Tue | Jun 2, 2020

Even God speaks Patwa

Published:Sunday | May 1, 2011 | 12:00 AM

If God, the supreme judge, doesn't speak Patwa, I'm really sorry for all those people in Jamaica and abroad who appeal to Him/Her every single day and night for divine guidance. Yes, my God is both male and female; but that's another story.

The prayers of the faithful often sound like this: Du, Maasa Jiizas! Memba di pikni dem mi a fait op wid. No mek dem get iina no chrobl. Yes, Laad. An yu si di bad-briid man mi de wid. Du, no bada mek notn apn tu im. Bad az tings bi, mi uda neva laik fi si im get wat im dizorv. Tings naa ron so rait. Bot mi ha fi memba we wi a kom fram. Im did gi mi som swiit-swiit liriks wen im dida luk mi. Mi ha fi tek di gud wid di bad.

The man's prayer might sound something like this: Laad Gad! Yu si di uman we yu gi mi fi liv wid! Maasa Jiizas, wa mi du mek yu bring dong dat de kraasiz pan mi? A no likl chrai mi chrai wid di bad-main uman. Mi memba dem lang taim abak wen mi a put aagyument tu ar. Di uman gwaan laik se bota kudn melt iina ar mout. An nou, yu fi ier di briid a kos shi dis a kos mi. Laad, tek di kies an lef di pilo.

That's the writing system for our language developed by the Jamaican linguist Frederick Cassidy. At first, it looks hard to figure out. But, in fact, it's quite easy once you get the hang of it. The Cassidy system uses the same symbols for the same sounds all the time. Not like English spelling, which is quite irregular, or chaka-chaka, as I prefer to call it.

Just think of the range of pronunciations of 'ough'. Wikipedia describes it as "the most absurd English letter pattern", noting that "the English language accords it nine different sound-symbol relationships, each of which bears no phonetic resemblance to the letters themselves."

So here goes. Or as, Wikipedia puts it, "The madness in full":

● through = 'oo'

● though, dough = 'oh'

● thought, ought = 'aw'

● bough, plough = 'ow'

● rough, enough = 'uff'

● Scarborough = 'uh'

● cough = 'off'

● lough, hough = 'ock'

● hiccough = 'up'

Wikipedia gives a lovely sentence using up all nine pronunciations: "A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed, houghed, and hiccoughed."

Chaka-chaka version

Here's a chaka-chaka version of the Jamaican prayers for those who are completely lost. First, the woman: Do, Massa Jesus! Memba di pickney dem mi a fight up wid. No mek dem get eena no trouble. Yes, Lord. An yu see di bad-breed man mi deh wid. Do, no bother mek nothing happen to im. Bad as tings be, mi woulda never like see im get wat im deserve. Tings nah run so right. But mi ha fi memba weh wi a come from. Im did gi mi some sweet-sweet lyrics when im dida look mi. Mi ha fi tek di good wid di bad.

And then the man: Lord God! Yu see di uman weh yu gi mi fi live wid! Massa Jesus, wa mi do mek yu bring down dat de crosses pon mi? A no lickle try mi try wid di bad-mind uman. Mi memba dem long time aback when mi a put argument to her. Di uman gwaan like seh butter couldn't melt eena her mouth. An now, yu fi hear di breed a cuss she dis a cuss mi. Lord, teck di case an lef di pillow.

Incidentally, 'chaka-chaka' is one of those words in the Jamaican language that comes straight from West Africa. The Dictionary of Jamaican English gives two languages as the possible source: 'Tyaka' in the Ge language and 'tsaka' in Ewe, both meaning 'to mix or to be mixed'. In Jamaican, chaka-chaka now means disorderly, irregular, a perfect description of English spelling.

'Patwa' Bible

God not only speaks Patwa. S/He's writing the Bible in Patwa. The Bible tells us that long ago holy men wrote down what God directed them to write. I keep wondering if no holy women got that message from God. Anyhow, the holy men wrote the Bible, and many of us think it's a direct transcript of God's exact words.

These days, God is again telling holy people to write the Bible; but now in Patwa. I don't particularly like Patwa as the name of our Jamaican language. It's much too generic. I prefer 'Jamaican', which signals cultural specificity. But because 'Patwa' is the popular name of the language, I still use it.

The Bible Society of the West Indies recently published the Book of Luke, translated into Jamaican. The title is Jiizas: Di Buk We Luuk Rait Bout Im (Jesus: Di book Weh Luke Write Bout Im). The book comes with a CD.

The translation has been a long time in the making, and not without resistance in some backward quarters. A lot of pious Christians think that the Patwa Bible project is pure nonsense, if not downright sacrilege. Some of them say they hope Jesus will come again before the task is completed. They fervently believe that Patwa is not holy enough for the Bible. The language is much too vulgar.

Imagine that! Even God speaks Patwa. And ordinary mortals feel they are too good to read the Bible in Patwa. What a thing if and when they get to Heaven! I guess they will ask for a transfer to hell if God should dare welcome them in this way: 'Kom iin, kom iin! Mi glad fi si unu!'

Carolyn Cooper is an ideator. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com/. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.