Jamaican Creole With Its English-Based Roots

Language is the identity of the countries. Most socialization is done through language, we can identify something about a person when that person speaks, countries have a continuous development because of the language that they assume as their mother tongue. There are constant interactions between different countries and that gives origin to new dialects, habits and cultures. That’s what happened with Jamaica and its language.

Jamaican English was created because population from the West indies were colonized and enslaved by the Tanos tribes, then there were conflicts with the Spanish, and they occupied all their territory not taking care of the populations. The population almost got extinct because there were a lot of diseases back then that didn’t have the cure. One thing that the Spanish did right was transport African Americans to the West Indies making those two communities link, with that they created the Jamaican English and the Jamaican Patois (Jamaican Creole). With the slave work, people had to communicate between each other and some of them didn’t know how to speak English, what they did was create a way to understand through signs and similar words, creating a new dialect.

Jamaican Standard English consists in a mix between the variety of the International Standard English (the English spoken everywhere) and the Jamaican English which is a variety of English spoken in Jamaica. After the occupation of the territory by the British, Jamaicans started using their grammar even though the American English has a little influence in some words like: the Americans say “diapers” and the British say “nappies”, in these little things it’s possible to see the influence that is still present nowadays because of the films, music, and others that through the years started playing in Jamaicans daily life. Some older people still use the words the way they learned with the British while they were in their territory since the settlers from the British Isles would pass their knowledge through their descendants.

The Jamaican Patois (Creole), is a dialect developed by the slaves from West and Central Africa to communicate, as I said before, while they were still trying to learn the Standard English. Creole is, according with the English Oxford Living Dictionary, “a mother tongue formed from the contact of a European language (especially English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese) with local languages (especially African languages spoken by slaves in the West Indies)”, over ninety per cent of the population speak Jamaican Patois. The Caribbean Creole is almost unintelligible to outsiders because they don’t pronounce some letters and they change the sound of some words, but even though it is not considered an official language, doesn’t has a way of writing and is not taught in schools, the dialect still follows the rules . The Jamaican Patois is used in the population’s daily life, it is used in informal situations while the Jamaican Standard English is taught in schools, is considered the language of education, media, high culture and formal communication. Jamaican Standard English is the native language but only a few speak it in their daily life, only a minority, and they are usually from upper/traditional class.

In Jamaican Patois there is no writing form, it’s mostly spoken but the Jamaican have been working on a way of changing that, the reason why is because it’s spoken by more people and it is used in their art, for example, in their music, in genres like reggae and dance hall and it started being used in literacy as well. In Patois there are a lot of words that by the way they sound they are written differently, for example, in short vowel words like “cook” they say “kuk”, “sick” they say “sik”, ”band” they say “ban”, in long vowel words like “tea” they say “tii”, “ball” they say “baal”. In general Patois is different, in diphthongs like “ei” the word “cake” changes to “kiek”, in the word “bite” it changes to “bait” because they say it with “ai”. In consonants, they say “choch” instead of “church”, “yong” instead of “young”. To the outsiders it is more interesting listening to the genuine way they speak (rural/creole/traditional) than when they speak normal Jamaican Standard English. There are a lot of differences but they are more noticeable in the Patwa.

Jamaican Standard English has an intonation similar to the Irish one, it has influences from different European Countries like Spain and France, but it is always recognizably Caribbean. In a categorization, Jamaican English is in between the Jamaican Patois and the Standard English being closer to this one. In terms of grammar, pronunciation and construction it is often different but that doesn’t mean that an English speaker wouldn’t understand what is being said by the Jamaican English speaker because it comes from the same base and are a lot of things that are really similar. For example, in the Simple Present Sentence, in Standard English they say: “Kate has a new book.”, in Jamaican English they say: “Kate have a new book” and in Jamaican Patois they say: “ Kate have wah new book”, in the Patois the singular verb is rarely used and they change “one” to “wah”. In the Simple Past Tense in Standard English they say: “Edward threw the ball into the bush.”, in Jamaican English they say: “Edward throw/threw di ball into di bush.” and in Jamaican Patois they say: “Edward trow di ball inna di bush/ Edward did trow di ball inna di bush.”, the past tense is often ignored. They sometimes ignore prepositions, for example, in Standard English it is usually said: “Are you going to church?”, in Jamaican English it is said: “You goin church?” and in Patois it is said: “Yu a go a church/chuch?”, it is possible to see that the “are going to” and the “to” in the sentences are not used.

In the Jamaican vocabulary the “slangs” are often said in Jamaican Patois but it is something in constant change, when new words are created they stop using the old ones used to say or describe something. Here are some typical slangs when greeting or speaking in a friendly way: “Ello”- It is used to start an informal conversation ; “Gud Mawnin”- It means “Good Morning”; “Yuh Gud”- it means “Are you okay?”; “Mi nuh deh pan nutten” – it means “I’m not doing anything”. They use unique expressions that only them have meaning of it, such as : “wi run things, tings nuh run wi”- this means that they have the control of things and the things don’t have power over them; “Walk good”- to them this is wishing good luck to someone who is about to do something difficult or risky; “bill bak”- this is used to tell a person to relax/chill about a situation; “bruk out”- it is said when a person misbehaves or does something wrong, there are a lot more interesting expressions that English speakers would know the meaning but would understand what is said even if they didn’t know the circumstances.

Jamaican Creole is not seen in a good way because it is immediately linked to poor/uneducated people, but that is not completely true since they speak that way because they feel like it belongs more to their culture than the normal Standard English or even their mother tongue, Jamaican English, because even though it is related to the slavery times it was something that they overcame and something that is genuinely theirs. Jamaican Celebrities like Louise Bennett Coverley started bringing attention to their dialects considering that they started using them in their books, poetry, shows, speeches and a lot more. Tourists, while visiting the West Indies adore when the population speaks freely because it is something not usual in their daily basis, and shows how fun and energetic they are, shows the pride they have in themselves and represents how they decided to live their lives after the slavery, there were dark times but their culture is half of what they are and is what they show to the rest of the world.

To conclude, Jamaican English is like a different world in the English varieties because they have very distinctive and interesting expressions from other countries that have English as a mother tongue. In my opinion, the Jamaican language transmits all of what its population is and represents to the rest of the world. I enjoyed doing this research since it is a completely different culture from mine and it is different from what I am used to dealing with. I’m amazed by the story of Jamaica and its people, they show strength and willpower to know more and to teach more, they face some economic and politic problems but they always work towards a solution, especially in relation to the educational system.  

07 July 2022
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