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Miss Lou Lauded For Use Of Jamaican Creole

Published:Monday | July 25, 2016 | 12:00 AMCurtis Campbell
Hope ... I believe she (Miss Lou) was able to use patwa in the way she did and be generally accepted because she was always viewed as performing.
The Honourable Louise Bennett-Coverley O.M.

Miss Lou is regarded by many as one of the stalwarts of Jamaican culture, and is credited for her boldness as it relates to speaking the Jamaican Patois in all settings, as if to set the blueprint for others to follow. However, a decade since her passing, Patois is still frowned upon in some cases, as there are those who are still of the opinion that Patois is the language of the have-nots.

According to cultural analyst and senior lecturer Dr Donna Hope, Miss Lou was not viewed as a common Jamaican by society; therefore, she was given a dialect pass which has not been extended to the average citizen.

"Miss Lou made a name for herself as a performer and poet who used Jamaican Creole, what we call Patwa (Patois). I believe she was able to use Patwa in the way she did and be generally accepted because she was always viewed as performing. So, every opportunity that she got to use Patwa and every time she used it, it was treated as a kind of special performative moment - not as a generally accepted rule," said Hope.




Nevertheless, Hope believes Miss Lou's contribution to Jamaican language is invaluable. However, she is uncertain if Patois will ever be accepted by the ruling class, except during moments of convenience, such as political campaigns.

"Her work with Jamaican language is valuable because it puts the nation-language that everyone grows up with at the forefront of her dialogue, poetry and general activity, and so gave it a wider latitude than had been allowed before. Jamaica is a classicist society and different markers are used to assign class and status to people. Those who are able to speak 'good' English and Patwa are higher on the social totem pole than those who are only able to speak in Patwa," she said.

Hope also highlighted the fact that Jamaican Creole has been breaking through overseas. Notably, there have been breakthroughs like the Patois dictionary and the Patois Bible.

"Jamaican Creole is now being taught in a couple universities abroad because 'things Jamaican' and Jamaican cultural products are at a high value point outside of Jamaica. Our culture (music, dance, language, cuisine) is very attractive and some aspects of it are being traded and appropriated in different ways by different people. But we have our own social and status patterns that have yet to accede to this kind of updated cultural 'revaluation' of what we consider 'ordinary' at best, or lower class at worst," she said.