The language referred to as "Patois/Patwa" is officially labeled as "Jamaican Creole", or simply as "Jamaican". Creole languages worldwide develop out of earlier forms, described as 'Pidgin' by linguists, as a result of contact (e.g., from trading, commerce, bartering, slavery) between speakers of mutually incomprehensible languages. In the case of Jamaica, during an extended period of slavery and colonialism, the mutually incomprehensible languages were English (and Spanish prior to English) and a combination of several West African languages. Out of this linguistic soup a common 'primitive' language emerged - spoken by Jamaican ancestors from Africa who, themselves, possessed such native languages as Twi, Fante, Ibo, and Yoruba - which, under harsh and severe penalty, they were forbidden to speak in the presence of their European masters. 


This new language is known generically as 'Creole' to identify its genesis from multilinguistic sources (involving, as a requirement, three or more languages to contribute to the development of the new language). Today there are creole languages all over the world. Some better known ones are Jamaican, Haitian, French-Creole (in Louisiana), Afrikaans (in South Africa), and Yiddish. Interestingly, a number of these languages now enjoy official recognition and status; thus encouraging literacy and writing in the language. Most linguists agree that Patois is moving steadily in that direction. 


Jamaican Patois is distinct enough to be recognized as a language of African origin that has sufficiently evolved to become an autonomous language. What has not quite happened so far is to have a uniform written representation of the language; and therefore to give it the respect it fully deserves.  Linguists would agree that all human languages started out in oral form and many of these languages were later ascribed written phonetic representations in order to preserve some written versions of the language.


In the recent past, educators, and many educated Jamaicans, have looked down at Patois, often criticizing it as as "improper". I have witnessed students in Jamaican primary schools being scolded, or even hit, for not "speaking proper English" (spanking is sadly still allowed in Jamaican schools). A tourist, who only visits a large all-inclusive resort may never actually hear Patois spoken, as most resorts forbid it - feeling that it may make a tourist feel uncomfortable, being unable to understand the hotel staff as they speak to one another. It is evident, even in the past 15 years that I have been visiting and working in Jamaica, that there is an increase in the general acceptance of Patois, even amongst Jamaica educators; often seeing signs, or posters in rural schools, written in this native Creole - thus encouraging young Jamaican children to be proud of their bilingual tradition. Such encouragement of the use of Jamaican Patois increases the likelihood that it will continue to thrive and evolve, instead of disappearing as a result of globalization. 


The beloved Jamaican poet Miss Lou did much to encourage the use of Patois, and respect for Afro-Jamaican Creole as a distinct language in its own rite. In addition, newer reggae artists throughout Jamaica continue to sprinkle Patois liberally into to their song lyrics, in effect introducing the world to the sound and grammatical structure of this unique Caribbean language.  

Patois - Jamaican Creole...

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