Educational CyberPlayGround

Jamaican English Creole, Literacy Language and Access

Rianna, Jamaican Patois,Bob Marley, Reggae Music, Jamaican English Creole,

Jamaican Language Unit


What is Jamaican Patois?


Rihanna - Work

“Jamaican Patois… is an English-based creole language with West African influences (a majority of loan words of Akan origin) spoken primarily in Jamaica and the Jamaican diaspora. The language developed in the 17th century, when slaves from West and Central Africa were exposed to, learned and nativized the vernacular and dialectal forms of English spoken by their masters: British English, Scots and Hiberno-English.”

You can hear it on Kendrick Lamar's Blacker the Berry (spoken by Jamaican Dancehall DJ Agent Sasco), on Kanye West and GOOD Music's Mercy (in a sample from Super Beagle's 'Dust a Sound Boy') and on Damian Marley's Road to Zion which features rapper Nas. Rihanna is perhaps the highest profile musician to bring patois to the American mainstream since Bob Marley. Although Shaggy, Beenie Man and Sean Paul had respectable runs in the 90s and 2000s. Rihanna hails from the island of Barbados, but has incorporated patois heavily into many of her hits, including Rude Boy and Man Down.


Justice Department Seeks Ebonics Experts DEA to hire nine "Black English" linguists

2010 Ivy League College Recognizes Jamaican Creole as a Language

All students at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, must study a foreign language, unless they are bi or multilingual. By the time I matriculated in 2008, I was assured by research into the status of Creole languages, and the linguistic properties of Jamaican Creole in particular, that I was bilingual, and so by right, should be given exemption from the institution's foreign-language requirement.

I contacted the registrar's office and was directed to a professor in the Linguistics department who studies Creole languages. The college had never before recognized Jamaican Creole, and my claim would have to pass the department's vetting. I was quite nervous as I went to speak with the professor, but the process was quite simple. All I needed to do was speak with him in Patwa for a few minutes. His concern wasn't whether Jamaican Creole was a bona fide language (the definition of 'language' used by linguists is quite inclusive), but rather, whether my claim for exemption was legitimate.

You'd think this would be a simple undertaking, but it was incredibly challenging. Never had I ever been demanded to speak Jamaican Creole on spot, and without code switching. But, I began calmly, “Maanin Profesa. Mi niem Javid an mi kom frahn Jomieka. Mi av tuu breda ahn wan sista, an mi a di washbeli. Mi mada a jresmeka, an mi gruo wid ar afta mi faada lef fi go wok a farin wen mi a nain…” The Patwa rolled from my tongue as the professor started at me, listening intently. After this, I explained to him the status of Jamaican Creole on the island, to which he was very sympathetic. I showed him writings I had done using the standard 'Cassidy-JLU' system, and he promised to contact me after he had discussed the matter further with other senior professors in the department.

Two months later, I received a letter in the mail, which informed me that my application for exemption was successful. A feeling of triumph welled up inside me. My conviction, based on everything I read, that I was fully bilingual was validated by a group of linguists at one of America's best colleges. What else can I do to affirm the linguistic heritage of Jamaica, and make Jamaicans proud of their language, which is so well studied in linguistic communities?

Professor John Rickford See the Dialect Speakers Area on Linguistics for an extensive explanation.
Dr. Rickford's presentation explained the rational for the bidialectal instructional efforts of Oakland in 1996, and outlined four approaches to improving English speech performance of AAVE speakers, noting successes of contrastive approaches, and the general failure of interruptive/corrective pedagogical strategies. References were made to the Jamaican Language Unit and its ongoing Bilingual Project at Hope Valley Experimental Primary School, where some performance gains have been achieved. One of the critical skills is the marketing of bidialectal teaching, which may involve keeping quiet as in Los Angeles, which has a heavily funded program doing pretty much what Oakland planned to do.

Joseph T. Farguharson - Jamaican Lexicography Project (Jamlex) - Blog De Walk-bout Jamaican Bwoy

The case for bidialectal teaching needs to be made to the Jamaican media.

Bob Marley's “Trenchtown Rock” reggae song: Jamaica's never-ending language debate rages on May 06, 2001 KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP)

Was reggae icon Bob Marley singing entirely in English when he recorded his classic "Trenchtown Rock"? LINGUISTS SAY NO Bob Marley was using patois in this popular reggae song, a mixture of English and West African tongues spoken by slaves who were brought to this Caribbean island by European colonizers.


Now, nearly 40 years after Jamaica won independence from Britain, some people are arguing that patois should be granted official status along with English. "Politicians love to quote Bob Marley's "free yourself from mental slavery"; line all the time," said Carolyn Cooper, a literature professor at the University of the West Indies. "Ignoring patois is mental slavery, the worst kind. It's old colonial racism and classism."
In English, you might tell a waiter, "Bring me some shrimp." In patois, it becomes, "Kyai com gimmi a janga."
Proponents of using patois argue that since many Jamaicans have difficulty understanding English, it is shameful to conduct the business of official Jamaica, like Parliament, in a foreign tongue.
Anglophiles call patois lazy Englishand dismiss it as a vernacular.

Literacy, Linguistics, Jamaica Patois

"What intellectuals like to call another language is pure laziness," Morris Cargill, a white Jamaican newspaper columnist, said before he died last year. "You can't read Dickens or Jane Austen in patois."

Nobody debates that point.

But patois supporters say the language differs from English in its phonetic and grammatical system - the measure of "what makes a language distinct," said Michael DeGraff, a linguistics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Most of the words in Jamaican patois, like other English Caribbean patois, are English words filtered through a distinct phonetic system with fewer vowels and different consonant sounds. Patois is written phonetically to approximate these differences. Thus, in patois, the English "girl" becomes "gyal." [JAMAICAN CREOLE ENGLISH]
A small amount of patois words, between 5 percent and 10 percent, are of African origin, like "nyam" to eat, or "duppy" which means ghost.
But the greatest divergence from English is in the grammar, which has origins in the languages of West Africa. For this reason, English and patois speakers often cannot understand each other, even though most of the words have English origins. A clear example of West African grammar in Jamaican patois is the way verbs are formed in the past tense.
Instead of using a suffix like "ed," as in "walked," a patois speaker puts a word before a verb, like "deh." The English "I walked" becomes "me deh walk" in patois. The same is done in Haitian Creole by adding "te" before a verb to indicate past tense. Linguists call this "tense marking," and "it is a common feature of West African languages," DeGraff said.
Linguists actually consider the name patois to be a misnomer for what Jamaicans speak. They prefer to call it a Creole - a distinct language with African and European roots - because a patois is considered a dialect of a European language. Nearly all Jamaicans, regardless of class, speak patois.
Those who speak English fluently, mostly people from the middle and upper classes, tend to use patois for emphasis when they are angry, to affect a down-to-earth persona or to talk to someone of a lower class. It is the reliance on patois that creates problems in places like the courts.
After a recent bail hearing on murder charges, a 26-year-old defendant asked a reporter whether a judge had said he could go home. What the judge really said was: "The defendant is remanded in custody without bail." In patois the judge could have said: "Yah ago get lockup fi now; yah nah get bail."
Schools where patois-speaking children are thrust into a primarily English environment are also a concern for critics of English as the only official language. "What good is it to teach a child an alphabet for a language he doesn't speak, that his teacher probably doesn't speak, and then make him read books in that foreign language?" said Hubert Devonish, a linguistics professor at the University of the West Indies. Devonish's solution is to use patois to teach English. "We've already got a dictionary, a system for writing it," he said. But some are skeptical.
"These kids are going to end up learning only patois," said Maryanne Wilson, a 35-year-old mother of two school-age children. "Then what? My kids are going to apply to school in America and write their applications essays in patois?"
The government says people have to come to an agreement over what role patois should have before can be considered as an official language.
"We hear the debate, but the issue is not settled as far as (the government) is concerned," said Information Minister Maxine Henry-Wilson.
To many patois speakers, the reliance on English by Jamaica's elite makes what Marley said in "Trenchtown Rock" ring true: "No want you fi galang so; you want cold come I up." It means, loosely, "I don't want you to behave like that; you're trying to keep me down."

Computer Access - Information For All

Jamaica to Focus on 'Information For All'
ALICIA DUNKLEY Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Jamaica will use its position as Vice President of the United Nations Information Council to ensure that its concerns and course of action in the area of 'information for all' will be reflected in the activities of the Council.
Newly elected Vice President of the Intergovernmental Council for UNESCO's Information for All Programme (IFAP), Professor Fay Durrant tells JIS News that during her two-year tenure, it is expected that significant inroads will be made in developing projects to increase access to information and educate persons in the use of the Internet.
"I think it's a very valuable thing for Jamaica, since the members of the Council determine the direction the programme will take during the time that we are there. So we will have an opportunity to ensure that our concerns and the directions that we are following in the area of 'information for all' will indeed be reflected in the activities of the Council," Professor Durrant informs.
Concerns to be brought to the table she says will be that of bridging the digital divide as a means of "ensuring that people in Jamaica have access to information, access to the Internet and can in fact be assured that they can understand how to take advantage of what the Internet offers".
"The idea would be to have projects for example in information literacy to ensure that people can access and assess information that they might need," Professor Durrant informs, adding that while the initiatives will be linked to libraries in general the intention is to have them "more widespread throughout the country".

Computer, internet applications, access and literacy in Jamaica.

200th anniversary of the
Abolition of slavery in the UK.

The transatlantic slave trade Apology
~ Ken Livingstone Wednesday March 21, 2007 * Ken Livingstone is the mayor of London
Why I am saying sorry for London's role in this horror.
The state failure to issue an apology for a crime as monstrous as the slave trade diminishes Britain in the eyes of the world.
Next Sunday marks the bicentenary of the abolition of one of history's greatest crimes - the transatlantic slave trade. The British government must formally apologise for it. All attempts to evade this are weasel words. Delay demeans our country. Recalling the slave trade's dimensions will show why. Conservative estimates of the numbers transported are 10-15 million; others range up to 30 million. Deaths started immediately, as many as 5% in prisons before transportation and more than 10% during the voyage - the direct murder of some 2 million people.
Conditions imposed on survivors were unimaginable. Virginia made it lawful "to kill and destroy such negroes" who "absent themselves from .. service". Branding and rape were commonplace. A Jamaican planter, Thomas Thistlewood, in 1756 had a slave "well flogged and pickled, then made Hector shit in his mouth" for eating sugar cane. From 1707, punishment for rebellion included "nailing them to the ground" and "applying fire by degrees from the feet and hands, burning them gradually up to the head".
When in 1736 Antigua found there was to be a rebellion, five ringleaders were broken on the wheel, 77 burned to death, six hung in cages to die of thirst. For "lesser" crimes, castration or chopping off half the foot were used. A manual noted: "Terror must operate to keep them in subjection."
Barbarism's consequences were clear. More than 1.5 million slaves were taken to the British Caribbean islands in the 18th century, but by its end there were only 600,000. By 1820, more than 10 million Africans had been transported across the Atlantic and 2 million Europeans had moved. But the European population grew to 12 million while the black slave population shrank to 6 million.
If the murder of millions, and torture of millions more, is not "a crime against humanity", these words have no meaning. To justify murder and torture on an industrial scale, black people had to be declared inferior, or not human. As historian James Walvin noted, there was a "form of bondage which, from an early date, was highly racialised. By 1750, to be black in the Americas (and often in Europe) was to be enslaved." The 1774 History of Jamaica argued black slaves were a different species, able to work "in a very bungling and slovenly manner, perhaps not better than an orangutan".
Material being produced today to mark the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade makes it appear that white people liberated black - the assumption being they could not do it themselves. In reality, slaves rose against the trade from its inception. This broke it.
The first recorded slave revolt was in 1570. There were at least 250 shipboard rebellions. Jamaican slave society faced a serious revolt every decade, in addition to prolonged guerrilla war. In 1760, 30,000 Jamaican slaves revolted. The culmination, recorded in CLR James's magisterial The Black Jacobins, was the 1791 slave revolt in St Domingue. After abolition of the trade, slavery in British possessions was abolished following revolts in Barbados in 1816, Demerara in 1823, and Jamaica in 1831, in which 60,000 slaves participated. For this reason Unesco officially marks August 23, the anniversary of the St Domingue rebellion's outbreak, as slavery's official remembrance day.
No one denigrates William Wilberforce, but it was black resistance and economic development that destroyed slavery, not white philanthropy.
Slavery's reality is increasingly acknowledged outside Britain. One of the few things on which I agree with George Bush is his description of transatlantic slavery as "one of the greatest crimes of history". The Virginia general assembly last month expressed "profound regret" for its role, stating slavery "ranks as the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals". The French national assembly declared slavery a "crime against humanity". In 1999, Liverpool became the first major British slaving city to formally apologise. The Church of England Synod followed suit.
The British government's refusal of such an apology is squalid. Until recently, almost unbelievably, it refused even to recognise the slave trade as a crime against humanity, on the grounds that it was legal at the time. It helped block an EU apology for slavery.
Two arguments are brought forward against official apology - not only by the government but by David Cameron. First, an apology is unnecessary because this happened a long time ago. This would only apply if there had been a previously apology - there hasn't been. Slavery was the mass murder of millions of people. Germany apologised for the Holocaust. We must for the slave trade.
Second, that apologising is "national self-hate". This is nonsense. Love of one's country and its achievements is based on reality, not denying it. A Britain that contributed Shakespeare, Newton and Darwin to human civilisation need fear comparison with no one. A British state that refuses to apologise for a crime on such a gigantic scale as the slave trade merely lowers our country in the opinion of the world.
It is for that reason that I invite all representatives of London society to join me in following the example of Virginia, France, Liverpool and the Church of England, by formally apologising for London's role in this monstrous crime.

Who were the slaves?
Millions of Africans, who were forcibly transported overseas over a period of about 450 years from the middle of the 15th Century. The enslavement of people from west Africa by British, European and African traders, and their mass transportation to the Americas was known as the transatlantic Slave Trade.

Former slave fort in Ghana
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have used an video-sharing website to highlight the history of slavery.


Elmina Castle was the first European slave-trading post in sub-Saharan Africa

Ms Dynamite and the Maroons

Jamaica's Maroon Wars Historical name given to runaway slaves in the West Indies and AmericasJamaican Maroons fought two wars against the British in the 18th CenturyThe 1730s Maroon War cost several hundred British casualties while Maroon losses are believed to have been lightMaroons were skilled guerrilla fighters, adept at using foliage as camouflage Nanny was a leader active in the Blue Mountains in the 1730s

Abolition of British Slavery - Interactive map
The transatlantic slave trade involved the enforced transportation and enslavement of millions. Follow dynamic trails across Africa, the Caribbean and the UK with text, images and audio to explore the abolition of British slavery.

· How the slave trade worked
· Resistance and abolition
· Olaudah Equiano's adventures
· Back to Sierra Leone
· Facts and figures

Lord Grenville The Man who Abolished Slavery
"Surely there can be no doubt that this detestable trade ought at once to be abolished" Lord Grenville, 1807