Ivy League College Recognizes Jamaican Creole as a LanguagePublished Sep 6, 2010
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?
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As a fellow Jamaican and Dartmouth grad, I'm not sure you really did yourself a favour with this one as you have/had the opportunity to learn another more widely used language at Dartmouth which you seemed eager to give up. Not sure how far a knowledge of Jamaican patois is going to get you in this world. I would think the chance to learn Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, or some other widely spoken language would have been valuable.
It is very useful to learn a new language. Living in Europe I am also learning a new language as it will be beneficial in my studies and in furthering my studies in that country. But I also realize a benefit to knowing broken English and that is in communicating with the many African friends I have gain. I am able to understand Cameroonians, Nigerians, Ghanians etc. because they speak Pigeon, a dialect very similiar to our own dialect Patois. Africa as a continent has many different languages and variation of language. One person can live with neighboring villages and not understand the language. However, one this is certain, they all understand Pigeon a dialect very similar to Jamaican and I am proud to say that I speak Patois and understand other dialects. However, I would recommend that you learn another language.
While I agree with the two posts here basically suggesting you learn another more useful second language I find myself feeling happy at your success as I too feel that our Jamaican patois should be recognized as another language being as it is never understood by anyone who has not lived in the country or around Jamaicans and can only be learned as all other languages are and that is by being studied. The fact that the patois can also be written is another strong point to show its validity towards recognition as a language. So to you I say congratulations and good vibes mi fren, yu do wi proud iah, a long time mi wha see a positive ting fi wi in di news, yu dun know, gwan do yu ting an good luck wid di ress a di degree.
First off, it is "Jamaican Patois" not Creole. In any eventm -congrats on clearing this hurdle. Proud of you.
@ Karin, it is a language as valuable as any other which CAN get you places. Do not be so eurocentric in your approach to think that only the languages you suggested can be of any value. Stop turing up your nose at Patois and stop real fast too! It's a new day. Get with it.
It is of paramount importance that we keep the Jamaican language alive and kicking and be brave to use it as often as possible.
Mek wi advance and mek a launch Fi try fi achieve, aldo it ruff and tuff But wi caa'nt give up Wi caa'nt lay dung arms an put wi han Pan wi head an bawl Dat nah help at all Mek wi advance an mek a launch For life still sweet.
Over 40 years ago my husband wrote his MA thesis about Jamaican Creole, already recognised by linguists as a language in its own right, but we are still fighting this battle. (Although in Jamaica we usually call it patwa/patois, strictly speaking Jamaican is a creole not a "patois" or a pidgin by the way.) Glad Javed has let his college know our people are bi-lingual but I can't understand why students who are bi-lingual (or multi-lingual for that matter) should be exempt from learning an additional language like all the other students. It can only be of benefit - many people in Aruba and Curacao speak 3 or 4 languages, the young man in Ghana who was our taxi driver spoke 5 languages, V.S. Mudimbe the famous writer speaks 9 I believe, some European & some African. Not sure why suggesting someone should learn Japanese or Chinese should be considered a Eurocentric position... but I agree both with what Javed did and that his college should give him the opportunity to learn another language as well.
Just to clarify my position, I was in no way denigrating Jamaican Creole (thanks for the clarification Elizabeth). I was simply suggesting that as Javed already spoke Jamaican Creole, it would be valuable for him to take the opportunity that attending Dartmouth College afforded him to learn other languages also. All languages are valuable of course. However, I think taking the opportunity to learn other languages that are more widely spoken throughout the world is a worthwhile way to spend some some college class time. I have since communicated with Javed who informed me that he was actually also taking French classes at Dartmough, which he did not indicate in his story here. Had he done so, my initial comment would have been altogether different. Lastly, I in fact live in Jamaica and speak Jamaican creole everyday...I would hardly say that constitutes my "turning my nose up at it".
Jamaican Creole is a language. It is the native language of the majority of Jamaicans. Previously, there was no widely accepted standard orthography for the language, and so for the most part Jamaicans are not literate in their mother tongue.
For me, it is not simply enough to speak Jamaican. Like the French I learn, I want to one day read Jamaican (Creole) literature—and I don't mean Miss Lou Poems. I mean novel-length, passionate, eloquently worded eviscerations of the human spirit.
Because we haven't been taught how to read or write Jamaican Creole, using an orthography that preserves the unique linguistic qualities of the language, it is easy for us to believe that our language is not as sophisticated as others...that, somehow, it's not complex enough. By using English spelling conventions, we reinforce the misinformed notion that Jamaican is merely broken English.
Why not write Jamaican Creole? And if I can read and write it, why should my proficiency in the language be ignored by Dartmouth, when students from Ecuador, or Bulgaria are automatically given language exemption when they declare that English is not their native language?
It's not about copping out from a legitimate degree requirement. It's about being recognized for all that you bring to the school community. Me seeking exemption has nothing to do with the likelihood that I would be interested in studying other languages, and I'm not sure why you feel I needed to declare that I was studying a 'more widely spoken language'.
Karin, aal ef dem wehn tiich Patwa yaso yuuda kom tel mi se i beta fi mi go du wahn neda langwij. No chuu yu tink i gud fi mi nuo muo langwij ino, bot kaa yu no tink se Patwa a sitn we pikni fi a laan bout ina klaasruum.
And that is what bothers me about the tone of your comments.
Scores of people spend hours studying Italian each week. It isn't exactly a widely spoken language. What makes it important as a field of study? The literature. The art. The history. All bound in centuries old texts, written in Italian. One day, I want our Jamaican identity to be immortalized in our language, as well.
@Judsshine: Perhaps you speak broken English, but I don't. I either speak exclusively in Jamaican, or English. I find code-switching quite distasteful—and that's just a personal thing.
Jamaican is not a pidgin. Further, I am concerned that you would class Jamaican as a 'dialect', because it is apparent that you consider 'dialects' inferior to 'languages'.
I am glad you have been able to exercise your knowledge of Jamaican usefully. I was able to survive Nicaragua with little Spanish only because I met people who spoke a language that is almost identical to Jamaican.
I appreciate your recommendation that I learn another language, but I can't imagine why you'd assume that I have no interest in studying other languages. I study French. Not because I think it is superior to the two languages that I speak, but because I love communicating with people in their heart language. Many of my West-African friends speak french (among other languages).
@PHD: How exactly do you measure utility? I'm not quite sure how I'd decide what would be a 'more useful' second language. Thanks a lot for the words of encouragement! hehe Mi de ya a chrai (try) sa. Jos a du di likl we(h) mi kyahn du. Big op!
@Jamie: I am moving toward using just 'Jamaican'. But the term 'Jamaican Creole' is actually correct.
@James Messam: Indeed. Wi kyaahn tap chrai (try) mi fren. But it's only a matter of time before people realize the treasure they've been sitting idly on. Even more concerning, our refusal to acknowledge Jamaican as the primary language of our children has led to disastrous consequences in the classroom. We better learn fast, or the next generation of Jamaicans might fail to secure the nation's full potential.
@ Elizabeth Wilson: It is really unfortunate that we are still having these conversations. And to think that after so many years the arguments against standardization of the language, and recognizing it as an official language alongside English, haven't changed much.
The school's language policy is flawed. I would prefer a system where everyone mandatorily studies two or three levels beyond their entering proficiency level in a foreign language taught at the school. Dartmouth doesn't restrict anyone learning any number of languages they want to, so long as they satisfy all the degree requirements in time to graduate. As I've already states, I study French and intend to study Spanish here.
Ey Javed, Me nuh noah a which J'can Creole protocol me a use but mi awt' glad fe see wey yu achieve fe de language at Dartmouth. Yu should a check out de Bible Society a de West Indies. For dem a mek recawding of de Bible in J'can Creole and a translation dem a do.
Now me, me cyan tawk likkle in Spanish and me can read nuff odda language too. But nutten no match de joy an' freedom me feel wen me tawk in a mi owna awt language.
Yu go lang for yu a do good and yu mek summen weh me did a dream bout fe long time, come true. Me tenk yu.
Great piece, Javed ! A long time lover and proponement of "Jamaican Patois", I too have asked myself "What else can I do to affirm the linguistic heritage of Jamaica, and make Jamaicans proud of their language", 'ceptin mi neva eva sey it suh nice. :)
After reading this, as well as having been recently challenged to teach, members of a destitute community that I minister to, Bible lessons in Patois, I was inspired to write http://www.facebook.com/notes/elise-yap/the-white-river-fisherman-and-the-big-time-business-man-from-new-york/434182589453 .
Tek care mi fren !
As a matter of information:
Around 1989-90, a Jamaican PhD student in History at Johns Hopkins requested using Jamaican Creole for her foreign language requirement. She learnt the Cassidy writing system for the language. I was requested to set a written examination for her. She was required to do translations from English into Jamaican and vice versa, I think. She passed and was awarded the relevant credits based on the basis of her performance in that examination. The student subsequently completed the PhD, taught at UWI for a while and is now an academic at a Canadian university.
Yo, yardies out deh, mi enjoyed readin de articles. I've been living in the U. S. for forty years. I took Latin and Spanish in high school in Jamaica. I took French in college and majored in Spanish in the states. I love hearing different languages, I thing languages are fascinating. I wish I spoke all of them. I like to say I'm bilingual Spanish/English , then a few years ago I" realized" I was trilingual (Jamaican language). People are surprised when I tell them I can speak Jamaican too! Those are the same people who tell me that when they were in Jamaica on vacation, they could not understand the people.
I love the expression "heart language", because for me speaking the Jamaican language is more than just speaking, it comes from the heart, and I never plan to speak my Jamaican language, like one of the previous people who commented said that they liked speaking like that. For me, an mi tink for a lota people, it jus come out, is not sumting u plan, mon! A gwine tief de expression "heart or awt language". In other words, when I speak my language, it's special, wid yardies, mon! A doan live among a lota o' yardies, suh a always appi wen a get a appatunity to tawk, u noh, go to de Jamaican restaurant,buy mi Jamaican groceries an tings like dat! Irie, mon!
Hey Javed, Another Dartmouth grad here. I took French (and had classes with Prof. Rassias himself), and like many freshmen, I already had four years of high school French, so I pretty much skated though to my winter in Lyon. By senior year, I decided to challenge myself to learn Spanish. I found myself in a class full of freshmen who already knew the language (like me, they had several years of high school Spanish). I was in over my head and had to drop that class after two weeks. The language requirement at Dartmouth is great and for some, strenuous, while for others, a breeze. I'm kinda with Karin that's a great opportunity to challenge yourself, but on the other hand, that's your individual choice and I can't fault you for taking advantage of your existing proficiency. Glad to hear Dartmouth accepted it. BTW, I'm good friends with Prof. Byfield, who I'm sure you know was born in Jamaica. My first introduction to Jamaican Creole was trying to understand her family over dinner at their home in Queens. I admit it was not easy at first, but its not so hard once you get the hang of it. If you happen to bump into me in the D.C. area, please stop and say hello. Peace, Allen
How on earth can their be a Jamaican language when issues of diversity have yet to be settled? In Kingston alone the way people pronounce words and use them can change from month to month. They had better not implementing this as a means to communicate in English. Not everyone in Jamaica speaks patois or Jamaican and it has nothing to do with class. Simply put, its an impediment to learning the English language. So the idea of teaching this to children of primary school age is a somewhat abhorrent and shows what depths our country has truly fallen to.
How is it that a Kingstonian can go to Black River and as soon as they open their mouth they can immediately be identified? Jamaican as you call is too diverse to codify and should only be done for novelty. Not one person here would encourage black americans to apply for a language exemption for ebonics. If you do no support that, then you certainly can't support the teaching of Jamaican. There are far more speakers of ebonics in this world than there are those who speak Jamaican and moreover Jamaican itself includes words taken from Black american. So I ask, would anyone here support the official acceptance of Ebonics as a language? Tell me the reasons why you are in support or against? What makes it different from Jamaican?
WOW Leeward!! you must not be J'can. Just the fact that you would call our language the equivalent of black ebonics? In actuality it is a mixture of English and African, a language developed by the slaves brought to Jamaica as a means of communication between each other. with that said... Kingstonians pronounce their words differently SO WHAT?!! Floridians pronounce their words diferently than New Yorkers. If a New yorker goes to South Carolina as soon as he opens his mouth they are going to know where he is from. Does it make English any less of a language? Some how they found a way to codify English!! English words change meaning all the time i.e. slang.
And yes class is a factor that determines the type of patwa we speak. Lets compare english... trailer park trash speak very different English than a Yale scholar!! and if they were to have a conversation they may not understand every single word that each may use... but OMG how did English ever become recognized as a language? Does ther class diference make either any less american? If they went to Jamaica they will only be seen as Foreigners as in the same case if we speak patwa to eachother in the US I left Jamaica when I was 5 and grew up in New York. Yet I am fluent in Patwa. I remember as I child when I would say certain things and my mother would say weh yuh learn dat from afta you nuh grow a bush? Truth of the matter is that they did..and I learned it from them. I now have 2 little girls they may not speak the language but they understand it. I speak it to them as much as I can because it is there culture. Have you ever met a Haitian who doesn't speak creole? No matter how americanized they are or how many generations has passed!