One of the big projects we all have to do for our communications class is called: Teach us Something. Everyone has to find something that they know well and that matters to them to teach the rest of the class in a presentation and today my friend did hers. I would like to share some of it with you since I think a lot of what she was saying was very important.
Therryl’s ‘Teach us Something’ was about Jamaican culture and Patios. She opened by explaining why this was important to her and I think what she said was an excellent teaching that we should all remember: when you come to North America from another country or culture, North American culture will try and assimilate you but you must resist. You must work to maintain your culture and traditions since these are things that make your identity. When people try and erase culture or try to make you feel weird, exotic or inferior when you partake in your culture, they are erasing your very identity. Language is such an integral part of culture and identity that one mustn’t lose it.
Jamaican’s are very proud of our culture. We are a very proud people. Unfortunately, North Americans have a lot of stereotypes about Jamaica and the Jamaican language. Patios is often viewed as a ‘broken’ English and therefore Jamaican Patois is not respected as a proper language here and instead looked upon as English as spoken by uneducated people. Jamaican’s abroad, therefore do not speak Patois often in mixed company. The truth is, Jamaican Patois is a real language. It’s a dialect derived from several languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese but primarily the African language of Twi (pronounced ‘chwee’).
One of Jamaica’s cultural ambassadors and national treasures was named Miss Louise Bennett Coverley, or Miss Lou, for short. She was a comedienne, actress and poet as well as a strong voice for the history and maintenance of Jamaican culture. Allow me to share this part of a talk she gave which was in part played in our class today. Here Miss Lou speaks on Patois, it’s history and some of the misconceptions about it. I will translate some of the important parts if you can’t understand. She speaks some heavy Patois in places and part of Patois’ history is that outsiders shouldn’t be able to understand it!
Here, Miss Lou begins by pointing out the mixing of cultures to create Jamaican culture. Then, she turns to English peoples views on Jamaican language. The English, she says, knowing English is derived from other lanuguages, freely admits English is derived from Latin, French, Greek, etc., yet when discussing Patois, they say it’s ‘corrupted’ English. The English ‘derive’ and Jamaica ‘corrupts’. We should be proud she says. No, no, Jamaica derives too. She goes on... many of the words the English hear as broken English are not English words at all but are, in fact, good African words from the language Twi. They hear ‘dutty’, for example and think it’s a corruption of the word dirty. They say, “Give us ‘good words’”. No, dutty means ground in Twi. When Jamaicans say ‘dutty tough’ they are saying the ground is hard. It has nothing to do with the word dirty. ‘Nyam’, meaning to eat, is a Twi word as well. These are good African words. She explains that Patios began when the English forefathers came to enslave Africans. They tried to force the Black slaves to speak English but the ancestors ‘pop dem’ (that means they ‘outwitted’ them). They disguised the English language with Twi and others so that they could communicate without the slave masters understanding them and catching on.
Not everyone in Jamaica wishes to speak Patois, though. My grandmother forbid it in the house, for one. My father only fell into it sometimes when he was heated about something, but spoke English the rest of the time. There are class issues surrounding patois abroad but even among some Jamaicans at home. Personally, I too fall back on bits of Patois when I get a bit heated (the words fi and dem come out a bit and certain consonants disappear). I’ve been told I get more of an accent when I’m mad and I can see that, but I don’t speak Patois very well. I understand it much better than I speak it. This comes from growing up with family with strong accents, I think, but nowadays there is definitely an element of my desire not to lose what little part of my culture I maintain. Jamaicans are proud and my family was no different - they taught me to remember where I came from. Often, I gain more of an accent when I’ve been spending time around other Jamaicans. I think this is pretty common among Jamaicans abroad. Anyway, I would like to disclose that there are certainly far better people than me to learn about Patois from, though I hope this is interesting to you anyway. :)
I will leave you with the hand-out Therryl gave the class. She described it as being a little helper in case you’re ever travelling. Here are a few salutations that might help you in Jamaica or around Jamaicans abroad:
I will add a few advanced words that you will often find in popular Jamaican music:
ovastand: to understand. Jamaicans say ‘ovastand’ rather than understand. You stand over something when you really ‘get’ it.
pree: to fixate on something. People dem pree de dolla = People are focused on money.
dem: pluralize something. Man dem = men. Book dem = books.
pon: upon or on. Guh pon de ground = Get on the ground.
fi: use in place of ‘for’ or ‘to’. Me woulda love fi see the day = I would love to see the day.
squaddy: a cop.
par: to hang out, usually with friends in a casual sort of way.
Oh also, Obama visited Jamaica last week and this was a source of pride for Jamaica. The last time a U.S president visited was Ronald Reagan 33 years ago. Whatever your thoughts about Jamaican/U.S. relations, this was a big deal on the island. His Patois seemed to go over pretty well, but who’s gonna boo Obama? ;)