Monday, January 12, 2009

Is Patwa / Jamaican Creole a Language?

The following is a discussion I had about the merits of standardizing the mother tongue of the majority of Jamaicans.

This discussion dragged on electronically- for over four hours!!! It was definitely worth the time, because the opposition offered most of the principal arguments given for the claim that Jamaican Creole (Patwa) is a low language, and I have reproduced the conversation it its entirety here. 

Fiyu Pikni:
A ou kom dat de sain puos de kom iin laik i bout fi jrap dong so? hehe Unu main de ----hehe

No sah. A couple comments now mi reading, and for the life of mi, mi neva see no patwa like dat from mi born, and a nuff different people mi read patwa from. That look like some african dialect. Mi have a EXTREMELY hard time reading and re-reading dem comments deh. Thats not not ordinary patwa. That's not even patwa. Patwa not so complicated.

Fiyu Pikni:
hehe, it is Patwa--and it is not complicated. This is the standard orthography for writing Jamaican Creole (Patwa)---it's difficult to read because you haven't studied the orthography :) So technically, it should be like reading a foreign language.
Let me "translate" what I wrote into a form that is better understood by those accustomed to writing Patwa using very inconsistent English spelling conventions. :)

“A how come dat deh sign post deh come een like it bout fi drop dong so? hehe Unu mine deh---hehe”

Better? I am sure.

Patwa is a language---I am glad it looks the part.

Well, every single Jamaican would surely fail that Patwa class. I am sure nothing intended to be as simple as Patwa should be turned into the most complicated language ever. Was it a white American professor from the US who standardized it? Could not be anything close to a Jamaican.

Fiyu Pikni:
You are very mistaken. I learnt this in a few days.
And why do you say Patwa was intended to be simple? Because we were never taught Patwa in schools doesn't mean it is devoid of the complexities of every other language- grammar, syntax and morphology.
Besides this, there is no widely accepted standard for writing the language---for that reason, there is little literature---and very little hope of using it formally in education and business. If 'complicating' it is what it takes for us to respect the language of Jamaicans as a language, then I'm all for it.

Sure it takes some work to learn the orthography, but so what? I can promise you, that there are many things you would not ever say to a friend in Patwa, because you don't know how to write it. I have no such problems anymore---with a little effort---wich di wola wi mosi fried fa--- you can have the same experience. 

Fiyu Pikni:
There is a test Wikipedia for Jamaican Creole on the Wikipedia site. It would be nearly impossible to complete this project without some standard orthography.

Chek i out yaso:

Your reaction is expected, and typical. It's hard to consider Patwa a language after being derided for uttering it in formal spaces in Jamaica. It's time for a paradigm shift. We are intelligent enough to know better.

Mi lov mi patwa!

Standardizing it, I guess you could write it, but I doubt your friends would understand what you are trying to say. Patwa is so diverse every community/sub section of Jamaica has its own variation. You can tell where a person is from based on the patwa words that they use. It is a ever evolving dialect, that is fairly developed now, but is greatly influenced by the music culture of Jamaica. People make up words and codes to describe various things, and the greatest way for a new word to spread is through the music, which is the greatest influence to our society in Jamaica. You are correct that it is hard to document patwa in words, but it is a native dialect, which evolved from English, mixed with other languages. There is not a universal patwa. It changes from generation to generation. Meeting people in the US, you can tell which generation they left Jamaica based on the patwa words they use, because it is always changing.

For example, there are tons of patwa words that are not in my vocabulary. I hear Sanjay call people Fish, and I have to ask him what is he talking about. Chi Chi man did not have as much meaning to me, because I grew up with Batty Man. It took a while before it meant the same thing as batty man, and it is because of the music. There are lots of other words which are new to me, and expressions. It is ever evolving. There is no set structure. It has a new meaning for every generation of Jamaican kids who grow up.
I know I can sit down and try to pronounce each and every syllable in patwa like you do, and I can write it out, but one thing I leant being up here, you have to be able to write so that people can understand, and then is when you are an effective communicator. It makes no sense writing something if people are going to misunderstand you or not grasp what you are saying. Your comments, I have to read and re-read every section of it and say it out loud to understand what you are saying, and I am a true Jamaican. Imagine someone who is not from Jamaica trying to read what you write, it would be complete gibberish (even though it is almost that to me).

It makes no sense introducing a new language into the world. It is a dialect. We already have a hard enough time convincing the world that English is the universal language. It is so hard calling business and have to choose between English and Spanish. The world has standardized, and English was choosen. There are more important discoveries to be made than to worry about if Patwa is a language or a dialect. Many of my friends are from Africa, and they have thousands of languages, but they all speak English, and it is funny to be an outsider looking on their language. The world is a large place, and Jamaica has many other ways it can influence the world. It is the best and most known country in the Caribbean because of reggae music and tourism. It is better to use our resources to better our nation than to worry about introducing something so complex to further confuse the poor kids in school.

I guarantee you that EVERY jamaican can read patwa the way it has always been written, and it doesn't matter if a non-native can not read it and pronounce the words the words like how Jamaicans pronounce it, but they would be a WHOLE lot close to understanding in the normal written way than the way you are writing it. The key to understand is effective communication. It makes no sense writing poems the way you write it if you have to go to university level studying it to understand it. Try reading back to yourself the things you write, you find that you have to re-read it several times to understand it. That is not effective. Even though it is pronounced that way, that is not effective communication.

Try reading the language. Patwa is not so complicated.

Fiyu Pikni:
But doesn’t it make sense that a complete foreigner doesn't understand? Of course it does! When I see Spanish, or Arabic, I don't understand. Why should Jamaican Creole be any different? They don't understand because they don't speak the language. On the other hand, because English is the lexifier language for Jamaican Creole I expect that English speakers will be able to understand some amount of written and spoken Jamaican Creole.

Letters/letter combinations are attributed to different sounds in Patwa---that are different from those in English---as is the case in different languages. I can't understand why that fact is greeted with so much opposition from Jamaicans. Unlike English, Patwa is phonetic so what you see is what you say (so long as you know the orthography).

Far from limiting me as a communicator, my knowledge of this standard---originally devised decades ago, so not new at all--- has actually improved my ability to communicate in Jamaican Creole as it enables me to more accurately express mutually intelligible ideas with Jamaicans, who I don't speak English to when we are face to face.

Clearly, those not familiar with it will have some difficulties understanding at first…but as I said before, with a little effort, you learn- as with everything else. You’d be surprised how many people I communicate with who already know this.
Patwa is different all across Jamaica, because Jamaica has a unique linguistic continuum, ranging from the acrolect- English, to the basilect- Patwa, and everything in between- the mesolect.

The words are slightly different, but the language used by each individual is mutually intelligible. That is because the very same syntactical rules apply. Patwa does have structure. Trust me. The language is evolving, as are all languages. New vocabulary is added to Jamaican Creole each year---as is done in English. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t document what we already have. What’s so bad about having a writing standard, which I can use to express myself fully in the language.

Patwa is an oral language, yes, but who says it has to remain that way? It has remained that way, because of our postcolonial hangover, which has rendered us incapable of respecting something so integral to the Jamaican identity.

What you see me writing here is the start of something so beautiful, so long overdue, and it won’t be till twenty years in the future that this catches on--- because Jamaicans need a lot of persuasion to accept anything new. The bible is being translated into Jamaican Creole using this standard----why this one? Because there is no other---and two, because it accurately represents the sounds of the language, “no mata wichpaat a” Jamaica you are from. UWI launched a Bilingual Education Project in Jamaican 4 years ago, where students in grades 1-4 are taught in both languages. The results of that pilot project are now being analyzed.

You might have learned English in you home, but many Jamaicans do not. Yet, they are never taught the difference between their home language, and English. If you are ever looking for a reason for Jamaica’s dismal performance in CSEC English, (perennially under 50%), look no further. Any linguist, or specialist in bilingual education will tell you, that you MUST teach literacy in the student’s home language, before transitioning into the desired first language. This isn’t conjecture- it’s fact. These students learn the “official language” faster, and more competently. There are tons of places in the world where this is the case.

I write like this, because I am hoping others will be interested enough to become literate in their own language--- If this were to happen, then when it becomes law that all government papers, television shows, all road signs, all textbooks, and the like, must be in Jamaican Creole and English, no one will be left behind. It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. I will do my best with the other Jamaicans to make sure of that. Are you serious? I know this. I read and write Patwa like I do English now. I have covered every inch of that website. I translate articles from English to Jamaican Creole for Wikipedia, I write short stories, poems, and what not, in the language; I do not need to read twice what I have written. I've got this.
You don't understand, and that is okay. You have not learnt the orthography---and I am sure you won't---so how on earth do you expect to be able to understand it as fluently as English, or as the Patwa you usually write.

There can be no limit on intellectual curiosity and scholarship. There is much more room to grow. So much study has been done on Patwa by linguists outside of Jamaican---it's only Jamaicans who are ignorant to all this.

With this standard, other people have started to learn Jamaica the world over---I am now teaching a 16 year old boy in Germany, who will be able to communicate fluently and get around anywhere in Jamaica---this could not be done before, at least not as easily. Sure, people will laugh at him if he speaks it, because he’s a little "white boy" trying to talk Patwa---God forbid. One day we will wake up and smell the coffee. We’ll be the last to do so.

Patwa is not complicated, you are right. And neither is anything on that page. Instead of trying to read what you see off the bat, you'd be better off reading the "Guide to pronunciation and spelling." It is Patwa---the very same one you and I speak.

Wan a dem die (day) ya---yaago memba da sed siem (same) kanvasieshan (conversation) ya. *Note that the "ie" in "die" "siem" and "kanvasieshan" are the same sounds.

Response 2:


Fiyu Pikni:
Dat a kom fram smadi we akchwali nuo ou fi riid ahn rait i. Foni.

Why do you write "riid ahn rait" What about "rite", as in Rite aid, that is more how it is pronounced than rait

Response 2:
I have to side with my peeps on this... Patois has no uniformity....all across Jamaica we all speak the patois differently........ You can identify which parish they are from based how they speak patois (yet we can all understand them)........and I like that! Standardizing it just takes that away.... Standardizing it would take away the freedom we have in saying anything and it's accepted... In order words...there would be a wrong way to say something in patois... I also like how only Jamaicans can really understand it... it's unique to us......standardizing it just creates the avenue for it to no longer be exclusive....'

Fiyu Pikni:
Well "ai" represents what we know as the soft "i" sound in English. I'm sure we could attribute other letters to represent this sound, but this is the one we use.

So, rait (write), bait (bite), fait (fight), lait op a bwai, tai (tie), lai (lie), and it's the same sound in--- bai, maiti, tailit, taidi di ous (house), sain (sign), fain (find), grain-op (grind)

This standard takes nothing away from the variations in the language. What ever gave any of you that idea? In St. Mary I would say, Mi a go dong de----in St. Elizabeth perhaps, you say Mi de go dong de. Both 'a', and 'de' are acceptable markers for the continuous present. The standard tries to retain as many of the oral qualities of the language as possible. If you ever come across something that you usually say, which you cannot with this standard, be sure to tell me.

The idea that a standard would erase the dynamism of the language is ridiculous. English has standardized form, but I use tons of slang when I speak with my friends or write messages to them.

And in regards to the exclusivity of Jamaican Creole for Jamaican speakers, that is preposterous. Languages will never function in isolation in the 21st century. Jamaicans travel near and far; people will hear us speak and eventually learn a thing or two.

Without this standard, how do you suppose we write in the language? Using English conventions reinforces the idea that Patwa is a degenerate form of English, and is a low language. Linguists everywhere will tell you that the language should never be defined as such.

The was we express ourselves in Patwa is very different from the way we express ourselves in English, but before now, I had to be satisfied with only using the English language.

Patwa a fimi langwij! And I will support its development to the fullest.
I sense this is going to be a debate between me and everyone else---but you know what, BRING IT ON!

Person 2:
leave me out!! not into the debating thing again... Bwoy.,,,you take this...(if you haven't gone over to the DARK SIDE)....hehe

Addressing your issue that Spanish and Arabic might look like gibberish to you, Yet, when you see that language, you and a great portion of the world does not make it their duty to learn those languages. I guess Spanish and French might be the next two most common languages, but the purpose of a language is to communicate. If, I, who am a university educated person have a hard time understanding this language "standardized", how would the man on the street who this standardization is aimed to help be able to cope with this?

Person 2:
I knew you would have some up with that French, Chinese bit!
(so predictable)......... Patois a 'fi yu' language..... yea keep it...

People the world over choose to learn English, and it is taught in almost every civilized classroom in the world, which wish to be globally recognized. I do not think my Nigerian roommate is 'cool' because he can speak 10 languages, and another guy in my lab can speak 20, and my office mate can speak 14. They all had to learn English. There is no cool factor to learning patois. Jamaica has much more cultural aspects to worry about than to try to "create" brand new language to add to our culture. Our culture always had a spoken patios, and a very understood written patois. There is no added advantage of creating a "standardized" version which is so much chopped up from the one we are all used to, which is a "dialect" of English.

Fiyu Pikni:
And by the way, it makes no sense to look at the websites and cry about how little you understand. The alphabet is slightly different, and if you don't first learn that, YOU WILL NOT UNDERSTAND, and that is obvious. So it's not very appropriate to use the unfamiliarity of the orthography as a reason not to standardize the language---which is already standardized thanks.

Tell me that the unfamiliarity of the writing system will hamper efforts to teach Jamaicans- that is valid. The alphabet for German and French are different; should we run from those?

Yes, Patios a fi wi language, but what I am trying to say is that this "new standardization" is a creation of a whole "new" way of writing. This is not what is ours. It is what is created by the group that standardized it. Patios is NOT standardized. It is a language that changes. The way you write it, it has NEVER been written before, thus, there is nothing that we are KEEPING. Someone CREATED this new version. I guess if someone wants to get fame, they can always make up something, that is the purpose of a PhD. Creating something new that the world has never seen before. Someone can get their PhD from "CREATING" this standardization, but this creation is not what is "ours", it is theirs. It is created in a lab, not on the streets of Jamaica, like what our normal DIALECT patwa is.

Fiyu Pikni:

Is orthography ever decided on a street? I don’t think every major language has an organization to oversee the addition of new words and matters relating to grammar just because people on the street are making the decision themselves.

Nice that you mention Africans, who learn English. I have many VERY close African friends, and let me tell you, they are taught in a bilingual context. Erija, from Tanzania learns Swahili and English. Swahili is her first language. Nosuhle from South Africa, learns Zulu, Afrikaans and English in School. Olebogeng, from Botswana learns English and Setswana.

The difference between these countries and Jamaica is that they recognize the native languages of their peoples as official languages. This despite their colonial ancestry similar to Jamaica's where they too were taught that their native languages were inferior, and not to be used formally.

If you notice, the reggae artist that become most famous are the ones that break away from the "total" patwa dancehall songs. The ones that people can actually understand, those are the ones who make the BIG money outside of Jamaica. Look who got bigger? Beenie man is MUCH MUCH bigger than Bounty in the wider world, because Beenie sings more English. Shaggy, Sean Paul, cultural reggae artist who sing slower and with more english, such as Third World. People have to understand the language. Bounty Killa's world fame is hampered because he is stubborn. Yes, Beenie went on show with homo, but Beenie is much larger abroad than Bounty. He is more open minded, and knows how to make money more. Communicate effectively is the key. People wont sing your songs if they cannot understand ANYTHING that you are saying.

Fiyu Pikni:
You can celebrate English all you want , but it doesn't take away the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans who would understand better if sectoral debates, national broadcasts and the news were issued in Jamaican Creole. Not even that we can do, because we are ashamed of our language. It might be related to English, but that does not render it any less valuable than English as a means of communication. That might be what we have been taught, but it is NOT true.

I am where I am today because of my competence in English, so I would never ask that we stop learning it. What I am asking is that we stop learning English without having previous knowledge of how OUR language works. You were fortunate enough to be one of the 30 odd percent of people who passed English A in your year, but so many were left behind. I can't say definitively that this was because they never learnt the difference between the syntactical structures of English and Patwa, but neither can you. So why then is this not worth a try. I aim to improve our understanding of English, because I know as well as you do how valuable it is in our globalized world.

Person 2:
I wanted to stay out of this....but... I just have to say this...
FP, you know me already disagree with you... but my boy...I also have to disagree with you.... You keep making reference to you tertiary level education and then you compare your inability to comprehend the 'standard' version to the common Jamaican ask if you say if you can't then the common Jamaican is hopeless! That is so false! I don't have any 'university' education (sad to say) but yet I can understand it.... Just because you aren't able to understand it at first glance (or even numerous attempts...base on what you said) does not mean it cannot be understood or that others without university education with fall in the same boat as yourself! What you might also need to bare in mind that you've been outside the atmosphere of the dialect and as much might be a bit 'out of touch' as it's not something that you have to contend with on a day-to-day basis...

If you want to argue against it's standardization....fine.... but don't hastily conclude that if a university graduate such as yourself is having such difficulties understanding...everyone else without that level education will! That just isn't right!! As a matter a fact....that's a fallacy..

Fiyu Pikni:
Back to the Africans who learn English, if you want any of their contact addresses to ask them what the language situation is like in their home country, jos mek mi nuo. I can assure you, they speak and write their home languages as well as they do English. So wait a minute, they can learn two languages simultaneously, but Jamaicans cannot. Because we are inherently less intelligent? Then what? How does it hurt for us to learn and use Jamaican Creole and English? how... Because it is unnecessary right? I disagree.

Ask any of those people how do they say the word "Green". You will notice that most of them use some form coming from a leaf in their original language, and that is because they refer it back to what they see in nature. Those are TRULY created languages. Patwa is NOT a created language. It is a DIALECT of English. Countries who refuse to learn English, their growth is usually hampered, unless they have been world powers before English became the standard. There is no standard spoke patios, so how can there be a standard written patios? Do you think that the kids who grow up in the hills of St. Mary are going to have the same patios as the kids who grow up in the hills of Montego bay? Some of these people who are in deep rural areas have never gone outside of their parish and their local towns. How do you think they are going to learn in school when they have never heard patios from the other side of JA?

Fiyu Pikni:
You couldn't be more wrong. I have met with and communicated with Jamaicans from ALL over the island. And there has never been a case where the person cannot understand me...even when they are closer to the English end of the continuum than I am. That is because we all follow the same syntactical and grammatical structures. I find that amazing!!! But it's true.

Yes, you are speaking about communicating and understanding, but imagine using PROPER nouns, VERBS, Sentence construction in Patios? Then everyone gets confused.

Fiyu Pikni:
Next thing, do you think French and English were always written languages? NO! Someone had to sit down and ask, how do we represent these sounds with symbols. Otherwise, we wouldn't have books and historical documents from the how much teen hundreds. Jamaican Creole is now complex enough for us to have a writing standard, which we can use formally. If you have any doubts about that, read one of the articles on Wiki incubator. I spoke mostly English at home. At one point, I was embarrassed to be caught speaking Patwa, the language of my mother and father. No one should be made to feel embarrassed about they way they express themselves.

Patios to me represent FREEDOM of speech in whatever way, sentence construction I CHOOSE. Standardizing it takes away the entire essence of what Patios represents to me.

Fiyu Pikni:
Yes, it is hard to consider all the grammatical structures, and it's the same for someone who is new to any language! But I never had to be concerned about such things. As a native speaker of Jamaican Creole, I intuitively knew the grammar. All I had to do, was match up the alphabet to the things I say.

No, no, my friend...please tell me, where is this illusion coming from that it limits your freedom to speak the language? My friends who understand the standard will tell you that I have never had as much "freedom" speaking Patwa. Again, I challenge you....if you learn this standard, and find that there is something you cannot say using it, tell me!

I promise you will not find that. Because though you never formally learned the grammar, you know it.

So for example, for past tense, you use the marker ‘did’ (which is from Urban Jamaican Creole and ‘wehn’ in more rural areas.

For eg. Mi did dong de. You would never say, mi a go dong de, wen you mean the past tense. How come? You just know.

Pluralization-- the noun remains unchanged, and you use the plural marker dem.

Man dem
Apl dem
Uman dem

and that doesn't change.
You never learned that, but you know.

Maybe what I am saying is that they put too much work into the standardization. It becomes unreal. Look up any of Miss Louise Bennett's poems, and you will see patios, which can be EASILY read. Compare the ease of reading one of that to what it takes to read from those websites. You tell me that a common Jamaican kid can not understand patios the way it has always been written. This new standardized way is OVERDOING it.

Fiyu Pikni:
We are not standardizing grammar/ syntax---that is all already there. We are standardizing the way the language is represented---the writing system.
You are expecting way too much of yourself. I felt the same when I just saw it too. It was foreign to me (except I was excited at the prospect of learning it).

Please translate this into your standardized patios and let's see which is easier to read. I

Louise Bennett-“Noh Lickle Twang”
We a go keep up one boonoonoonoos celebration fi Miss Lou, fi honour her fi di special work she do as a storyteller, a actress an a writer. We a go have nuff session weh people who study all kind a different-different subject a go talk bout di big-big legacy weh Miss Lou lef fi we. An we a go have concert weh we show di kinda culture weh Miss Lou did a defend.

Den yu see fi her poem, "Noh Lickle Twang," a it a di banner fi di whole-a celebration. A nuff tings she coulda mean when she draw dat deh card, yu know. If you say it one way, yu can see seh she really see wid di poor uman who bex cause her pikni come back from farin “not a piece betta dan how [im] did go weh”. But same time she mek we laugh after di umam. Wa mek di pikni ha fi change up di way im talk, fi suit other people? No fool-fool someting dat! After all! …

Fiyu Pikni:
I have seen all those poems, and I know how they are represented---WITH ENGLISH SPELLING CONVENTIONS----in the absence of a writing system to call its own, Patwa has been misrepresented as such.

Now there is a system, which accurately represents the sounds of the language--- what's so bad about learning it?

Oh dear. You are just not getting a word of what I am saying.
I already know that it is easier for you to read that---you are from an English background, and that is what you are used to!

But you know what, you just wrote a degenerate form of English, I am going to write Patwa, by giving you a translation.... affording the language the representation it deserves.

And please people---if you want to be able to read this as fluently as I can, you have to first know the alphabet!!! It's different....dont come to me with ‘oh it's hard to hoo hoo.’

Okay, let me do this for you, sir.

yes, but in writing it, this new system is "CREATING" stuff, and that is what I am trying to get through to you. It is not keeping things and preserving what we have. It is creating something new. Not something, which we use.

Fiyu Pikni:

It's the same thing!!!! I didn't learn any new vocabulary for Patwa----I studied the alphabet, and I write what I say.

You cannot say that without having tried to learn it. You have no credibility whatsoever. Again, the challenge is on the table. I must be talking to myself here.

No Likl Twang, bai Louise Bennet
Wi ago kip a bunununus selibrieshan fi Mis Luu, fi ana aar fi di speshal wok we shi du az wahn tuori tela, akchris, an a raita. Wi ago av nof seshan we piipl uu stodi aal kaina difrent sobjek ago taak bout di big big legisi we Mis Luu lef fi wi. An wi ago av a kansort we wi shuo di kaina kolcha we Mis Luu did a difen.

Den yu si aar pwaim, “No Likl Twang,” a it a di bana fi di huol selibrieshan. A nof tingz shi kuda miin wen shi jraa dat de kyaad, yu nuo. Ef yu se it wan wie, yu kyahn si se shi riili si wid di puo uman uu bex kaa aar pikni kum bak fram farin “nat a piis beta dan wen shi did go we”. Bot siem taim shi mek wi laaf afta di uman. Wa mek di pikni a fi chienj op di wie im taak, fi suut ada piipl? No fuul fuul sopm dat! Afta raal.

Let me tell you something about Mis Lou---When she first started writing, she tried to represent the language without English spelling conventions, but because of public disgust at the use of Patwa formally, she started using the form her poems are in today. This was her way of putting the "language" and the value of it, into the Jamaican consciousness.

She fully embraced having a separate writing system for Jamaican. But she was writing in the 1960's and 70's when the notion of Patwa as a language akin to English would hardly be considered.

It's funny you call on the way Miss Lou wrote her poems to bolster your argument. Without her, we would stiil be deriding people for even uttering a word in the language. I don't think she ever advocated for developing the language to a certain point and no more. If she had believed it was sufficient to have the language only orally--as it existed before her---then you wouldn't even have her poems to look at.

Okay, tell me one thing then. Why is it that you REJECT all english similarities? Isnt Patios made up of more than 90% english words? Why is it that writing it, you almost have no english words?

Fiyu Pikni:
Okay, I have French class at 9 am. I'm heading to bed.

Because they are no longer ENGLISH words . Just like how the English took 10,000 words---just as they are written in French, and made them a part of the English vocabulary, so too we have claimed some English words into Patwa.

I can't explain the phenomenon, but we “Jamaicanize” English words we hear---so they are based on English words, no crime in that---

Words like, bite, might, and sight, sound the same in Patwa as in English, but in a bid to make the writing system consistent, they are spelt differently.

bait, mait, sait---because as I said before, the 'ai' sounds is the same sound in words like "bai" (buy) and "lai" (lie)...which are spelt very differently in English---

The system now is not a rejection of English spelling conventions--- it just appears that way because of how different it looks. Once you go through the alphabet, trust me, it all makes sense---and you won't be able to think of a better way to represent the sounds. I love this system; it is simple, and fool proof. Every letter/ letter combination is pronounced the same way, all the time.

And I can finally say things like AAWUO--which i would never attempt to represent with English spelling conventions before now.

We might “Jamaicanize” English words, but it's not an 'anything goes' system.

Do you know what the French call a picnic? le pique-nique. The pronunciation is almost identical---and it is certainly based on the word picnic....but they write it using their alphabet. Wa rang ef wi du dat tu? (That sentence was very easy to understand, right?) Suddenly it's a BIG crime, which invalidates Patwa as a language. Not so. The language will continue to evolve, but along fixed lines of grammar and syntax--- you don't study them, so you don't know they're there. But they are.

I just do not think there is enough social and economic benefits to this besides the "cool" factor of having a different language. I pity Haiti for speaking French. Can you imagine that in order to get into each level of your life, you have to take a English proficiency test? College, grad school, then getting a job. For each level, you have to prove that you know enough English, because English is not your first language. I just do not see the point, and do not see the point of making it complex. I believe there are no benefits other than satisfying ego.

Fiyu Pikni:
That is why I want our learning situation to be BILINGUAL. This is not an argument about English or Patwa. That debate would be futile.

We have an even bigger reason to pity Hatians---the official languages of Haiti are HATIAN CREOLE and french. Hatian Creole held the same position of Jamaican Creole decades ago. Wi baka taim iihn?

Haitian Creole is taught alongside French is schools. What a shame. I went to school with a Haitian girl, who is now also fluent in English and I couldn’t be more jealous.

The Swedish study Swedish, and the Danes study Danish, not because it has economic benefits, but because they value their indigenous culture. We surely don't.

No social benefits? You mean none that you have thought of. You seem to forget the hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans who are marginalized because they don't know the queen's English. In America, you have racial discrimination---in Jamaican, we practice language discrimination. What's that you say? Good question, because we are all blind to it. You can be denied a job in Jamaican because you do not speak Standard Jamaican English--- even though you speak fluently the language of the people you will be working directly with. I have been witness to this myself.

We hear someone speaking Patwa and we immediately assume they are dunces, illiterate. And maybe they are illiterate IN ENGLISH but so what? They communicate very effectively in their native language.

No social benefits you say? When we could possibly have an inclusive Jamaica, where your place at the prime minister's table is not dependent on your proficiency in English, your second language, but your intellectual capacity and your desires for a better Jamaica- in whatever language you desire to express those desires.

A Jamaica where you will listen to the budget debate, and not nod ignorantly when they say, there is a widening trade deficit, which will cost the government dearly, as it constrains their ability to allocate funds to social services.

A Jamaica where everyone is respected---and everyone shares the common ideal to embrace all things Jamaican, which are good, in charting our path to a better Jamaica.

No social benefits you say? When the lower classes---the Patwa speaking masses feel left out---and are compelled to fend for themselves in the informal economy

My mother’s language is recognized as gibberish, because she dropped out of school in grade nine, pregnant with my eldest brother. She is rendered a dunce, because she never mastered the colonial language. Why do I even bother?

Language isn't that important. Of course not. So what we define as French, and even British culture now was passed down orally---of course.

Aagiment don. Mi taiyad fi a taak tu def iez piipl. Dialect or not, it should be written! Time will absolve me of the ignorance that you believe has guided my passion.


  1. I think the person against standardization is absolutely absurd. Patois is a language in its own right, and should be given the same status that English is given in Jamaica. This writing standardization is simply adding to the formula to make Patois a 'whole' language.

    Another thing, it is people like the one above that perpetuate these inferiority complexes among Jamaicans--the belief that their native language (Patois) and culture is inferior to the culture of places like the UK and US. Why is it Patois cannot gain the same recognition in Jamaica that English gets? I like using the example of the use of Swiss German in Switzerland. Swiss German is nearly incomprehensible to Germans, yet Swiss German is a German dialect. In addition to this, Swiss Standard German is actively taught in schools along with 'High German' and foreign languages, like English. So why is Patois not actively taught in schools? Swiss German doesn't have any sort of global use, but the Swiss are proud of the dialect they speak--and Jamaicans should also be proud of the language they speak.

  2. Certainly. I can't think of any rational justification for not teaching Jamaicans how to read and write their own language- probably because there aren't any.

    If we weren't so headstrong, we could lean something from other multilingual societies, like Switzerland and Haiti- you can't disparage a key aspect of the Jamaican identity, and simultaneously expect to create a nation of proud, cooperative individuals working towards a common good.

    Jamaica's educators and its government need a wake up call. Jamaican children will continue to "chat bad" until they are taught to differentiate between the two languages. We are a bilingual nation, which should have a bilingual school curriculum.

    Notn no aad ina dat.

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