carry ourselves that make the language so unique.

Facts about the Jamaican language

Photo – activerain.com

While the Jamaican people have been speaking Creole or Patois for the past decades, if not even centuries, as far as we could possible remember, there are some facts about the Jamaican language that some Jamaicans and others might not be aware of:

  1. It is not recognized as an official language, not even in Jamaica

Yes it is true. Jamaica’s official language is English although they speak other languages throughout the country. Broken or bad English are terms used to refer to the Jamaican Creole which has been, in prior years, the ideology was that the Jamaica patois was the language of the ‘un-educated’ lower class while Standard English was the language of the educated and middle and upper classes used to communicate. The Jamaican Creole is now widely used across all cultures, social economic backgrounds, ages and genders as a means of communication as many Jamaicans know and use the language in open discussions, conversations and songs.

  1. The Language is derived from a combination of other languages

The Jamaican language, while not an official language, is a combination of Spanish, French Portuguese and African languages like Akan, Twi, Ashanti and Ewe language to name a few. It was also derived from different slave pidgin developed over Generations and evolved from the mediums and languages Plantation workers used in order to communicate dating as far back as slavery days. While English dominates the creole language, it is evident that African languages replace some of the English pronunciation. For example, the “th” sound is replaced by the “d” or “t” to become “dat” or “dem”.  Also words like “woman” become “ooman” and “him” becomes “im” and is pronounced without the h. These are a few words; there are many more words which have different pronunciation.

A Jamaican Conversation

“Bredrin, wah gwaan?” 

“Boi, ya done know seh mi deh ya gwaan easy.” 

“Yes I, a suh it go still. Nuttin nah gwaan, but we a keep di faith, nuh true?” 

“True. How di pickney dem stay?” 

“Boi, dem ah-right. One a dem waan tun DJ an bus. Nex one waan guh a foreign an bus. A try mi a try reason wid dem still.” 

“Yeh man, a suh pickney stay fi real. Dem fi know seh every mickle mek a muckle.” 

“True. Mi deh pon haste, yuh hear? A faawod mi a faawod.” 

“Yeh man, likkle more, zeen?” 

“Likkle more.” 

 The English Translation

“What ‘s up, man?” 

“I’m here just taking it easy.” 

“Yeah, that’s how it is. Times are hard but we have to keep the faith, isn’t that right?” 

“Yeah. How are your kids?” 

“They ‘re alright. One wants to be a DJ and make it big. Another one wants to migrate and make it big. I ‘m just trying to reason with them.” 

“Yeah, that’s how kids are. They have to know that you have to work for things little by little.” 

“True. Listen, I ‘m in a hurry. I’m going to leave.” 

“OK, see you later.” 

“See you later.”

(Adapted from http://www.globalexchange.org/country/jamaica/language)

Hundreds, if not thousands, of words deriving from Africa have been known to be a part of the Jamaican Creole or patois, such as the renowned folklore characters Anancy and Duppy, the word nyam and the cultural festival Jonkanoo.

Facts about the Jamaican language

Photo – slideshare.com

  1. The language has dialects of its own

Jamaica’s language has symbolized the pride and culture of its people and a variety of dialects have developed across the island. Parishes in Jamaica have different dialects of the Jamaican language. For instance, the kind of patois spoken in Hanover is unlike the patois spoken in St. Thomas, and this is the same for other parts of Jamaica. This occurrence contributes to the uniqueness and diversity of the Jamaican language and the country as a whole.

  1. You can learn the Jamaican language as courses in other parts of the world have been created to facilitate this

Harvard University is but one renowned university that has incorporated learning Jamaican Patois into the syllabus. When tourists come to the beautiful island they are fascinated by the culture, people and of course the Jamaican patois. Even when Jamaicans go to other parts of the world persons come up to them and ask them to ‘say something in Patois’ and then try to mimic them since it sounds ‘maaaad’, in a good way. So it is not surprising that there would be courses to teach Americans, Japanese, Canadians and the world how to speak such a captivating and diverse language.

Facts about the Jamaican language

Photo – jamaicaobserver.com

By Alexandra Daley

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