For those who do not know I am happy to inform you that Jamaicans speak two languages. Of course there are those who would argue that there is only one language. That is quite understandable if you hang around Jamaicans who have decided to shelve one language and use the other. However, the truth is there are two languages: the Queen’s English – “Son, where have you been?” and then there is – “Bwoy whe yu did de?” This language is often referred to as the Jamaican dialect, Creole, or Patois (Pat-wa).
Jamaica’s second language, Patois, was created by African slaves who were brought to the island centuries ago. The Spanish first settled Jamaica in 1492 and later brought some Africans to the island. The English took control of Jamaica in 1655 and brought many more Africans from several West African countries to the island. During the course of the Spanish and English control of Jamaica, various other immigrants or settlers were either brought to, or came to the tiny island. These immigrants or settlers came from countries such as Israel, Germany, France, Holland, China and India.
Jamaica is truly a melting pot of multiple ethnicities.
In addition to the immigrants and settlers who came with their various languages, the Africans brought many of their own. And so, in an effort to communicate with their fellow-slaves as well as with their masters and fellow-inhabitants, the Africans coined their own words and phrases.
Patois was born.
Patois is not broken English, but instead is a sweet mix of several languages: English, Spanish, French, Dutch and African languages. In fact, if you travel to other West Indian islands which had the same experience as Jamaica, you will find a “Patois” particular to each island.
The Jamaican Patois is a beautiful language in terms of its directness and color. Interestingly also, is the fact that Jamaicans from different parts of the island speak variations of the language. Amazingly, someone living in Kingston all his or her life may have to ask a native of St. Elizabeth to repeat something he or she says for clarity. Can you therefore imagine an American trying to understand a Jamaican speaking Patois? Well, it is said that nothing is impossible and so Americans who spend a lot of time with Jamaicans understand some things. Some Americans even try to talk Jamaican – now that’s a funny sight- and many have confessed to liking the Jamaican accent.
Let me get back on track. Why do I say that Patois is direct? Well, because it is. Patois uses a lot fewer words to say the same thing expressed in English. Let’s look at some examples: 1. English – “Mary, I am not coming with you.” Patois – “Mi nah come yu nuh.” 2. English – “How are you doing?” Patois – “Whaap ‘en man?” 3. English – “Have you completed the job?” Patois – “Yu dun bass?”
You will notice from the examples above that Patois gets to the point more quickly than English does. Patois is also very colorful.
A favorite English expression is, “Son, you won’t like it if I hold you.” Actually, that may be from an older generation because now it is wrong for parents to speak “harshly to their children.”Anyway, the Patois equivalent is, “Bwoy if mi grab yu yu wi kno whe wata walk go a pumkin belly.” Do you know how water gets inside a pumpkin? If you don’t, a Jamaican will offer to tell you – in plain terms.
To further highlight the colorful Jamaican Patois, let’s look at some usage:
1. Children are pickney, pickney dem, pickeynies;
2. One’s lover is one’s sugar plum plum, or bunununus;
3. Having a good time is having a catawampus time;
4. The female’s reproductive organ is pum-pum, cho-cho and more, while the male’s is cocky, wood and more; and,
5. The homosexual is a batty-man.
Some other interesting things to note about Patois are: 1. there are various spellings for any one word. For example, “pickney” used for children can be spelled pickni or even picni. 2. Some Jamaicans who attempt to use more English and less Patois retain traces of Patois in their oral language without even knowing that they do. You can always tell by listening to how the speaker sounds his or her ending – the Patois speaker says “fine” for “find”- or, you can tell when the speaker misplaces the letter “h” – the Patois speaker says “ide” for “hide” and “henter” for “enter.”
Today, many Jamaicans live abroad and are forced to speak English to be understood. However, these same Jamaicans speak Patois among family and fellow Jamaicans. What’s really funny is that there are some Jamaicans who have tried to throw away the second language. For those Jamaicans, anyone who speaks Patois around them is considered to “talk bad.”
Interestingly, however, those who have divorced Patois are sometimes tickled by a rare outburst of “Jamaican talk” and find their long last second language even comical.