Patois or English? That’s the Question

In the 21st century, Jamaican patois (pronounced patwa) or Jamaican Creole has become more recognizable and accepted in mainstream North America. This is largely in part to a great deal of influence from Jamaican culture with Jamaican cuisine, food markets, businesses, nightlife, residential enclaves and districts in North America known as ‘Little Jamaica’ that are fashioned to resemble their traditional homelands.

The Jamaican communities have also influenced the North American culture with speaking patois. Though the official language of Jamaica is English, however, the majority of Jamaicans chat (speak) patois. They speak English in formal discourse or political discussions and shift to patois for everyday use, in informal conversations to gossip, folklore, comedies and plays and its profound use in Reggae music.

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Reggae music is one of the most diverse and in demand music globally and patois has such a strong power in Reggae music it has left a deep rooted mark in Hip Hop, Rap and Pop genres immensely. In recent years, its derivative like dancehall with much faster rhythmic beats has been leading the way and has led to a growing following with many non-Jamaicans attempting to speak the dialect by listening to Reggae music and befriending Jamaicans.

For many Jamaican parents who reside in North America the question often arises as to whether they should teach their child to speak patois. With a difference in opinions, some believe that teaching their children patois is a means of edifying them about the significance of protecting a part of their Jamaican heritage, culture, and history, which grew from the blending of many different cultures derived from Africa, Europe (Spanish, Germans, Scottish, and Irish), China, Lebanon, Syria, Jewish and India. Hence, the Jamaican motto "Out of Many one People" is the perfect definition and insight into the diverse population.

On the other hand, others believe it is right to enlighten children about their heritage as a sense of self-identity and knowing the history of their ancestors, as many parents automatically do, but to teach your child to perfect the dialect, according to Stacey Herbold, patois is considered an unacceptable official language. Some would state that it may have a negative effect on his/her social skills.

They argue that a part of a parent’s role is to encourage their child to develop social skills. Those skills that are the abilities necessary to get along with others (Psychology Today) and to create and maintain satisfying relationships that help with interacting with their peers. Moreover, parents should nurture their child’s social growth and teach them the importance of proper English and communication with one’s peers, as it helps to build interpersonal relationships (Jerry Weber).

Do you think that, "coaching one’s child to speak an unofficial language (patois) may delay the child’s ability to use their social skills to intermingle with other children — this is an important part of a child's education?” 

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Though there are two sides to the debate of whether a Jamaican living in North America should teach their child to speak patois – on one side are those who believe Jamaicans should teach their child patois, as it stems from their Jamaican heritage, culture and history; on the other side are people who believe patois is not Standard English, but a slang and should not be taught by parents to their child, and many other views that were not captured in this article.(Photo:

In conclusion, I believe it is safe to say that it is solely up to parent’s discretion on how to raise their children. I also believe that many would agree that parents are best suited to choose what’s best for their children.

Written By: Simone Da Costa

Simone DaCosta - FBSimone is a freelance Magazine writer. She has written many articles for North American Magazines, including Africulture, Planet Africa, Mudd Magazine and an online site called The Christian Jones. She is currently a contributor on Yahoo! Voices. Simone has published three books, Remember to Pray, 2013 Day Planner and her debut children’s book titled A Silly Rhyming Alphabet Book about Animals from A to Z.

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