Interviews

City College in Birmingham, UK to teach Patois Course: An Interview with course facilitator Heather Reid

Written by Xavier Murphy

Recently City College in Birmingham started a new course, Jamaican Language and Culture, which will teach students to write Jamaican (Patois). This month we pose 10 questions to course facilitator Heather Reid. This interview is in Standard English and also Jamaican (written in the style used by Louise Bennett-Coverley and Jamaicans.com).

Q: Why a class in Jamaican (Patois)?

The course at City College explores Jamaican Language and Culture in depth. It’s not a lighthearted, shallow, “touristy” approach to teaching what is traditionally referred to as Patois. It’s part of a strategy to build awareness amongst Jamaicans (and descendants of Jamaicans) in the UK of their history, culture and language with a view to improving the confidence, national pride and progress of the Jamaican community in the UK.

The course has been developed by Jamaica 2K, working with colleagues from the University of the West Indies, and the teachers are all Jamaicans who work as teachers in the UK.

Incidentally, in the class we prefer not to use the term Patois or dialect, but we recognize it as a valid language, and refer to it as Jamaican. Patois is a general term which means a way of speaking made up of a range of languages, so in fact English could be called a patois!

Q: A wha di reason fi a class fi Jamaican (patwa)?

A nuh fi nuh fool-fool, low-browse, “expose-wi-self-to-farrina” kine a reason why wi a have dis ya class in weh yu caal patwa. At di Callige, wi a look deep inna wi culchya an wha mek wi taak di way wi taak. A fi wan deep an canchus caaz: wi waan mek aal a di Jamaican dem weh live ya: proud a who wi bi, proud a how wi taak, proud a wi histry. Wi waan help di Jamaican dem a Inglan fi get ahead an nuh fi mek nobaddy ol’ dem back.

A di people dem inna Jamaica 2K devel it up, alang wid some a di tapanaris a U.C. Aal a di teacha dem bawn an grow a yaad but dem cum a farin fi get a likkle work inna di Inglan systim.

By di way, wi nuh caal i patwa inna di class, becaw dat mek i soun like a nuh wan prapa languige. Yu know what patwa mean? A wan way fi taak weh mek up af diffrant diffrant languige. Suh guess wha? Di very Inglish weh dem taak a Inglan, coulda en caal patwa!

Q: How has the class been received by teachers and students at the college?

The response to the course has been overwhelmingly positive! Several lecturers at City College of Jamaican descent have enrolled as students. Over half the students on this course are teachers in the British education system, and there are also some community and social workers and high school students. Not all students are Jamaicans – a few are from other Caribbean islands, who share a similar history. One student travels almost 100 miles weekly from Sheffield to attend the course!

As with any good cause, there are critics who assume that we are “selling out” our culture and language, or prematurely conclude that we are promoting the speaking of Jamaican to the exclusion of fluency and literacy in English. However, it is clear to all involved with the course that we are seeking to build confidence and cohesiveness amongst ourselves as Jamaicans, as we study our shared language, culture and history. I believe a confident, cohesive community will be a more progressive community – in our academic achievement, economic advancement and contribution to society.

Q: How di teacha and student dem at di college rate di class?

Wan oleepa people excited bout di course yu si! Some a di professa dem a di Callige, dem weh madda an fada cum fram Jamaica, dem nuh jine di course to! An yu si di student dem pan di course, moas a dem a teacha, some a dem a schoola, some a dem a social worka an aal a dem active in dem community. But a nuh aal di student cum fram Jamaica, sum cum fram di simall ilan’ dem [no offence intended!]. Wan smaddy, evry week, she chavel fram clear a Sheffiel fi cum a di class.

Mi nah suss, but like wid anyting else, wen yu a try do a good ting, some people bad-mine gens yu. Sum a dem a seh wi a sell out wi culcha, or dat wi a try mek fi wi people backwud and mek dem taak “bad Inglish”. But ef dem did ongle aks fus, dem woulda know seh aal a wi weh de pan di course a try buil’ canfidence and fi mek wi cum togedda an buil’ up wi wan anedda, while wi learn bout wi languige, wi culcha an wi histry. Me personally believe seh, wen wi big up wi ches an tan togedda as a people, wi wi’ get ahead quicka dan puss cyan ketch musmus!

Q: What are some of the questions and comments you have gotten from students in this class?

Here are some of the comments received when asked “What are the strengths of the course?” in a 4-week course review. (Please see below.)

Q: What is some a di question and comments yuh get fram di student dem inna di class?

Si wat di student dem seh bout di course wen we aks dem alf way choo, wha dem tink bout i.

“The course … empowers Jamaicans and the Jamaican language. We can be more polite with our own language and we can also interpret into English.”

“The classes are very interesting.”

“Being able to converse in my native tongue with others including the lecturers… The diversity of the materials is good and motivated me to find out more about the culture.”

“Teachers are well prepared. Lessons are varied, interesting, stimulating and interactive.”

“Excitement of delivery of the course. Good student participation and involvement. Useful Handouts. Varied content.”

“This course brings me back to my roots.”

“Jamaican heritage, language – Oh, how important it is to keep it alive!”

“The authenticity of the material and knowledge of lecturers. Inclusion of all members of group despite age/experience.”

“The lessons are great; we meet other people who speak Jamaican. An we can jus brok weh.”

Q: Who does the course target? Give us a synopsis of the course.

The course targets Jamaicans and descendants of Jamaicans who want to learn more about their history and make a difference in the lives of:
– Jamaican students who face challenges and sometimes inferiority complexes in the British education system, just because of the way they speak,
– Jamaican patients in the British health system who have sometimes been misdiagnosed, because they speak Jamaican,
– Jamaicans in Britain generally, who are too often misunderstood in court, in prisons, on the road and receive inappropriate judgments, because their use of language and their culture is misinterpreted.

The course covers topics including:
– What constitutes a language?
– History and development of the English Language
– History and development of Jamaican (traditionally referred to as patois),
– Written forms of Jamaican
– Drama presentations in Jamaican
– Jamaican emblems, heroes, poetry, story telling, music, dance, dishes and religions.

Each student is required to do a short dissertation on some aspect of the Jamaican culture or language.

Q: A who di course mek fah? A wha gwan inna de course?

Dis course a fi aal a di Jamaican dem (an people weh madda an fada cum fram Jamaica) weh waan help wi wan anedda, wedda it bi:
– Pickney inna Inglan school weh shame a how dem taak an dem teacha nuh undastan dem an dem naah get ahead,
– Di Jamaican dem weh go a aaspital an di dacta dem seh dem mad, sake a how dem taak,
– Aal a di Jamaican dem inna Inglan, weh a suffa victimization – a coatouse, a jail, even pan di road, wen dem a mine dem owna business, dis ca dem taak and cyarry demself diffrant.

Di course cuvva dem ya:
– A wha really mek a languige, doah eeh?
– How Inglish cum about?
– How Jamaican about (weh bucky massa mek wi caal patwa),
– How fi write Jamaican
– Ack in front a odda people inna Jamaican
– Jamaican emblem, hero, poem, story-tellin’, music, dance, food and religion.
Aal a di student dem haffi do wan prajic bout Jamaican culcha.

Q: How authentic an accent will a student of the class have?

The accents of the students vary, depending on whether or not they grew up in Jamaica, or were allowed to speak Jamaican as a child. Incidentally, I grew up in Jamaica but was not allowed to speak “patois” as a child, so my husband teases me that – not only is my accent not authentic – but he claims that I speak “broken patois”! However, some of the students who were born and raised in the UK have (surprisingly!) more authentic “renditions” of Jamaican!

Q: Yuh expect di student dem inna di class fi have a real yaad accent?

Di student dem taak diffrant diffrant as cawding to how dem people did raise dem, an wedda ar nat dem grow a yaad. Me personally, bawn an grow a Jamaica, but fi mi madda neva mek mi chat patwa wen mi was likkle. Suh, mi usban tease mi seh mi nuh taak di real patwa ataal ataal ataal! But sum a di student dem pan di course, even doah dem nuh bawn a yaad, dem taak di patwa good good – betta dan mi! Mi fenneh!

Q: I know we as Jamaicans “love to draw card” on other. We tease other Jamaicans who “tweng”. Other cultures just see it as trying to fit in. Do you think someone using the lessons from your class and then going to Jamaica would be ridiculed by Jamaicans?

Based on who we have targetted for this course, most have fairly authentic Jamaican accents and expressions, and would “get by” in Jamaica. However their dress and other mannerisms may give them away!

Q: Some a wi yaad people love draw cyad pan wan aneda. We faas wid odda yaad people bout dem tweng. Odda culture jus si it as people a try fit in. Yuh tink if smaddy fram di class go a Jamaica an try fi talk people wi call dem name?

A ongl smaddy weh taak Jamaican aready coulda jine di class. Suh ef a did ongl fi how dem taak, dem woulda awright… But, fram dem bus di caana, an yu tek wan look pan dem frack ar dem pants foot, youda done know seh dem come fram Inglan lang time!

Q: Many argue that Jamaican is not a language as it has no formal structure. The prime example being that there is no one way to spell a Jamaican (Patois) word. What is your opinion on this?

To answer this question, I’ll quote the words of Professor Hubert Devonish, a linguist at the University of the West Indies, Mona, published in the Preface of Joan Andrea Hutchinson’s new book “Mek Mi Tell Yuh.” He says, “Jamaican is a language like any other language. It has rules like any other language. ‘Dem a sing’ is a possible sentence in that language, but ‘Dem sing a’ is not. Jamaican, like the vast majority of the 6,000 or so languages of the world is not normally written and has no standard writing system.” (Incidentally, if you haven’t read Joan Andrea’s book yet – do buy a copy – it’s absolutely hilarious!)

So I now recognize Jamaican as a language and will not subscribe to the view carried down from our colonial past that it’s merely a dialect of English.

Jamaican is not an ad hoc collection of corrupted English words; it has a rich vocabulary derived from several West African languages, as well as Spanish, French, Portuguese and English, and it has its own syntax and grammar! Here are a few of the colourful Jamaican expressions that I’d hate to be lost over time: abeng, afoo, anansi, ataclaps, babba, bakra, bangarang, boonoonoonoos, brawta, bringle, brawtupsy, butu, cabba cabba, camicle, choops, combolo, corowchiz, cumoochin, degge degge, duppy, dukunu, eh eh, fenke fenke, galang, Jankanoo, Jubawarin, kibba yu mout, ku ya, leggobese, mikase, mouta massi, nyam, oonu, oyoy, peenie wallie, pickney, pitcharie, pyaw pyaw, quashie, rolling calf, sketel, soso, tallawah, tapanaris, wanga gut.

Q: Nuff people believe sey patwa is not a language cause it noh have noh structa cause dere is nat wan way fi spell a word ina patwa. So wha yuh tink bout dat?

Mek mi ansa yu queschan dis way. Wan a di tapanaris uppa U.C. weh nyame Professa Ubert Debanish, im write inna wan book by Joan Andrea Utchinson, seh, “Jamaican a wan languige like any odda languige. It ave rule like any odda languige. In Jamaican, yu cyan seh: ‘Dem a sing’, but yu woulda fayva pappy show ef yu did evva seh ‘Dem sing a’. Jamaican nuh ha nuh real systim a writing. But a nuh nuttn dat. A six tousan languige in di worl, an moas a dem yu cyaan write dem nida.” (By di way, ef yu nuh read Miss Joan book yet – mikase buy wan – it wi’ mek yu belly bus!)

Suh, mi naah mek Babylan tek mi tun fool. Full time now fi mi know seh Jamaican a wan prapa languige.

Yu si di Jamaican weh wi speak, ah nuh wan dibby dibby, pat battam, meckeh meckeh languige. Di word dem cum fram Africa, Spain, Frawnce, Porchugal an Inglan. An it have tructya an prapa gramma!
Yu woulda evva waan fi lose dem ya word ya? Abeng, afoo, anansi, ataclaps, babba, bakra, bangarang, boonoonoonoos, brawta, bringle, brawtupsy, butu, cabba cabba, camicle, choops, combolo, corowchiz, cumoochin, degge degge, duppy, dukunu, eh eh, fenke fenke, galang, Jankanoo, Jubawarin, kibba yu mout, ku ya, leggobese, mikase, mouta massi, nyam, oonu, oyoy, peenie wallie, pickney, pitcharie, pyaw pyaw, quashie, rolling calf, sketel, soso, tallawah, tapanaris, wanga gut.

Q: What materials and books are needed for the course?

All that’s required of students are pen and paper, as folders with relevant handouts are provided. Students are given the opportunity to purchase various texts on Jamaican language and culture, including Dr Pauline Christie’s Language in Jamaica.

Q: Wah kina material an book yuh agoh need fi tek di course?

Aal di student dem need a soso pen an paypa. Ca evryting gi out inna di class: foala an aal. Plus yu cyan get almos any book on Jamaica to buy – like di wan Language in Jamaica by di Dacta liady, Paaline Christie.

Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to learn to speak and read Jamaican (patois)?

Have a go!

Q: Yuh have any advise fi smaddy who waan learn fi chat and read Jamaican (patwa)?

Chy it nuh!

Q: Do you believe that Jamaican (patois) should be made an official language?

Jamaican is an official language!

It is now listed as a language by the UK’s Institute of Linguists and is one of the options for their Diploma in Public Service Interpreting.

Based on the systems of the world today, I don’t believe that making Jamaican the official language of Jamaica will hasten our social, academic or economic advancement. I do believe that we need to change our perception of the language and of the vast majority of Jamaicans who speak the language. Instead of scolding children to stop speaking badly, we should consider developing our children to be bilingual in Jamaican and English. We need to have a nation of people who are confident about our selves, our language, culture and history; ultimately that will only enhance our advancement.

Q: Yuh believe sey patwa fi mek into wan official language?

But si ya! Den yu neva tek stack a weh mi seh? Jamaican a wan prapa languige like any odda!

Di big wig a Inglan put i eena dem lis as a prapa languige. Yu can aal go a callige an get big time serfitiket inna Jamaican, fi become chanslata inna coatouse.

But, as cawding to how tings a gwaan inna di worl, me personal nuh tink seh wi woulda really betta aff if wi mek Jamaican di official tongue a yaad. But wi mus tap pwile up wi pickney head wid di foolinish dat Jamaican is “bad Inglish”. An wi mus tap look pan people like dem a dutty piece a claat, dis becaw dem taak Jamaican. Wi mus mek wi pickney larn fi taak bot’ Jamaican an Inglish. Mi done say it aready. Wi mus big up wi ches, an bi proud a wiself, proud a wi languige, proud a wi histry… an move fahwud togedda.

 

Jamaica 2K are currently organizing a series of conferences and events on this subject around the UK. If anyone wants to host an event in their area, please contact Heather Reid, e-mail: [email protected]

About the author

Xavier Murphy