Learning Jamaican Patois

I had two very interesting conversations this past weekend with two different individuals about Jamaican patois, a language that is often discussed on the island.

One person, (a Jamaican) was explaining that many Jamaican children are not learning standard English because, many of them live in households where only patois is spoken and several more attend schools where many teachers also only speak patois. His point, is that by the time these children are required to take formal exams they may be in trouble, mainly because all of the standard examinations are written in standard English and the expectation is that school children will be able to respond in standard English.

The debate then, is where are these children to learn standard English. The second conversation was with an expat pal, who is currently trying to understand patois in the work place. She comes from a culture where Jamaica patois is described as ” they speak terrible” or “the Jamaicans speak badly.” I found myself explaining to her, “it’s not that Jamaicans speak badly, but they are speaking another language.” I found it all very amusing as I described this to her.This is a subject which I clearly did not fully comprehend  during my first year on the island.

Before  I moved to Jamaica, I was always aware that there were Jamaicans that I understood and some  that I did not, but I never knew the real reason until listening to the language while living here. My first experience with getting a haircut at a local barber shop in Kingston was interesting, as I remember sitting in the chair, closing my eyes and asking myself, ” what are these guys saying ? ” it honestly felt like I was in Haiti with French Creole being spoken around me. I remember asking my barber a question, and he responded by speaking very slowly in English for me to understand, but a few minutes later I could not follow his sentences. I have now come to learn that all Jamaicans are multilingual, and while some may not speak patois, they all understand it.

The switch back and forth between patios and standard English goes back to slavery days is what I was told, when the slaves were not allowed to use their native language.The rebellion against that was that the slaves simply used English when they wanted to be understood and used patois ( which has English words thrown in here and there) so passing listeners might assume the language being spoken is English.

I also remember thinking during my first year here, that women in the stores and shops were unfriendly,  because they would not respond to small talk. As I would walk into bakeries and ice cream shops, very cheerful and friendly asking ” so how are you, what is this made of, etc etc.”  I now realize  that often times, these women were not being mean or unfriendly but may have been dealing with several difficult day to day occurrences, and they would also need to respond to me by speaking English which could be a problem, so it was easier to not say anything, than to end up in a standard English conversation  with ” farrina and dem plenty questions” meaning foreign people who ask a great deal of questions. I found the following videos very interesting and wanted to share.

Visit when Time allows. http://www.jamaicans.com/speakja/talk.htm

The following vidoes are By Xavier Murphy http://www.jamaicans.com

Whose Mouse Are You read in Jamaican Patois

Dr Suess ABC read in Jamaican Patois