I’ll begin today’s post with a wonderful video of the The Night Before Christmas spoken in Jamaican Creole (a.k.a. Patois):
For non-Jamaicans the clip above is probably so hard to understand that it seems like a different language. Which is because it is a different language.
Total dialect novices would be forgiven for asking: Don’t Jamaicans just speak English?
Well, of course they do. But the strongest variety of English spoken on the island differs enough from Standard English to be classified as a creole: a blend of different languages, in this case English with good deal of grammar and syntax derived from African languages.*
Jamaica is a country with a dialect continuum: at one end of the spectrum are people who speak Jamaican Creole, at the other end is the more mainstream accent you would hear from, say, a Jamaican co-worker in the States. Then there’s a large number of dialects between these two extremes.
Now, I used to assume that Jamaican Patois was just a very strong accent of English. Some phrases in Jamaican would seem to confirm this at first glance. For example:
The English phrase, “A shortcut draws blood, the long road draws sweat.”
Becomes in Creole …
Shaat kot jraa blod, lang ruod jraa swet.
Try to read that sentence aloud a few times, and you’ll realize that it’s simply “short cut draw blood, long road draw sweat.” So it’s not much different than the Standard English version, minus some verb conjugations and articles.
But let’s look at a different example. Standard English “No matter how high the john crow flies, it has to come down to eat,” becomes:
No mata ou ai kiangkro flai, ihn afi kom a grong fi niam.
Which could only be rendered in Standard English as “No matter how high kiangcrow fly, in halfee come a ground fi nyam.” In other words, I can’t even transpose it into “plain English.” This is simply a different language.
And then there are phrases that are almost completely divorced from Standard English, such as:
Aadiez pitni niam raktuon.
Which roughly translates to “Stubborn children eats stones.” Now we’re completely into foreign language territory.
The above examples, by the by, were from a fantastic website about Jamaican Creole, jumieka.com. It’s an great resource for people interested in Carribean English, with info about the history and current status of Creole.
Given all the actor talk on this blog of late, I’d also say this is a good resource for actors who need to learn Jamaican accents. Studying the Creole/Patois helps you grasp the origins of all types of English spoken on the island.
That’s all for now. I know far too little about this language to get more in-depth. Any Jamaicans care to elaborate?
*There is a much more detailed explanation for what a “creole” is, but I’ll save that for another day.