Dr. Louise Bennett-Coverley, better known as "Miss Lou", is the Mother of Jamaican Culture. She was well-known for uplifting and educating the Jamaican people of their culture. She insisted that her people remain forever proud of their history, language, music, folklore, and all aspects of the Jamaican culture! Sunrise: September 7, 1919 Kingston, Jamaica Sunset: July 26, 2006 Toronto, Canada Miss Lou, may you rest in peace and rise in almighty glory, for you will never be forgotten.
Patwa ~ The Language of the People
The island of Jamaica gained it's independence from Great Britain on August 6, 1962. Thus, as a former British colony, Jamaica's national language is British English. However, that may not always be the language that the people of Jamaica choose to speak. Patwa is truly the language of the people. Yes, the name of the language is French, but the language is not a French Creole. Perhaps, when the French came to Jamaica, the word, patois, happened to stay? Who knows?
Is Patwa a Language? How is it viewed? There have always been debates on whether Patwa should be recognized as a language. Today, more than ever, it is starting to be recognized more as a language. There's even a complete website, dedicated to Patwa! So that MUST tell us something right?
Patwa is casual and informal. So, no, Patwa is not spoken in Jamaican businesses or in any formal settings, for it would be seen as improper. There is a place for everything. For example, at home and around friends, Patwa is many times preferred/used more than British English. Nonetheless, not every Jamaican speaks Patwa, but "nearly 80 percent of Jamaicans speak both English, the official language, and patois, a hybrid with a similar vocabulary but a structure borrowed from African tongues." (Cooper 2009)
Even in "2000, the New York State Board of Regents recognized patois and similar languages from the Caribbean as "languages other than English," (Cooper, 2009). I can certainly understand why the New York State Board would chose to do so. If you are a Native English speaker, then you will have difficulty with understanding Jamaican Patwa.
What exactly is Patwa? Where did the words come from? I'm fascinated with linguistics and have a strong curiosity for language derivations and creations. Jamaican Patwa was born from the intermixing of the Scottish, Welsh, Irish & English with the Africans. Hence, at times many of the English words of Patwa are more so based off of Scottish/Irish accents than the English.
As I explained on my page entitled, "Pride", besides being of majority African descent, some Jamaicans have Asian and/or Middle Eastern ancestry. However, these groups of people weren't a large enough population or haven't lived in Jamaica long enough to make a distinct influence on the Patwa language. The African slaves and the Europeans interacted with each other for about 300 years!
In this time, Africans (mostly Akan, Ga, Adangbe, Igbo, Yoruba, and Kongo Slaves) of different countries mixed together, sharing their languages, while simultaneously informally learning the English Language. Then, Jamaican Patwa was formed! The majority of these African people have large populations in present-day Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire, and Congo, making Jamaica Africa's Little Sister.
As a result, many of Jamaican Patwa words are directly or influenced by the languages of these people. Still, besides English language influences, there are Patwa words that are 100% Jamaican (contain zero connections with any African or English words). I'm guessing 300+ years is more than enough time for the Jamaican people to create some of their very own simply unique vocabulary!
Reference: Cooper, Kenneth J. "Parts of Speech." Crisis (15591573) 116.3 (2009): 16. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.