A Case for the Jamaican Dialect (Patois/Patwa/Creole)


Education Minister, Andrew Holness, recently expressed concerns about the use of the Jamaican dialect on our air waves. He received some flack for his comments as the longstanding debate on the use of our ‘language’ rages on.

I make no claim to be a literary expert, and would certainly defer to stalwarts, such as the erudite Dr. Carolyn Cooper from the University of the West Indies, on the issue. However, I am a Jamaican and I have some concerns.

I also want to make the case that I am an ‘ordinary’ or ‘typical’ Jamaican (at least that is what I believe). Yet, I have some challenges, which I do not believe are unique to me. You see, I can speak patwa – I grew up hearing it and it is my native tongue. BUT, for the life of me, I can barely read it and there are times (embarrassingly) when I cannot understand what some of my fellow Jamaicans are saying when they use ‘our’ language. It does not help either when you add the nuances of the latest slangs which connote their own sets of meaning.

It is noted that patwa/creole is a ‘spoken’ language, although for some time our scholars have been working on developing its structure to allow for consistency in spelling – and ultimately ease in reading. The problem is, I am not sure I want to attempt the task of taking a course in understanding and reading what should be my native tongue (but that is an issue for another time and place).

The advent of text messaging and Twitter (tweets) with a demand for condensed communication has also not helped the dilemma. Acronyms (such as, dwl, lol, rofl, ttyl/s/t) seem to crop up daily. The end result being that (some) users have great difficulty transforming to ‘standard’ English in other written (formal) forms of communication. In some instances, it is not uncommon to see the use of ‘i’, ‘an’ and ‘u’ in letters or essays representing “I”, “and” and “you”. No, it is not a simple thing – it is a fundamental flaw.

Shortly after minister Holness’ comments, I happened to see a vox pop on Television Jamaica (TVJ) where persons were being polled on their use of ‘free credit’ offered by Digicel Jamaica as part of its promotional package. I remember cringing at one young lady’s desperate attempt to speak English (a language with which she was obviously unfamiliar) and her woeful presentation as she fused bits and pieces of English and patwa together. I was also hurt, because it was not a unique situation.

I recall similar instances of – dare I say it – shame – when I have had occasion to see or hear clips of our great athletes and musicians giving interviews on the international stage.

For my 2 cents; standard English is the way the rest, or most, of the world communicates. A command of it can take you very far – and I am living proof of that! If patwa is our native tongue – then we already know it! We need, therefore, to concentrate on and develop our command and use of the English Language – which is ‘foreign’ to us, so that we can compete in the global community.

Those individuals – especially the youngsters – who continue to ignore the use of the English language, are doing themselves a disservice and limiting their scope of advancement.

I do not believe it is a case of either/or … but I do believe that we MUST (by all means necessary) place the right emphasis on the use of the English language if we are serious about national growth and transformation.

Walk good, ’til next time…

* For additional information, check out the Wikipedia links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_Patois
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_English

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About Counselor77

A pretty good listener; occasionally I actually have something worthwhile to say ... it may be on religion, politics, love, public affairs (you name it) ... let's talk - we CAN make a difference.
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7 Responses to A Case for the Jamaican Dialect (Patois/Patwa/Creole)

  1. Petry says:

    Hola,

    I totally agree with you that the advent of text messaging has not helped the dilemma. Persons cannot seem to ‘transform’ to standard English when it is necessary. I know I may not be completely able to either, so I try not to go short hand, even in text messages or emails to friends. I try to encourage my friends to do the same as well because, as you said, “it is a fundamental flaw”

    While I like the idea of the patwa dictionary, the patwa bible and so on, I think we have to place more emphasis on learning/teaching standard English because this is just the way of the world. Otherwise, we will be left behind.

    I feel the same way when I listen to our athletes and I wonder if the interviewers even understand what they are saying.

    Love this post…”mek sense”!

    Keep writing!

  2. Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your weblog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing in your rss feed and I hope you write once more soon!

    • counselor77 says:

      Thank you so much. I recently committed to writing at least one blog per week (on a Saturday); but we will see how that goes. I hope you will enjoy the journey with me…

  3. counselor77 says:

    Thanks Desmond and Tracey for taking the time to read my thoughts. I hope you will stay with me on the journey…

  4. Good food for thought Counselor.

  5. Tracey says:

    Good points Audizzle 🙂 I especially like the part about already knowing our native tongue so we need not ‘learn’ it. We really do need to learn how to communicate properly with the rest of the world if we have any aspirations of climbing out of this economic abyss.

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