Fri | Aug 14, 2020

Alfred Dawes | The Patois problem

Published:Sunday | January 12, 2020 | 12:00 AM

I am illiterate in Patois. There. I said it. I cannot read or write standard Patois. Don’t get me wrong, I can speak it fluently, but I struggle to read proper Patois spelling and wouldn’t even dare take on the challenge of writing it. But since Patois is going to be an official language, I better dedicate some time to learning it because I don’t like the idea of being a postgraduate educated illiterate.

Being literate in Patois is a must for me, otherwise it will retard my progress in life. After all, the experts told me this, so it must be true. So I am going to sacrifice some of the time I have been using to improve my knowledge of investing, geopolitics, and history because nursing my ego is more important than dedicating my limited learning time and limited resources to mundane topics that others might find useful to be successful in life.

Being literate in Patois will now allow me to write proper Patois instead of the broken English that everyone currently writes in messages and on social media. I don’t have to worry about them struggling to read it because everyone will be literate in Patois. We will prioritise getting our children and their parents up to speed. It may take hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, but at least that money will be circulating in the economy as a good chunk of it will go to paying the linguistics experts that will be developing Patois curricula and teaching them.

Being literate in Patois will allow me to change the way in which I conduct job interviews. Quite frankly, I am frustrated with what currently obtains. I have interviewed applicants from western Jamaica to Kingston, and I am shocked at how high school and college graduates struggle with basic English. At least now, I won’t have to worry about my staff mixing up ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ as they will now be writing “fi yu” and “yu a” (unsure of spellings).

My only concern is that with more of their schooling dedicated to Patois, how they will improve their English enough to communicate with my overseas suppliers and patients. But I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there.


The experts say that learning in school will be improved because we will be communicating in the native language of the children. I tried to convince my friends that are teachers of this, but they are backward in their thinking. They say that they already primarily speak Patois when they are teaching non-English subjects and that writing out the course material in Patois will only add a layer of difficulty in that they themselves now have to learn to read and write Patois and hope that the children have learned to read and write enough Patois in order to then grasp the subject matter. I wasn’t sure how to counteract that argument, so I called them idiots and changed the topic.

Tired of the nonsense spewed by the eediat teachers, I went to my friend the economist to tell me how declaring Patois a language to be learned in school would finally lead us to the elusive ‘5 in 4’ growth. He, too, unfortunately, did not see it my way.


He spoke of the direct costs for implementation as well as the even bigger opportunity cost of not using those funds to fix the education system to create a more marketable workforce to attract international investors the way the south-east Asian nations have been doing, and blah, blah, blah.

He was clearly a capitalist pig who did not care about poor people, and I told him that. The pig counteracted by saying that the poor are most likely to be affected, as their kids go to the most crowded, understaffed, and underfunded schools and subsequently leave, disadvantaged for the working world. The children of the poor are the least likely to be able to communicate in English, and that affects their ability to land the growth-area jobs in the BPO sector and to sit international exams that will not be taken in Patois.

Furthermore, he said, those pushing for the teaching of Patois in schools already mastered English, so why are they limiting the exposure of those who need it most to escape their current living conditions?

The pig was feigning empathy for the poor because of ulterior motives.


I preferred to side with the experts whose intentions were well thought out and pure. So I spoke to my hotelier friend. After all, that was a big growth area about which the pig or the idiots knew nothing.

She was clearly elitist, though, because she said most of her workers thought speaking English meant that they had to twang even if they were actually speaking broken English. I countered that foreigners liked Patois, to which she agreed. But how will teaching Patois in schools add to the international adoration for the language if the guests are already being taught to speak it and write out the few words they want to know? How will teaching grammar, syntax, and tenses help Jamaicans to communicate better in Patois since it is already our first language?

But I said it would be officially recognised as a language and we will feel proud of our identity.

She laughed and asked if I had ever heard of any country in recent times trying to grow their tourism product, focus on training people in their own language rather than a second language already familiar to their visitors so that they can communicate better with them. We should be focusing on training our workforce in second languages so we can tap into a broader market outside of North America.

Clearly, the conversation was going nowhere, and she couldn’t help me to understand how learning Patois translated into a stronger national identity and pride. Suh mi lef.

I still don’t care. I will be literate in Patois in 2020. Even if it means writing and operating less. Priorities, my friend ... priorities.

- Dr Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic, and weight-loss surgeon; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to and