Speak JA

15 Reasons Why Jamaican "Patois" is a Language!

In the fifteen points below I have summarized the issues on why Jamaican Patois is a language. As a Jamaican educator and linguist I have been working diligently to have our Jamaican language fully and officially recognized by our Jamaican Government. So far I’ve been receiving favorable commentary from the Jamaican Press and the Jamaican Government. Thanks for your highly valuable support! Karl Folkes (Yaadibwai).

Fifteen points on “why Jamaican Patois is a language”:

1. Creole languages are in effect the modern languages of the world; and have evolved and developed with varying degrees of automaticity over the last 400 years.

2. There are more than 200 attested Creole languages in the world and represented in all continents of the globe.

3. Creole languages are popularly described as evolving from an earlier ‘Pidgin’, or putatively “less fully-developed form”. However, this is merely a linguistic theory framed within a Western European ideological worldview.

4. The majority of Creole languages (again, the term ‘Creole’ is of European origin, and therefore troublesome for several reasons) have their origins in African languages. Thus, while their vocabulary or lexicon may be largely European-based (with lexical contributions from the hypothesized ‘superstrate’ languages), their syntax or grammar is distinctly non-European, and certainly more closely African (a continent historically described as “the dark continent” and therefore genetically contributing hypothesized ‘substrate’ languages).

5. The Creole languages of the Caribbean Basin are essentially syntactically more alike than they are different in their underlying or deep structure, despite their surface phonological, morphological, and lexical differences.

6. Creole languages all adhere to linguistic standards. This means it is linguistically correct to speak of Standard English, as well as Standard Jamaican, Standard Haitian, Standard Sranan Tongo, etc., with these latter languages being separate languages and not dialects of English or Dutch.

7. These standards adhere to the rules of their own grammar, which makes communication reliable, uniform, and possible among speakers of the various Creole languages.

8. Creole is not the name of a language, but the family name of several distinct languages which include Jamaican, Haitian, Garifuna, Sranan Tongo — and, yes, Afrikaans (in South Africa) and Yiddish (in Israel and other countries around the world).

9. All human languages belong to language families: as examples English, German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish (to Germanic); Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese (to Latinate or Romance); Chinese, Korean, Japanese (to Sino-Sinnitic), etc. Languages which belong to the same language families can be expected to share similar phonological, lexical, morphological, and syntactic features; but they are different enough to be recognized as different languages, and not dialects of one another.

10. Languages, in general, are named after the countries that produced them natively: English(England); German (Germany); French(France); Spanish(Spain); Russian (Russia). Occasionally languages bear the name of ethnic or cultural affiliations. Thsis logically suggests that the language of Jamaica should more properly be called “Jamaican” — certainly not “Patwa” or “Patois” which is a derisive term that was spawned by Europeans within a a colonial imperialistic paradigm to describe and to maintain relations of inequity between ‘slave’ and ‘master’. These terms should no longer be used, certainly not in Independent Jamaica.

11. All languages, including Jamaican, started out in spoken form only. That is a natural course of linguistic development. The written forms came afterwards. More importantly, all spoken languages can — without exception– be represented uniformly in writing.

12. When a language is represented uniformly in writing (i.e., when there is uniformity in phonemic-graphemic correspondence, presdtige is given to the language around the world and literacy development of the speakers of that language is encouraged in the native language.

13. Most Jamaicans are bilingual to varying degrees in Jamaican and English. Of course, some Jamaicans are monolingual Jamaican, with a small percentage monolingual English (perhaps the British, Americans, or Canadians in Jamaica).

14. “Jamaican” is the native language of most of its speakers for whom English is indeed a second language.

15. It is psychologically uplifting and culturally empowering to be bilingual and biliterate!

To contact Karl Folkes please use the following email address but remove EMAIL BLOCK from the address – [email protected]

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About the author

Karl Folkes