Jamaican Patois, known locally as
Patois (Patwa or Patwah) and called
Jamaican Creole by linguists, is an
English-based creole language with
West African influences (a majority of loan words of Akan origin)
spoken primarily in
Jamaica and the Jamaican diaspora; it spoken by
the majority of Jamaicans as a native language.
Patois developed in
the 17th century, when slaves from West and Central Africa were
exposed to, learned and nativized the vernacular and dialectal forms
of English spoken by the slaveholders: British English, Scots and
Hiberno-English. It exhibits a gradation between more conservative
creole forms and forms virtually identical to Standard English.
Jamaicans refer to their language as patois. The term patois comes
from Old French, patois "local or regional dialect" (earlier
"rough, clumsy, or uncultivated speech"), possibly from the verb
patoier, "to treat roughly", from pate "paw", from Old Low
Franconian *patta "paw, sole of the foot" + -ois, a pejorative suffix.
The term may have arisen from the notion of a clumsy or rough manner
Jamaican pronunciation and vocabulary are significantly different from
English, despite heavy use of English words or derivatives.
Significant Jamaican Patois-speaking communities exist among Jamaican
expatriates in Miami, New York City, Toronto, Hartford, Washington,
D.C., Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and
Panama (in the
Caribbean coast), also
London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Nottingham. A mutually
intelligible variety is found in San Andrés y Providencia Islands,
Colombia, brought to the island by descendants of Jamaican Maroons
(escaped slaves) in the 18th century. Mesolectal forms are similar to
very basilectal Belizean Kriol.
Patois exists mostly as a spoken language and is also heavily
used for musical purposes, especially in reggae and dancehall as well
as other genres. Although standard
British English is used for most
writing in Jamaica, Jamaican
Patois has been gaining ground as a
literary language for almost a hundred years.
Claude McKay published
his book of Jamaican poems Songs of
Jamaica in 1912.
English are frequently used for stylistic contrast (codeswitching) in
new forms of internet writing.
2 Sociolinguistic variation
3.1 Pronominal system
5.1 Example phrases
6 Literature and film
7 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Accounts of basilectal Jamaican
Patois postulate around 21 phonemic
consonants and between 9 and 16 vowels.
^1 The status of /h/ as a phoneme is dialectal: in western varieties,
it is a full phoneme and there are minimal pairs (/hiit/ 'hit' and
/iit/ 'eat'); in central and eastern varieties, the presence of [h] in
a word is in free variation with no consonant so that the words for
'hand' and 'and' (both underlyingly /an/) may be pronounced [han] or
^2 The palatal stops [c], [ɟ] and [ɲ] are considered phonemic by
some accounts and phonetic by others. For the latter
interpretation, their appearance is included in the larger phenomenon
of phonetic palatalization.
Examples of palatalization include:
/kiuu/ → [ciuː] → [cuː] ('a quarter quart (of rum)')
/ɡiaad/ → [ɟiaːd] → [ɟaːd] ('guard')
/piaa + piaa/ → [pʲiãːpʲiãː] → [pʲãːpʲãː] ('weak')
Voiced stops are implosive whenever in the onset of prominent
syllables (especially word-initially) so that /biit/ ('beat') is
pronounced [ɓiːt] and /ɡuud/ ('good') as [ɠuːd].
Before a syllabic /l/, the contrast between alveolar and velar
consonants has been historically neutralized with alveolar consonants
becoming velar so that the word for 'bottle' is /bakl̩/ and the word
for 'idle' is /aiɡl̩/.
Vowels of Jamaican Patois. from Harry (2006:128)
Patois exhibits two types of vowel harmony; peripheral vowel
harmony, wherein only sequences of peripheral vowels (that is, /i/,
/u/, and /a/) can occur within a syllable; and back harmony, wherein
/i/ and /u/ cannot occur within a syllable together (that is, /uu/ and
/ii/ are allowed but * /ui/ and * /iu/ are not). These two
phenomena account for three long vowels and four diphthongs:
Patois features a creole continuum (or a linguistic
continuum): the variety of the language closest to the
lexifier language (the acrolect) cannot be distinguished
systematically from intermediate varieties (collectively referred to
as the mesolect) or even from the most divergent rural varieties
(collectively referred to as the basilect). This situation came about
with contact between speakers of a number of Niger–Congo languages
and various dialects of English, the latter of which were all
perceived as prestigious and the use of which carried socio-economic
rewards. The span of a speaker's command of the continuum
generally corresponds to social context.
The tense/aspect system of Jamaican
Patois is fundamentally unlike
that of English. There are no morphological marked past participles;
instead, two different participle words exist: en and a. These are not
verbs, but simply invariant particles that cannot stand alone like the
English to be. Their function also differs from English.
According to Bailey (1966), the progressive category is marked by
/a~da~de/. Alleyne (1980) claims that /a~da/ marks the progressive and
that the habitual aspect is unmarked but by its accompaniment with
words such as "always", "usually", etc. (i.e. is absent as a
grammatical category). Mufwene (1984) and Gibson and Levy (1984)
propose a past-only habitual category marked by /juusta/ as in /weɹ
wi juusta liv iz not az kuol az iiɹ/ ('where we used to live is not
as cold as here').
For the present tense, an uninflected verb combining with an iterative
adverb marks habitual meaning as in /tam aawez nuo kieti tel pan im/
('Tom always knows when Katy tells/has told about him').
en is a tense indicator
a is an aspect marker
(a) go is used to indicate the future
I run (habitually); I ran
/mi a ɹon/ or /mi de ɹon/
I am running
/a ɹon mi dida ɹon/ or /a ɹon mi ben(w)en a ɹon/
I was running
/mi did ɹon/ or /mi ben(w)en ɹon/
I have run; I had run
/mi a ɡo ɹon/
I am going to run; I will run
Caribbean Creoles (that is,
Guyanese Creole and San
Sranan Tongo is excluded) /fi/ has a
number of functions, including:
Directional, dative, or benefactive preposition
/dem a fait fi wi/ ('They are fighting for us')
Genitive preposition (that is, marker of possession)
/dat a fi mi buk/ ('that's my book')
Modal auxiliary expressing obligation or futurity
/im fi kom op ja/ ('he ought to come up here')
/unu hafi kiip samtiŋ faɹ de ɡini piipl-dem fi biit dem miuzik/
('you have to contribute something to the Guinean People for playing
The pronominal system of
Standard English has a four-way distinction
of person, number, gender and case. Some varieties of Jamaican Patois
do not have the gender or case distinction, but all varieties
distinguish between the second person singular and plural (you).
I, me = /mi/
you, you (singular) = /ju/
he, him = /im/ (pronounced [ĩ] in the basilect varieties)
she, her = /ʃi/ or /im/ (no gender distinction in basilect varieties)
we, us, our = /wi/
you (plural) = /unu/
they, them, their = /dem/
Patois equative verb is also a
e.g. /mi a di tiitʃa/ ('I am the teacher')
Patois has a separate locative verb deh
e.g. /wi de a london/ or /wi de inna london/ ('we are in London')
with true adjectives in Jamaican Patois, no copula is needed
e.g. /mi haadbak nau/ ('I am old now')
This is akin to Spanish in that both have 2 distinct forms of the verb
"to be" - ser and estar - in which ser is equative and estar is
locative. Other languages, such as Portuguese and Italian, make a
similar distinction. (See Romance Copula.)
/no/ is used as a present tense negator:
/if kau no did nuo au im tɹuotuol tan im udn tʃaans pieɹsiid/ ('If
the cow knew that his throat wasn't capable of swallowing a pear seed,
he wouldn't have swallowed it')
/kiaan/ is used in the same way as English can't
/it a puoɹ tiŋ dat kiaan maʃ ant/ ('It is a poor thing that can't
mash an ant')
/neva/ is a negative past participle.
/dʒan neva tiif di moni/ ('John did not steal the money')
Patois has long been written with various respellings compared to
English so that, for example, the word "there" might be written
⟨de⟩, ⟨deh⟩, or ⟨dere⟩, and the word "three" as
⟨tree⟩, ⟨tri⟩, or ⟨trii⟩.
Standard English spelling is
often used and a nonstandard spelling sometimes becomes widespread
even though it is neither phonetic nor standard (e.g. ⟨pickney⟩
for /pikni/, 'child').
In 2002, the Jamaican
Language Unit was set up at the University of
the West Indies at Mona to begin standardizing the language, with the
aim of supporting non-English-speaking Jamaicans according to their
constitutional guarantees of equal rights, as services of the state
are normally provided in English, which a significant portion of the
population cannot speak fluently. The vast majority of such persons
are speakers of Jamaican Patois. It was argued that failure to provide
services of the state in a language in such general use or
discriminatory treatment by officers of the state based on the
inability of a citizen to use English violates the rights of citizens.
The proposal was made that freedom from discrimination on the ground
of language be inserted into the Charter of Rights. They
standardized the Jamaican alphabet as follows:
Nasal vowels are written with -hn, as in kyaahn (can't) and iihn
h is written according to local pronunciation, so that hen (hen) and
en (end) are distinguished in writing for speakers of western
Jamaican, but not for those of central Jamaican.
See also: List of African words in Jamaican Patois
Patois contains many loanwords, most of which are African in
origin, primarily from
Twi (a dialect of Akan).
Many loanwords come from English, but are also borrowed from Spanish,
Portuguese, Hindi, Arawak and
African languages as well as Scottish
and Irish dialects.
African languages include /se/ meaning that (in the
sense of "he told me that..." = /im tel mi se/), taken from Ashanti
Duppy meaning ghost, taken from the
Twi word dupon ('cotton
tree root'), because of the African belief of malicious spirits
originating in the root of trees (in
Jamaica and Ghana, particularly
the cotton tree known in both places as "Odom"). The pronoun
/unu/, used for the plural form of you, is taken from the Igbo
language. Red eboe describes a fair-skinned black person because of
the reported account of fair skin among the Igbo in the mid 1700s.
De meaning to be(at a location) comes from Yoruba. From the
Ashanti-Akan, comes the term Obeah which means witchcraft, from the
Twi word Ɔbayi which also means "witchcraft".
Hindi include ganja (marijuana), and janga (crawdad).
Pickney or pickiney meaning child, taken from an earlier form
(piccaninny) was ultimately borrowed from the Portuguese pequenino
(the diminutive of pequeno, small) or Spanish pequeño ('small').
There are many words referring to popular produce and food
items—ackee, callaloo, guinep, bammy, roti, dal, kamranga. See
Patois has its own rich variety of swearwords. One of the
strongest is blood claat (along with related forms raas claat, bomba
claat, claat and others—compare with bloody in Australian English
and British English, which is also considered a profanity).
Homosexual men may be referred to with the pejorative term
/biips/, fish or batty boys.
/tɹii man did a swim/ - Three men swam.
/mi aalmuos lik im/ - I nearly hit him
/im caan biit mi, im dʒos loki dat im won/ - He can't beat me, he
simply got lucky and won.
/dem pikni de out a audu/ - Those children are disobedient
/siin/ - Affirmative particle
/papiˈʃuo/ - Foolish exhibition, a person who makes a foolish
exhibition of him or herself, or an exclamation of surprise.
/uman/ - Woman
/bwoi/ - Boy
/ɡjal/ - Girl
/mi nu nuo/ - I don't know
Literature and film
A rich body of literature has developed in Jamaican Patois. Notable
among early authors and works are Thomas MacDermot's All Jamaica
Library and Claude McKay's Songs of
Jamaica (1909), and, more
recently, dub poets
Linton Kwesi Johnson
Linton Kwesi Johnson and Mikey Smith.
Subsequently, the life-work of
Louise Bennett or Miss Lou
(1919–2006) is particularly notable for her use of the rich colorful
patois, despite being shunned by traditional literary groups. "The
Jamaican Poetry League excluded her from its meetings, and editors
failed to include her in anthologies." Nonetheless, she argued
forcefully for the recognition of Jamaican as a full language, with
the same pedigree as the dialect from which
Standard English had
Dah language weh yuh proud a,
Weh yuh honour an respec –
Po Mas Charlie, yuh no know se
Dat it spring from dialec!
— Bans a Killin
After the 1960s, the status of Jamaican
Patois rose as a number of
respected linguistic studies were published, by Frederic Cassidy
(1961, 1967), Bailey (1966) and others. Subsequently, it has
gradually become mainstream to codemix or write complete pieces in
Jamaican Patois; proponents include Kamau Brathwaite, who also
analyses the position of Creole poetry in his History of the Voice:
The Development of Nation
Language in Anglophone
Standard English remains the more prestigious
literary medium in Jamaican literature. Canadian-Caribbean
Nalo Hopkinson often writes in Trinidadian
and sometimes Jamaican Patois.
Jean D'Costa penned a series of popular
children's novels, including
Sprat Morrison (1972; 1990), Escape to
Last Man Peak (1976), and Voice in the Wind (1978), which draw
liberally from Jamaican
Patois for dialogue, while presenting
narrative prose in Standard English. Marlon James employs Patois
in his novels including
A Brief History of Seven Killings
A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014). In
his science fiction novel Kaya Abaniah and the Father of the Forest
(2015), British-Trinidadian author
Wayne Gerard Trotman presents
dialogue in Trinidadian Creole, Jamaican Patois, and French while
Standard English for narrative prose.
Patois is also presented in some films and other media, for
example, the character Tia Dalma's speech from Pirates of the
Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and a few scenes in
Meet Joe Black
Meet Joe Black in
which Brad Pitt's character converses with a Jamaican woman. In
addition, early Jamaican films like
The Harder They Come
The Harder They Come (1972),
Rockers (1978), and many of the films produced by
Palm Pictures in the
Dancehall Queen and Third World Cop) have most of
their dialogue in Jamaican Patois; some of these films have even been
subtitled in English.
In December 2011, it was reported that the Bible was being translated
into Jamaican Patois. The Gospel of St Luke has already appeared as:
Jiizas: di Buk We Luuk Rait bout Im. While the Rev. Courtney Stewart,
managing the translation as General Secretary of the West Indies Bible
Society, believes this will help elevate the status of Jamaican
Patois, others think that such a move would undermine efforts at
promoting the use of English. The
Testament was launched in Britain (where the
Jamaican diaspora is
significant) in October 2012 as "Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment", and with
print and audio versions in
Jamaica in December 2012.
A comparison of the Lord's Prayer
...as it occurs in Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment:
Wi Faada we iina evn,
mek piipl av nof rispek fi yu an yu niem.
Mek di taim kom wen yu ruul iina evri wie.
Mek we yu waahn apm pan ort apm,
jos laik ou a wa yu waahn fi apm iina evn apm
Tide gi wi di fuud we wi niid.
Paadn wi fi aal a di rang we wi du,
siem laik ou wi paadn dem we du wi rang.
An no mek wi fies notn we wi kaaz wi fi sin,
bot protek wi fram di wikid wan.
...as it occurs in English Standard Version:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.[Matthew 6:9–13]
English-based creole languages
^ Chang, Laurence. "Jumieka Langwij: Aatagrafi/Jamaican Language:
Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute
for the Science of Human History.
^ Cassidy FG: Multiple etymologies in Jamaican Creole. Am Speech 1966,
^ DeCamp (1961:82)
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University
Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library
^ "patois". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 19
^ Mark Sebba (1993),
London Jamaican, London: Longman.
^ Lars Hinrichs (2006), Codeswitching on the Web: English and Jamaican
Creole in E-Mail Communication. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.
^ a b Devonish & Harry (2004:456)
^ Harry (2006:127)
^ Harry (2006:126–127)
^ Harry (2006:126)
^ also transcribed as [kʲ] and [ɡʲ]
^ such as Cassidy & Le Page (1980:xxxix)
^ such as Harry (2006)
^ Devonish & Harry (2004:458)
^ Cassidy (1971:40)
^ Harry (2006:128–129)
^ Harry (2006:128)
^ Rickford (1987:?)
^ Meade (2001:19)
^ Patrick (1999:6)
^ Irvine (2004:42)
^ DeCamp (1977:29)
^ Gibson (1988:199)
^ Mufwene (1984:218) cited in Gibson (1988:200)
^ Winford (1985:589)
^ Bailey (1966:32)
^ Patrick (1995:244)
^ Lawton (1984:126) translates this as "If the cow didn't know that
his throat was capable of swallowing a pear seed, he wouldn't have
^ Lawton (1984:125)
^ Irvine (2004:43–44)
^ "The Jamaican
Language Unit, The University of West Indies at
^ "Handout: Spelling Jamaican the Jamaican way".
^ a b Williams, Joseph J. (1932). Voodoos and Obeahs:Phrases of West
Indian Witchcraft. Library of Alexandria. p. 90.
^ Williams, Joseph J. (1934). Psychic Phenomena of Jamaica. The Dial
Press. p. 156. ISBN 1-4655-1450-3.
^ Cassidy, Frederic Gomes; Robert Brock Le Page (2002). A Dictionary
Jamaican English (2nd ed.).
University of the West Indies
University of the West Indies Press.
p. 168. ISBN 976-640-127-6. Retrieved 2008-11-24.
^ McWhorter, John H. (2000). The Missing Spanish Creoles: Recovering
the Birth of Plantation Contact Languages. University of California
Press. p. 77. ISBN 0-520-21999-6. Retrieved
^ Patrick (1995:234)
^ Patrick (1995:248)
^ Hancock (1985:237)
^ Patrick (1995:253)
^ Hancock (1985:190)
^ Cassidy & Le Page (1980:lxii)
^ Devonish & Harry (2004:467)
^ Ramazani (2003:15)
^ Alison Donnell, Sarah Lawson Welsh (eds), The Routledge Reader in
Caribbean Literature, Routledge, 2003, Introduction, p. 9.
^ Bridget Jones (1994). "Duppies and other Revenants: with particular
reference to the use of the supernatural in Jean D'Costa's work". In
Vera Mihailovich-Dickman. "Return" in Post-colonial Writing: A
Cultural Labyrinth. Rodopi. pp. 23–32.
^ Robert Pigott, "Jamaica's patois Bible: The word of God in creole",
BBC News, 25 December 2011. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
^ The Associated Press (8 December 2012). "Jamaican patois Bible
released "Nyuu Testiment"". Colorado Springs Gazette. Retrieved 8
December 2012. For patois expert Hubert Devonish, a linguist who is
coordinator of the Jamaican
Language Unit at the University of the
West Indies, the Bible translation is a big step toward getting the
state to eventually embrace the creole language created by
^ Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment (Jamaican Diglot New Testament with KJV),
British & Foreign Bible Society. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
^ "Matyu 6 Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment". bible.com. Bible Society of
the West Indies. 2012. Retrieved 2014-10-22.
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Jamaican Creole English edition of, the free encyclopedia
Wikivoyage has phrasebook for Jamaican patois.
Language Course for Peace Corps Volunteers
Jammin Reggae Archives
Caribbean English-based creole languages
Bocas del Toro
Turks and Caicos Isla