Language Discrimination and Classism Linked in JamaicaPublished Aug 2, 2010
I never liked speaking Patwa. It just sounded so, crude. By the time I was in grade ten I stopped using the ‘dialect’ altogether. My siblings often complained that ‘[mi] lov gwaan laik [mi] kyaahn chat Patwa.’ I scoffed at them, smugly retorting that we were all educated in the English language and were free to use it.
This approach made sense to me, because Jamaicans regard you differently when you speak English. I honestly thought I was even a little bit better than those who were not fluent in English, because supposedly, it meant they were not as ‘educated’ as I was. I realized at a very young age that proficiency in English was a mark of social class, and having been born poor, I was very interested in gaining traction on the slippery ladder of social mobility.
After completing my studies at St. Mary High in 2006, I went to Canada to study for two years. I remember sitting giddily on the plane at Normal Manley International as I awaited take off. I had long dreamed of the day I would fly away from the island in search of opportunity; little did I know that a bout of homesickness would leave me grounded for months. I never called home often, but whenever I did, I would speak in Patwa. I was not able to fully appreciate how well Jamaican could communicate my depression, but I knew English would never suffice.
One of the few comforts I had at school was a Creole-speaking Belizean student. Daniel’s Creole was a little different, but intelligible nonetheless. We had endless conversations in the ‘broken English’ we picked up in the Caribbean. The following summer, when I visited my best friends in St. Mary, they remarked that I was speaking Patwa more than usual. “So a wa,” I responded disbelievingly. Since then, my love for Patwa, and respect for those who speak it shamelessly, has grown appreciably.
Three years later, I have no qualms about speaking Jamaican Creole in any formal space. People stare, and some giggle, but it seems foolish that I should be compelled to speak English if the individual I am interacting with is equally proficient in Jamaican. At the bank, I will continue to say, “Maanin mis, mi kom fi mek a dipazit.” I speak Jamaican Creole not because I am ‘illiterate’, but because I can. Today, I am proud to present myself as a Jamaican Creole speaking young man from Port Maria, St. Mary. People who view me negatively as a result have internalized the classist relegation of Patwa to the margins, and are doing their nation a disservice. I understand this well. I was formally one of these people.
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This was an interesting perspective. I grew up outside of Jamaica and wish I could speak patois without sounding silly (meaning that I can correctly speak it) to a real Jamaican. It is a great source of pride when I can understand almost everything when I hear patois spoken since my parents spoke it while I was growing up.
People should not feel shameful when speaking patois when you have someone like myself who wishes so much he could speak perfect patois. If I could, I would definitely speak it with my mother and friends all the time.
Very interesting indeed I always wondered though why the good people who develop the word processing softwares don't include our dialect. What's the use of including Jamaican English when they can't keep our the English from our vocabulary current?
I love me some Patois, but as a child sure enjoyed mimicking my relatives or vacation bible school peers when they come to visit from the United States!.
The only problem with Patois is.... and this is the same for a many other languages as well...that the translation into English, sometimes, simply cant be done.
As well, it isn't a written language (and seriously should be tried formally) and so Jamaicans should learn how to read and write English properly regardless. English is a coveted language regardless of where it originated and who brought the language where and it is necessary if you plan to live and work outside of Jamaica.
As a child that moved to Canada at a young age, I confess to being very happy that my family insist that English be used at home. After moving to Canada my teachers tried 4 times to put me in an English as a Second Language class, but because I spoke English and read at a level 4x my peers they simply couldn't place me. It didn't stop them from placing many other Jamaican children though who had been in some ways held back by not being encouraged to learn English formally.
That said, I relish being able to tell someone 'bout dem ratid. It can't be translated but it does get the point across:)
@Sam: I fully understand what you mean. Many people born to Jamaican parents come to understand the language well, but are unable to speak it themselves. The sounds in Jamaican are quite different, so it's really easy to feel that you are not saying something correctly, because you can't reproduce the sounds faithfully. But I think that should be okay. I am learning french now, and my accent isn't perfect, but I know it gets better with time. The difference between learning to speak Jamaican and French though, is that I wasn't laughed at for mispronouncing a word or two—but I have seen Jamaicans laugh at foreigners who try to speak the language. One of the main issues is, people don't understand what they speak as a language, so the idea of someone learning it seems almost silly. But it isn't. It's okay to not get everything right at first. It comes with practice :)
@Omar: You seem to have confused some terms here that I would like to clarify. Jamaican English is different from Jamaican Creole. Jamaican English is a dialect of some other English. Jamaican Creole is a distinct language.
@C.: I believe you are mistaken. I would challenge you to find any Jamaican word or expression that cannot be expressed in another language. The other language, say English, may not have an exact word to mirror the word or expression, but it can certainly be explained and understood.
Jamaican Creole isn't widely recognized as a written language, but it can be written. We just haven't learnt how to. Check out this blog: http://chatimout.wordpress.com/ This is the very same standard being used to translate the Bible. It is markedly different from the inconsistent English orthography, and faithfully represents the many unique sounds we have in the language.
I agree that we should be literate in English. Jamaicans are well positioned to be bilingual. I'm not advocating for Jamaican monolingualism to replace the English-only policy we officially endorse.
My parents are literate in English, but they spoke only Jamaican in the home. I was still able to learn English. Perhaps you had an easier time than I did, but I managed to catch up. Having Jamaican as a home-language needs not be regarded as a handicap to our advancement in a globalizing world. In fact, I believe very strongly that if we recognized Jamaican Creole as a language, and used it as a language of instruction in our classrooms, our children would be better at English. It's not intuitive, but if you are interested, I could send you some materials that explain why this is so.
Every Jamaican is, and should be encouraged, to learn English formally. But it shouldn't be forced down their throats. And they shouldn't be made to feel shame for the language they speak at home. Oftentimes, parents who punish their children for speaking Jamaican help reinforce unhelpful stereotypes about Jamaican being a language of poverty-stricken dunces. That is hardly an exercise employed in the majority of Jamaican homes. It's mostly upper-middle class and upper class parents who employ such tactics.
Now for the translation of 'Tel smadi bout dem raatid'. There is no direct translation, obviously. But I might offer, 'Tell off someone' as a loose English translation. Surely, there is a more nuanced meaning that only speakers of Jamaican would get, but the action itself is not foreign to other cultures, and so I can't see why you wouldn't be able to translate it.