Tue | Jun 19, 2018

Defending Patois

Published:Tuesday | April 12, 2011 | 12:00 AM


"A waste of time to teach Patois". These were the words uttered by the former prime minister, Edward Seaga, according to an April 11 Gleaner article written by Ms Keisha Hill. Mr Seaga qualified this view by adding, "There is no standard way of spelling a particular word in Patois."

I, a PhD linguistic student at the University of the West Indies, usually refrain from responding to articles surrounding the Patois debate. However, in a situation where a great man whom I admire as being an ardent researcher seems ignorant of easily researchable facts about Jamaican and its writing system, I cannot remain silent.

In 1961, Jamaican linguist Frederick Cassidy developed a method of representing Jamaican in writing. Di sistim yuuz wan leta fi aalwiez maak aaf wan soun ina di langgwij. It, therefore, parallels the conventions of the International Phonetic Alphabet by ensuring that one and the same letter in writing always represents one speech sound. With this writing system, Jamaicans can represent in writing, as genuinely as possible, what is being uttered by a fellow countryman, without relying on the conventions of the English spelling system.

This writing system is accessible to all persons who wish to learn it. In addition, the Jamaican Language Unit at the UWI slightly modified Cassidy's system, and created a simple workbook titled Writing Jamaican the Jamaican Way. There is also a dictionary available; Dictionary of Jamaican English. The writing system has existed for the last 50 years. Ignorance is inexcusable.

I am, etc.,