How to Speak Jamaican Patois

Posted on June 22, 2013

How to Speak Jamaican Patois


Although the official language of Jamaica is Standard English, many Jamaicans also speak Patois which is a separate dialect/language. Jamaican Patois (also known as “Patwa”, “Patwah” or “Jamaican Creole”) is the language that is used by most Jamaicans in casual everyday conversations while Standard English is normally reserved for professional environments.

"Jamaican Patois is a separate language from Jamaican English."

Jamaican Patois is a strange language in that it has many borrowed words from many different languages, for example, English, Spanish and some West African languages. However, the pronunciations of these words are very similar to Jamaican English. One thing to keep in mind as you learn Jamaican Patois is that it is not a strict, rule-oriented language where there is a "right way" and a "wrong way" to say things. Some words can be pronounced and spelled differently but still mean the same thing (e.g. both ‘Pickney’ and ‘Pickeney’ translates to ‘Child'). The important thing is whether or not what you are saying can be understood.



It's actually quite difficult to acquire the accent of a Jamaican, unless you've lived in Jamaica for many years, and even then, speaking patois fluently is not guaranteed. But with a little practice, you will be able to have at least a basic understanding of Jamaican Patois.


Let us now take a look at some of the grammatical features of Jamaican Patois.


1. SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT


Sentences in Jamaican Patois are built like English sentences in that, there is a subject, a predicate (or verb), and an object. However, there is no subject-verb agreement in Jamaican Patois. The verb does not change with the subject. Let us look at the table below.


Jamaican Creole Standard English
Mi run I run
im run he runs
shi run she runs
Wi run We run
Dem run They run
Unu run You all run
eyah run it runs
Yu run You run


2. Formation of Plurals


One common method of forming plurals in standard English is by adding 's' or; 'es' to the end of a word. (e.g. toy-toys, class- classes etc..)

However, in Jamaican Patois a word can be pluralized by adding 'dem' to the end word or, inserting 'nuff' or a number at the beginning of the word.


Jamaican Creole Standard English
Plate dem Plates
Baby dem Babies
Pen dem Pens
Teacha dem Teachers
Book dem Books
Nuff banana Many bananas
Ten bwoy Ten boys


NOTE: In Jamaican Patois, the letters '-s' or '-es' do not necessarily denote plurality as is shown in the examples below:

Jamaican Creole Standard English
Waan shoes A shoe
Waan drinks A drink




3. USE OF PRONOUNS


In Jamaican Patois:

  • There is no differentiation in the use of pronouns to show gender. The pronoun 'im' can mean both or either 'he' or 'she'.
  • There is no distinction between subject and object.

Jamaican Creole Standard English
Female - im frack look gud Her frock (dress) looks good
Male - im fada gaan His father is gone
Subject - mi a guh I am going
Object - come fi mi Come for me


Denoting a 'person' in Jamaican Patois differs from Standard English in the following ways:

Jamaican Creole Standard English
Person Speaking (first person) ‘Mi’ or 'wi’ 'I' or 'we'
Person being spoken to (second person) 'yu' or'unu' 'you' or 'you all'
Person being spoken about (third person) ‘im’ or ‘dem’ “he /she” or “them”


There are no possessive pronouns in the Jamaican Patois such as your, her, his, its, ours and theirs, for example:

Jamaican Creole Standard English
Fi mi backle My bottle
Fi yu backle Your bottle
Fi dem backle Their bottle


4. USE OF THE COPULA


The copula is a connecting word; for example, in Jamaican Patois the copula is the letter 'a' which is used for the particle as well as for the continuous tense.


For example:

Jamaican Creole Standard English
Im a run He is running
Im a guh fi it He is going for it
Mi a teacha I am a teacher


5. USE OF REPETITION/REDUPLICATION


In Jamaican Patois:

Repetition is used for degrees of comparison as well as emphasis; for example, using Jamaican Patois to talk about how big a child has become:

Jamaican Creole Standard English
Di bwoy big, eeh! The boy has grown
Fi real, im big-big! For real, he is very big
A true! Him get big-big It is true, he has gotten big


Repetition is also used for emphasis or to increase intensity or number; for example:

Jamaican Creole Literal Translation Standard English
A tru tru It’s true true It is very true
Yuh mus cum tideh-tideh You must come today today It is important that you come today


Some words form by reduplication show character traits, for example:

Jamaican Creole Standard English
nyami-nyami greedy
Chakka-chakka Untidy
fenkeh-fenkeh Weak, poor


6. USE OF DOUBLE NEGATIVES


In Standard English it is never acceptable to use double negatives such as 'nobody does not'. However, in• Jamaican Patois double negatives are accepted.


Jamaican Creole Literal Translation Standard English

Mi nuh have nun

I don’t have none

I don't have any

Shi don't have nothing

She doesn’t have nothing

She doesn't have anything

Dem don't live dere nuh more

They don’t live there no more

They don't live there any more

Mi nah guh.nuh weh

I am not going no where

I am not going anywhere

Nobady neva see’m

Nobody never saw him

Nobody saw him

Nobady nuh live ova deh

Nobody doesn’t lives over there

Nobody lives over there


7. COMPOUND WORDS


Compound words are commonly used in Jamaican Creole; for example:


Jamaican Creole Literal Translation Standard English

Han miggle

Hand middle

The palm (of your hand)

Hiez-ole

Ear hole

The ear or the auditory passage

Bwoy Pickney

Boy Child

A Young boy

Foot battam

Foot bottom

The sole (of your foot)

Nose-ole

Nose hole

Nostril

Yeye-Wata

Eye Water

Tears

Yeye-ball

Eye ball

Eye


8. Tense


Unlike Standard English, in the Jamaican Creole, the verb does not change. Instead a new word is introduced and placed in front of the verb; for example:



Present Tense:

Jamaican Creole Standard English
Mi guh I am going
Di ooman a guh a town The woman is going to town
Im a cum He is coming
Mi a cum I am coming


Past Tense:

Jamaican Creole Standard English
Mi did guh I went
Di ooman did guh a town The woman went to town
Im did cum He came
Mi did cum I came

In Jamaican Creole, past tense is formed by using one of the following three words: 'en', 'ben' and 'did', whereas in Standard English the verb is changed or "e" or "ed" is added ; for example, collect-collected, run-ran, buy-bought, etc…



By now you probably have a basic understanding on the differences between Jamaican Patois and Standard English, for a more detailed guide, you can check out our how to speak Jamaican Patois series.


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