Speak JA

Who seh wi chat patwa (patois)?

It is said that Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Guyanese, St. Vincentians, Antiguans, all speak patois, which is the dialectal offspring of the language of the colonial powers of these islands. What do we really speak, and does our language have a distinct name? Let us first find out what is patois. It is an illiterate or provincial form of speech; broken English; jargon. Jargon is confused speech, gibberish, or technical phraseology.

Ever since the late 17th century, English scholars of linguistic geography have been fascinated by the “broken English” spoken by Jamaicans. Broken English? What about the West African languages, namely Akan, Igbo, Wolof, Twi and others that are rooted in the linguistic protest of enslaved Africans in Jamaica: These so-called slaves, forbidden to speak in their native tongues, eventually developed an alternative to the King’s English by incorporating words from their various West African languages. Those words influenced today’s Jamaican words, such as dugu-dugu, quashie, buju, and countless others. Yes, a lot of the words we use are African, but very few people know about this. Why? The word patois does not take these things into consideration, and it undermines our unique and creative spirit as a people. The name of our language must reflect that out of many, we have one language. Thus the ideal name is Jamic. Jamic must be given credency because it represents the legacy of the Africans who formed the mode of communication, this vernacular. In this vein, Jamic is not just our spoken and written language, it is our language as a nation and people. Jam is short for Jamaica, and the suffix –ic, means of or relating to; therefore, Jamic simply means of or relating to Jamaica. In this case, it refers to the language. It must be noted, also, that the Rastas during the 1950s to 1980s took the language and formed their own argot: Iyaric. The lingo was developed in the spirit of self-determination, and the goal was to harness the power of word and its sound.

This speech pattern is the “Principle of Word + Sound = Power” (W+S=P), a phonetic system that inflects specific words, depending on their sounds, to make them more appropriate in the context that they’re used, for instance, the word ‘downpressor’. Professor Hubert Devonish and others of the linguistics department at the University of the West Indies have advocated for the recognition of our language. But is it our language that they are promoting, or is it ‘broken English’ (as in Creole or patois?) Remember, if it is not Jamic, it is not ours. Interestingly, courses are being taught of “our” language in Britain’s Birmingham City College. Our national pride and self-determination make us, Jamaicans, the forerunners of change from oppression; therefore, we mush redefine ourselves. As a beginning, we must redefine the name of our language. Bob Marley said, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” In celebrating our 43rd Independence, it should be made clear that we have a language of the people, for the people. We do not speak broken English, or patois, we speak Jamic. And we do so with pride.

About the author

Ras Dennis JabariReynolds