Sunday, April 5, 2009

Jamaican Patois

In the Jamaican community we often debate Jamaican Patois and its role in society. With this “never-to-go-away” concern, I have decided to share some interesting points about this manner of speech which were drawn from my observation and curiosity.

Jamaica is an English speaking Island. However, there is another form of verbal communication which may seem like a loose barrage of words but it does in fact have the structure of a true language. We indulge in speaking it when it comes to entertainment, comfort, leisure or lacking the ability to master Standard English. This form of communication which frequently challenges me with its reading and writing is mainly called Patois. Other times it is called broken English, dialect, vernacular, bad talk, or Jamaican. Regardless of the name calling, this local language has made its mark in various parts of the world through songs, books, films and cultural ambassadors.

A few Jamaicans do not embrace Patois which could be a bad choice because Patois often behaves like a living being retaliating and embarrassing those who dare to trample upon it. The history of patois is rich with anecdotal incidents as proof. I can recall the tale of the Jamaican woman with her presumed linguistic superiority refusing to say Norfolk Lane and Hagley Park Road, which are the names of streets in Kingston. Instead she referred to them as Nah Rudeniss Lane and Pigley Park Road.

My experience is no less. I remember riding on one of the now defunct Jamaica Omnibus Service buses, better known as JOS bus or Jolly Joseph. The bus made a stop in the vicinity of Waltham Park and Bay Farm Roads where a woman said ‘a gaan’ as she alighted. On hearing that, a male passenger in his drunken stupor got up from his seat and shouted, “You set of bad talking people. What kind of talk is ‘a gaan’? Has the hog got any horn? He asked, making a fuss and much to my delight. In the true sense of the matter ‘a gaan’ means goodbye or I am leaving. Taking this a step further, could it be that Jamaican patois is the result of inquisitive ears or misinterpretations. To the drunkard, I am not condoning his revolting behavior here but it is often said that when the rum is in the wit is out.

Another side to Jamaican Patois is its coarseness which is sometimes labeled “sweet tauk”. A carefree Jamaican man usually demonstrates this aspect to show the woman his romantic ability. I will give some samples and the English translations. (1)baby gurl yuh noh seh yuh ah waan fendah bendah (sweetheart everyone is admiring you) (2) bandy leg gurl, mi luv yuh yuh nuh. Yuh nuh seet (girl, your legs are sex appealing). (3) gal yuh sweet noh rice ah peas yuh nuh (girl, your qualities are desirable). (4)Baby luv yuh look nice noh blouse ah skirt yuh nuh (honey, you look extremely gorgeous). Getting down to nitty gritty it then turns into (5)putuss mi caan get sum ah yu mout watah (sweetheart can I get a kiss). (6)pone mi caan get ah ride aff ah di chasi (honey may I have a date with you). (7)gal pickney cum ya mek mi roase yu cuhshu fi yu (girl, let me make love to you). (8)Hey gurl wid di coco cola backle shape, cum fizz mi wurl fi mi nuh (Hey girl with the beautiful shape, come shower me with your love). (9)gal yu look pretty lacka money (girl, your beauty is like wealth) (10)sweetniss yu noh seh efry time mi si yu, yu gi mi swelling skin (Sugar, I always get an erection whenever I am in your presence). All these lines of love, admiration and sexual desires, seem to be the perfect bait to get a female. However, in the presence of the man using them, a feisty Jamaican patois-speaking woman would say, Hey big foot bway ah mad yu ah mad. Ah who yu ah try fi impress wid dem de dutty tauk. Yu tink yu caan wreck my wurl. In essence the woman is telling the man that he is not her kind.

When I look at Jamaican Patois, it’s interesting to see how many little twists and turns this unofficial language has. Take for example the English word HEART. In patois one way of spelling HEART is HAUT, a word which is also found in the German language. The words DE, TU and YA are found in the Spanish vocabulary. And not to mention the many African words that were considered unreal or labeling them as poor English. There are even differing enunciations of words which can determine location. For example in one particular city in Jamaica some people are known to drop the Hs from the beginning of their words. They will say 'ead instead of head. Sentence structure is of interest also and should not to be overlooked. To say mi de goh, mi gwane goh, mi ah goh and mi ah goh goh relate to different areas yet they all mean I am going. These observations have me wondering who the pioneers were in certain areas. Not to be out done is the sweet sounding Mommy and Daddy that some how becomes Mumma and Puppa, in Jamaica. Other times it is Mama and Dada, or Mama and Papa. There are a few people who will say Mawmah and Dawdah and then Tata, names that hold true in some parts of Eastern Europe especially in Croatia where the father is called Tata.

Moving around, I am now convinced that Jamaican Patois is not to be dismissed, it transcends languages. Accordingly, it is also my belief that Jamaican patois is freedom. It saves me from the perils of biting, chopping and chewing my tongue as I try to impress society that I have a grasp of the English Language especially in a land where people seem to speak more than one language. After all, I too am entitled to use my local language. So, as I travel from place to place I flaunt Jamaican vernacular and laugh heartily as the people I meet along the way share an enthusiastic bond with Jamaica. They will say: Reggae sweet! No problem man! Irie! Cool runnings! Jerk Seasoning nice. Or, Blue Mountain Coffee is the best.

Finally, Jamaican Patois is therapeutic. It is my escape from daily stress. As a matter of fact I use Jamaican Patois as my platform to send a positive message. Bloating with pride, I can easily declare that the unofficial language which is called patois, broken English, vernacular, dialect, bad talk or Jamaican, has definitely made me wiser, mentally stronger, more culturally aware and culturally sensitive.

Tah-tah! Keep the faith and spread it gingerly...more to come.

Grace Dunkley-Asphall, Copyright © 2006


  1. Grace,

    I LOVE your Blog! Inspiring, thought-provoking! delightfully funny!

    Many thanks for sharing.

  2. Jamaican patois is heavy stuff.

  3. Yvette said....I am on your blog and I am going share..wonderful

  4. Very funny Grace, you are a great and colorful writer.

  5. This is great, very informative, nostalgic, you goaan gal, we naha go no way, forgive my spelling but as Miss. Lou, sa you caa spell it draw it, mi gaan lol love this Gracie