Besides ganja and Bob Marley [which are – weirdly – married terms in the mind of foreigners], Jamaican Creole, more popularly known as ‘patois’, is the most famous giveaway used by said foreigners to determine whether you’re Jamaican.
People around the world love Jamaican Creole. It’s fun to speak, it carries a certain vibe, and the accent? Très magnifique! Everyone wants to learn patois. They die just to land on our shores to hear “No problem mon” in that heavy Jamaican style (even though nobody really says that on a daily basis here).
I’m still shocked every time I come across a YouTuber for example, like IISuperwomanII [an Indian born in Canada] who has taken such an interest in dancehall and patois, that she actually sometimes incorporates Jamaican ‘bad words’ into her vocabulary – which is kinda funny to hear since we mainly use them when upset/actually cursing. I do like that she does that though, and I like that somebody actually likes our culture enough to amalgamate it into their own. But the problem is that we aren’t doing that.
I guess foreigners would be aghast at the immense insecurity we feel about our own language, but it’s really one of those after-effects of slavery. Amongst it being drilled in our grandparents’ heads that “anyting black nuh good” and you must “bring up your colour” by finding “a nice brownin’ ” [even if that person may be abusive, alcoholic, etc], is the accompanying thought that you shouldn’t speak patois because it sounds like “ya chat bad”, or you’re butchering di people dem good-good Henglish. You’ll often hear mothers and grandmothers scolding young children “fi talk propah” if whatever those children are saying sounds “brawling”, “ghetto” or plain “country”.
A prime example of this ‘mishap of English’ is found primarily in newscasts [popular ones are from Prime Time News on Television Jamaica], where Jamaicans are being interviewed about [usually] unfortunate incidents they’ve witnessed. I’m guessing that in the back of their minds is the age-old reprimand by mothers and grandmothers that prompts them to code-switch [switch from one form of a language to another] in the presence of mic and camera. After all, they have to look good on national TV right? But the switch isn’t always successful. In their attempt to speak this ‘proper English’, the real butchering begins, as syntax goes out of wack and words like “dying” become “deading”. See footage below:
And I think this is ridiculous. Jus chat di patois freely nuh! Gosh. I too was always insecure about speaking patois in certain contexts, and even as I’m slowly accepting the Mother Tongue, I’m still a bit insecure about it. But thank God for people like Professor Hubert Devonish, who taught me that Creole is indeed an acceptable language, as evinced by its own unique syntax, grammar, etc.
So in this beautiful, diverse language that evolves everyday with a new addition to its vocabulary, comes words such as “uvinersity”, “sciance”, “skelintan”, “fooli-nish” and “mi-case”, all for “university”, “science”, “skeleton”, “foolishness” and “make haste” respectively. Of course, while some words are indigenous to the Jamaican tongue, you will find words that are really misinterpretations of Standard English. “Uvinersity” is an example. Obviously the syllables are rearranged, but you still get the gist. A very important component of what makes a language legitimate is its being mutually intelligible.
Right now, I’m in love with patois, and I can’t resist drawing for it in my interactions, especially when excited or worried. I even think in Standard Patois. Bet you [Jamaicans] didn’t realize you were doing that :p
Yes you might notice the irony that I’ve privileged English in my writing all this time, but that’s just a side effect of being reprimanded by a mother who’s insecure about her tongue. But I do code-switch, and I’ll own, sometimes not successfully… A jus suh life go. [See what I did there?]
Hopefully we can all embrace patois one day. It’s sad that the one population that doesn’t embrace it is the one where it originated. Picture the countries of the world as white patterns on the globe, symbolic of their acceptance, and Jamaica as that one red dot. Sad. Will leave you with a word from Miss Lou: