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Jamaican Patois

Colleen Sullivan
Speech 214 - Rhetoric of Reggae

Jamaican Patois, otherwise known as Patwa, Afro. Jamaican, just plain Jamaican or, Creole, is a language that has been until quite recently referred to as"ungrammatical English."(Adams, 199 1, p . I 1)

Creole languages are actually not unique to Jamaica, they are found on every continent although their speakers often do not realize what they are. The rest of the terms refer strictly to Jamaican Creole. Creoles are languages that usually form as the result of some human upheaval which makes it impossible for people to use their own languages to communicate. What people often refer to as the 'bad' or 'broken-English' of Jamaica are actually local Creoles that usually come about through a situation of partial language learning (Sebba 1, 1996, p.50-1.)

The technical definition of the term Creole means-, a language which comes into being through contact between two or more languages. The most important part about this definition is that a new language comes about which was not there before, yet it has some characteristics of the original language(s) and also has some characteristics of its own. The Creole of Jamaica and the Caribbean is referred to as an 'English-lexicon' and this language came about when African slaves were forced into a situation where English, or at least a very reduced form of English, was the only common means of communication. The slave traders and owners spoke English while the slaves spoke a variety of African languages and the slaves had to assimilate by learning English which explains why much of the vocabulary is English in origin. Although there is much English vocabulary, many words were also adopted from African languages when no equivalent English word could be found such as, words for people, things, plants, animals, activities, and especially religious words (Sebba 1, 1996, 50-1.) The name Jamaica itself was derived from the Arawak word Xaymaca meaning"Island of springs,"but no other known trace(s) of the Arawak, the indigenous inhabitants of Jamaica, exist today (Pryce, 1997, p-238.)

During slavery, prestige was attached to English by Jamaican-born blacks, who naturally spoke it. They looked down on the newly arrived African slaves who spoke their indigenous tongues. To this day there is a strong awareness, even among those at the bottom of the social scale, of the difference between the city and country, especially the remote hill settlements."Bungo talk,"is the term placed on the old-fashioned expressions and turn of phrase.

The debate surrounding the use of Patois as opposed to Standard English includes a number of issues and dates back to the times of slavery when Jamaicans had Standard English presented as a superior language and the indigenous language was denigrated to an inferior status. Today, more than 90% of the 2.5 million people in Jamaica are descendants of slaves brought from western Africa by the British. English is the official language but, Patois is the local language and still holds its' African roots (Pryce, 1997, p.238-9)

Most people in Jamaican are somewhere along the continuum between speaking British 'Standard' English and, the local Patois. There is a great deal of linguistic flexibility, depending upon who someone is speaking with, meaning, a Jamaican would probably use different language when speaking with a policeman or giving an interview than they would with a friend. The more familiar a Jamaican is with someone the more Afro. Jamaican they might use (Dr. Tuna, Feb 25, 1998.)

Another problem brought up in the debate about the use of 'Standard' English versus Patois is, many people believe there is a high rate of illiteracy in Jamaica due to the presence of two languages. Carolyn Cooper, a professor at the University of the West Indies, Mona, described the causes of widespread illiteracy in Jamaica. She argued, the language Jamaicans speak, they cannot write-, and the language they write, they cannot speak. The children are taught to read and write the 'Standard Oxford' English which is basically a foreign tongue to them, causing much pain and anguish and causing people to give up on reading and writing all together (Pryce, 1997, p.239-40.) This argument has even been brought up in debates on forming a universal language. Jamaican Patois was used in the argument against a universal language with the statement, if kids are learning Jamaican Patois at home, they should be taught to express themselves in the dialect they know (Economist, 1998, 16.)

Despite all the debate surrounding Patois, the international prestige of Standard English which derives from political and economic factors, has made people everywhere around the world obtain the major life goal of speaking it; even in countries where English has never traditionally been spoken people are acquiring this goal. As stated before, in Jamaica, the overwhelming feeling of prestige surrounding English causes people who speak Creole to be regarded as socially and linguistically inferior. This causes Creole languages to be considered unacceptable for use for any official or formal purpose, including education, hence the previously mentioned problem of young Creole speaking children getting frustrated and discouraged by trying to read and write in"Standard"English, which to them is basically a foreign language (Sebba 1, 1996, p.52.) We have even seen some of this debate on educational uses of language occur in the U.S. on the issue of Ebonics. Ebonics has been referred to as"Black English"and it is the language of many inner cities and until now has been thought of as slang'. Ebonics and Jamaican Patios are similar in that they both have the same roots and parts of the language came out as a result of people being taken from Africa for slavery (citation #3, WWW.) Also, the primary similarity in the debate on Ebonics and Jamaican Patios is the fact that Standard English is the language that must be mastered to conduct most businesses and to be successful in any traditional occupation (Pryce, 1997, p.241.)

While Creole languages have never been allowed to be used in education or for official purposes, they have been used for written purposes. Written Jamaican Creole currently appears in basically three main forms; (1) poems published as books, booklets, or in magazines, (2) Dub poetry and songs, and (3 ) as dialogue in novels, short stories, and plays. These forms of writing illustrate how most of what is written in Creole actually has its origins in spoken language as either oral performances such as dub poetry and in songs. While there is generally no overall agreement on how to write any of the English lexion Creoles of the Caribbean, most Creole is written using conventions based on the spelling of Standard English but, with alterations. The following poem is a good illustration of two different versions of how to write the same dub poem. Version A of the poem"Sonny's Lettah"by Linton Kwesi Johnson, is the printed version which appears in the book of collected poems, Inglan is a bitch. Version B appears on the cover of a 12 inch disco version of the record (Sebba 1, 1996, p.54-5.) Version C is my own interpretation of the poem into"Standard English"using the Rasta/Patois Dictionary (Snider, e-mail, Jan. 28, 1998) and trying to phonetically sound out words as discussed in"Understanding Jamaican Patois"(Adams, 1991, p.6-12 ) and, by referring to the helpcharts in the article the poem was displayed in.

Version A:

Mama. Ali jus' could'n' stan-up deh an' noh dhu not'n':
soh mi jook one in him eve
a' him started to cry:
an mi t'ump one in him mout' an' him started to shout mi kick on pan him shin an him started to spin mi t'ump him pan him chin an' him drap a pan a bin an de'd.
Mama. more policeman come dung an' beat mi to di grung. dem charge Jim fi sus: dem charge mi fi murdah.

Version B:

Mama, a jus couldn't stan up an no dhu notin
so mi juk one ina im eye an him started to cry mi tump one ina him mouth an him started to shout an him started to spin mi tump him pon him chin an him drop pon a bin an crash an DEAD
Mama more police man come down an beat mi to di groun' dem charge Jim fi sus dem charge mi fi murder

Version C:

Mom. I just couldn't stand there and do nothing
So I hit him in the eye and he started to cry I punched him in the mouth and he started to shout I kicked him in the shin and he started to spin I punched him in the chin and he dropped on a bin and he was DEAD
more police came down
and beat me to the ground
they charged Jim (?) for sus (?)
they charged me for (with) murder

The point of displaying these two differing examples is to show there is no 'correct' version or 'Incorrect' version, since there is no final authority to turn to for a decision. The different versions of spelling Creole strikes up another debate, whether or not a spelling system should be formed specifically for Creole. The issue has been supported by the statement"A genuinely creole orthography will strengthen the structural and psychological identity of the creole, [ ... ] it will provide a source for higher prestige and may therefore facilitate native speakers' identification with the creole language and culture."The argument against this proposition is; introducing an 'official' spelling system based on English conventions, would have the negative effect of strengthening 'the widespread conception of the Creole as an inferior variety of English% it would obscure real differences between Creole and Standard English, and hasten the decline of Creole as an entity separate from English (Sebba 1, 1996, p.59.) In simpler terms; these two arguments are completely opposite of each other because one is saying, making an ,official' spelling system for Creole will make the language more respected. The other argument is saying that it will just strengthen the misconception that Creole is inferior to Standard English.

In Jamaica, in addition to the Jamaican patois of the roots, the development of Rastafarianism has caused Rastas to develop a language and vocabulary of their own (Nicholas, 1996, p.38), and for the purpose of this paper it will be referred to as Rasta talk. The Rastafarian speech has also been referred to as"soul language,""ghetto language,"and"hallucinogenic language."(Barrett, 1997, p. 143 .) Rastafarians believe, the word itself has incredible power to change the present and future; language is symbolic of action, it can create, destroy, heal, and hurt. They don't play games with words, communication through speech and through words holds, moral and spiritual responsibility. A very important concept to Rastafarianism is,"wordsound is power"as in Genesis, Jah created life, the heavens, and the earth simply by saying so, by speaking words.

For Rastafarians, the most powerful and significant letter is"I,"which can also be used as a word and a number."I"is so important that Rastafarians use it each time they refer to themselves by saying"I and I,"this is done to include the presence and divinity of the Almighty with themselves each time they speak. Also by saying"I and I"when talking
about themselves, Rastas are indicating that they belong to the world and are not separated from it."I and I"is additionally used when referring to fellow Rastas; this is due to the same reasoning against separating themselves but, in this case from fellow Rastas. The use of"I and I"is not only limited to Rastas but, when a Rastafarian meets a stranger, he/she does away with the superficial greetings common to polite society and instead tests the"vibration"of the person. If the vibration is positive, it does not matter if one is a member of the movement or not; he or she will immediately be addressed in conversation as"I and I."(Barrett, 1997, p. 144.) They believe the words of Jah are"I and I"while, Satan would say"you and me."His Imperial Majesty, Halle Selassie I, even has"I"as part of his title, and the word Rastafari ends with"I,"(Nicholas, 1996, p. 38 8.)

Rastas also believe in the concept of"One Love"meaning, everyone should have the same love for everything-, yourself, spouse, co-workers, children, nature. etc. This concept and belief ties in very closely with the concept of"I and I"because it once again stress the evil of separation.

An"I"also makes any word become more spiritual and sacred and"irie"is a great example of this."Irie"(pronounced eye-ree), is the ultimate positive (Nicholas, 1996, p. 3 9.) One definition of irie has three parts which all greatly represent the positive factor or the"I"; (I) powerful and pleasing, (2) excellent, highest, and (3 ) the state of great feeling (citation #5, WWW) Also, in Rasta talk"all is irie"means nothing could be better and"irie heights"or"Ites,"are equivalent to the Christian belief of heaven or, to a strongly uplifting spiritual feeling. Additionally,"I"used in combination with other words glorifies them and by substituting"I"for a syllable Rastas create their own meanings such as; changing"power"to"I owner,""thunder"to"I-under,"and"total"to"I-tal."

A lot of Rasta words are meant to bare the chronological weight of their sounds which has caused parts of many traditionally"Standard"English words and phrases to be changed. Rastas don't say"I and I will come back soon, but would say"I and I will come forward soon."This is because"back"and"return"are negative, nonprogressive words. If you mean"backward,"and say"forward"you will be understood."Understood"is another word that has been changed in this way. Rastas say that understanding means comprehension, which is a positive, uplifting experience, therefore it is only logical to say"overstood."One last example of this change because of"wordsound"is the word -oppression."Rastas and Jamaicans have been oppressed for years and it is a very negative thing but, the word oppression has the sound up in it which signifies something positive, therefore it makes much more sense to say"downpression"when referring to this very negative thing (Nicholas, 1996, p. 39.)

In a way Rasta talk is a religious language and it can be related to Jamaican Patois because it is Jamaican dialect used on a philosophical level (Barrett, 1997, p. 143.) Rastas don't have"conversations"but, they consider any lengthy talking among each other"reasoning."They feel to share their experiences fully they use their thoughts and expressive capacities collectively in a group setting. They don't speak from one person to another using Babylon's"selective concepts"which they feel are linear, unnatural, and unproductive (Nicholas, 1996, p.39.) Babylon is a term used quite often by Rastas which represents"the system". according to the Rasta/Patois Dictionary, some examples of Babylon can be (1) the corrupt establishment, the"Church and State"(2) the police, a policeman (Snider, e-mail, Jan. 28, 1998).

As in any language, Rastas also have words to express anger that are considered curses. An interesting point to make about the Rasta talk curses are that they are very natural in origin which coincides with the beliefs of the Rastafarian people. The worst possible way to insult a Jamaican is to refer to them as an excretion from the human body. What seems to be the most dominant curse is to refer to someone as a"Ras clot""bongo clot,"or"bumba clot."In some contexts, the term"clot"does mean cloth but, in this context, calling someone one of these words is like saying they came from a blood clot and not an ovum, from their mother's womb.

Also, as in any language, Rastas have sayings they use to greet and leave each other. This statements include;"Peace and love","Peace, Rasta,""Love, Rasta,""Praises due Selassie I,"or"Irie,"these words and phrases can be used in various combinations (Nicholas, 1996, p.40.)

Rasta talk is not a separate language from Jamaican Patois but, rather an extension of the language with modifications to fit the beliefs of a specific group of religious people. Rastafarianism is a religion that is very dependent on the power of the word and Rastas conceptualize speech as a holy tool, which is similar to the beliefs of many African cultures. When it comes down to Rasta talk, considering the words, the transpositions, and the expressions, nothing is as important as the way Rastas talk. Rastas bring great drama to their speech as they intone passages from the Bible and they do it to feel power and strength which allows Rastas to be perceived, by themselves and others, as worthy and holy. Rastas use wordsounds to create their power because speaking in biblical language almost transports them back beyond history of enslavement and oppression, to a time when their dignity was natural and not acquired or striven for (Nicholas, 1996, p.40.)

The power of the spoken word is part of what caused Reggae music to emerge as a result of Rastafarianism. Reggae music comes from a long line of musical development 'evolution' over the years, and many of the themes in the music are representative of issues these people face and have faced throughout history. As mentioned earlier, Creoles are not traditionally used for educational purposes but, have been written in some form, poetry and music fit into some of the ways Creoles have been documented.

Reggae music projects some basic themes that coincide with the beliefs of Rastafarianism, these themes include; exploitation, racism, promises, expectations, and disappointments, and resistance. Many reggae songs include much Rasta talk while, projecting these themes so prevalent in Jamaican life. Also, a major theme mentioned in numerous reggae songs is the Rasta belief in His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I as God. They consider him the almighty and often use the word Jah which is a shortened form of Jehova, to refer to God. Jah may be stated by itself or with any other of the equivalent words, Jah Ras Tafari, Haile Selassie, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, conquering Lion of Judah (Snider, e-mail, Jan. 28, 1998) as it is written in the bible.

Bob Marley's, Redemption Song is a good example of Rastafarian doctrine being expressed in reggae.

Redemption Song:

Old Pirates. yes they rob 1,
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong By the 'and of the Almighty.
WE forward in this generation Triumphantly.
Won't you help to sing These songs of freedom'?
Cause all I ever have: Redemption songs, Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy.
'Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets, While we stand aside and look'?
Ooh! Some say it's just a part of it: We've got to fulfil de book.

Won't you help to sing These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have: Redemption songs: Redemption songs: Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.
None but ourselves can free our mind.
Wo! Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them-a can-a stop-a the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look'?
Yes. some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fulfil de book.
Won't you help to sing
Dese songs of freedom? Cause all I ever had.
Redemption songs
All I ever had:
Redemption songs
AlI ever had:
Redemption songs:
These songs of freedom.
Songs of freedom.

While the lyrics of redemption song are mostly in"Standard English,"with few rasta talk phrases included, the song displays many of the themes and issues that are faced by and have been faced by people in Jamaica since the days of slavery. Every Reggae song has its own way of displaying Rastafarian beliefs and concerns. Another good example of a song that stresses the power of spoken word and how Rastas express themselves with rhythm, depth, and gestures that emphasize, in sound and measure (Nicholas, 1996, 40.) is Bob Marley's"Chant Down Babylon."The lyrics in this song continually repeat the phrase"chant down Babylon,"and stress reggae music as being a way to chant down oppression and the"system."While, Bob Marley's music does represent Rastafarian beliefs it seems to be adjusted towards the mainstream more than music that is meant for primarily Jamaican audiences. Marley's music is generally quite understandable to anyone who comes from a"Standard"English background with little to no background in reggae and patois. There are hundreds of musicians in Jamaica whose music never leaves Jamaica and many of these song lyrics are much more coated with patois/rasta talk and would be much less understandable to members of the mainstream audience. It would be appropriate to include lyrics from one of these reggae songs that is coated in patois. Obviously, access to music that hasn't left Jamaica is hard to gain but, there are some"mainstream"songs that could suit this purpose of demonstration with a little more patois than the typical Bob Marley song.

Included is part of the Bounty Killer song"Babylon Ah Drop."

Babylon Ah Drop:

I don't like how di system mekeup
No way (Lawd a mercy)
Long time dem hung Black people on di tree (Yeah. yeah. yeah)
Oh yes, di Black race dem waan fi damage (I'm sure!)
Never lose faith we ((weren't)) built with nuff courage (You're mad!)
((How di man?)) gone make dem manage (Love!)
come well a say (Yeh!)

Babylon system me ((troff)) it down, me ((troff)) it down
Sodom and Gomorra ((wont)) go down (Go down) God create his moon and me son (so) Israelite gwan beat conga drum ((Di Queen)) di judge so mail 'im back your tongue (Eh yo, again) Babylon system me ((troff)) it down, me ((troff)) it down Sodom and Gomorra ((won't)) go down Din bruise upon ((massa gat'?)) soon so Rastaman gwan beat dem ke ke drum champion ((poli)) just can dun (me sing)

Long Long
Dem have to send a chain and bandage
With dem world war
Conflict and mystery
It's like dem see di fuel
And strike the matches
True dem want mi ((god)) world
Fi go down inna ashes
Brainwash education
And de mind dem want fi damage
((Half a?)) never been told
Dem only teach the average
No me complain
((Trust)) me street type knowledge
Enslave Black people
And dem beat you like a savage
Oh yes, the Black race
Me know dem waan Fi damage Somewhere
Almighty God will make we manage
Never lose faith
We weren't built with no courage
Essential things
You know life is in charge with
Tell dem say find a new ((conscience))
So I did

This is a quite long song with 5 more stanzas in addition to the three displayed. This song fits into the traditional rasta belief system against Babylon. There seem to be a few different ideas presented but the main ideas all push for chanting down babylon, while highlighting the horrors that have occurred as a result of babylon's existence and as a result of racism.

Another form of expression is dub poetry which is, poems performed in dialect, to a reggae beat and this was born, like reggae, from the womb of Rastafari and was shaped by the socialist and black consciousness movements of the 1970's. This form of expression was gaining popularity in Jamaica in the early 1980's during the time of socio political and economic change in Jamaica. The most violent election in the island's history was taking place, the leftist"man of the people,"Michael Manley, had been succeeded by the conservative Edward Seaga. Around this time dancehall music was becoming quite popular and the spiritual messages of peace and love in reggae music were getting taken over by raunchy sometimes violent messages in dancehall. Due to the great appeal of dancehall music dub poetry never really made it big but, the idea of dub poetry fits in well to the Rastafarian ways of expression. Dub poets are interested in using lyrical content to bring across an idea and rhythm is not the first priority, this is another example of the strong power of the spoken word (Sheridan, 1993, p. 1, 7, 75.)

Some Jamaican Patois and Rasta talk has made it off the island. This is obvious with the great popularity of Reggae all around the world but, there are also large communities of people from Jamaica and the Caribbean living in other countries. Having been British colonies for a number of years, the Eastern and Western Caribbean have provided immigrants to England for centuries. Recently, although the immigrants come from all over the Caribbean, it seems the dominant language spoken is Jamaican Creole. The language being spoken in England is actually being referred to as 'London Jamaican' but, there are only minor linguistic differences between this and the Creole in Jamaica. One author suggests that Rastafari, reggae, and the public recitation of verse (toasting) may be central to the cultural dominance of Jamaicans among the components of the Caribbean community in England. It is interesting to note that many young British-born black children speak some variety of 'Standard' British English as their first language but, many speak Creole socially. It is stated that this use of Creole fulfills a number of other
roles for these people, mostly related to its symbolic significance as a marker of black identity (Sebba 2, 1996, p.26-7.)

All in all, it is fairly easy to say, the emergence of Rasta talk out of Jamaican Patois was a fairly easy transition with the development of Rastafarianism. I find the history and roots of Patois amazing. The thought that part of an ancient language has been 'We to hold on to some of its roots is mind boggling.

I have learned so much about Jamaica and the people by writing this paper. I never knew that there are such distinctions in society between Standard English and Patois. I just always assumed that people in Jamaica spoke with an accent and said words differently, and had some different words to represent things. I think it's really sad that people who speak Patois are considered"uneducated"and Jamaican school children who speak it have so many struggles because they are forced to read and write in"Standard"English. As mentioned earlier this seems like a very close parallel to the problems inner city children who speak"Ebonics"have when they go to school. I wish there was an easy solution to solve the language barrier but, I suppose that is a problem that plagues many cultures around the world.

I found it very interesting that Emilie L. Adams's book Understanding Jamaican Patios developed from a tool she used with her elementary aged school children when she was teaching in Jamaica. When she was teaching English to young children who came from Patois speaking backgrounds, she would write a sentence in Patois and then next to it, the same sentence in"Standard"English, to help the children understand what the sentence means and to help them learn how to read and write. This seems like an extraordinary way to help clear up confusion for children and if more Jamaican school and teachers would include it into their curriculum, there might be much less children struggling.

Another interesting distinction I never really grasped before was the difference between Jamaican Patois and what I have been referring to as"Rasta talk."I always thought of the two forms of the language as being the same thing and I think I even went into this paper considering them basically the same. I now understand that"Rasta talk"is a derivative of Patois but, has basically developed into its own language. It's very interesting how much words fit into Rastafarianism and how much power a word can really have. Peace and love.

Works Cited

1. Adams, Emilie L. UNDERSTANDING JAMAICAN PATOIS, Jamaican Grammar. Kingston, Jamaica: Kingston Publishers Limited, 199 1.

2. Barrett, Leonard E. Sr. The Rastafarians. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1997.

3. Bounty Killer, Babylon Ah Drop, Label: Fat Eyes.

4."Ebonics - Black English."Ebonics Information Page. On-line. Internet. Available WWW: http//

5."English as she is mis-spoke."The Economist '308 (July 16, 1988): 16.

6."Irie Time."Irie Time Website. On-line. Internet. Available WWW: http//www. owlnet. rice. edu/-don/index 1. html

7. Marley, Bob, Redemption Song, Uprising, 1980.

8. Nicholas, Tracy. Rastafari.- A Way of Life. Chicago: Research Associates School Times Publication, 1996.

9. Pryce, Jean T."Similarities Between the Debates on Ebonics and Jamaican."Journal of Black Psychology, 23 (August 1997): 238-241.

10. Seeba, Mark."How do you spell Patwa."Critical Quarterly 38 (1996): 50-63).

11. Seeba, Mark."London Jamaican: Language systems in interaction."Language 72 (1996): 426-427.

12. Sheridan, Maureen."The Beat Goes On: Dub Poets Explore Patois Of The People."Billboard 10 April 1993: 1, 73, 75.

13. Snider, Alfred, C. (Dr. Tuna,) Feb. 25, 1998. Rhetoric of Reggae Speech 214 Class.

14. Snider, Alfred C. E-mail to Speech 214 class. 28 Jan. 1998.