Sun | Oct 25, 2020

Patois is a language

Published:Thursday | November 14, 2019 | 12:00 AM


I write to reassure sceptics that Jamaican Patois is a language and its speakers have a right to government services in their native language.

Rather than delving into the sociolinguistic weeds as to why Jamaican Patois is a language, I have summarised some of the grammatical rules of Patois so that those who think Patois is just a hodgepodge of a ‘dialect’ can think again.

The plural in Jamaican Patois is made by adding the suffix ‘dem’ to the singular noun, unlike English and other languages, where the letter ‘s’ is added to the noun to pluralise, though there are exceptions, like a ‘child’ becoming ‘children’ in the plural. So, in Jamaican Patois no ‘s’ is added, rather, a suffix ‘dem’ so that one would say the book-dem, car-dem, man-dem, cloud-dem, teacher-dem, etc.

There is no noun-verb agreement in Jamaican Patois like in English, where I ‘bake’ a cake, but he, she, it ‘bakes’ a cake. In Jamaican Patois, no ‘s’ is added for the third person singular as is done when conjugating English regular verbs. So in Jamaican Patois, the woman bake a cake, the girl bake a cake, with no ‘s’ as in English.

Jamaican Patois

In English, in the simple past tense of the verb ‘to be’, all pro(nouns) take ‘was’, with the exception of ‘we’ and ‘they’, which take ‘were’. In Jamaican Patois, there is no distinction – I, he, she, they, we, all take the word ‘was’, with no provision for the plural pronouns taking ‘were’.

Despite my understanding of Jamaican Patois as a separate language, I am fully aware that Jamaican Patois is still stigmatised, especially in social situations. It is almost as if one is being judged for having grown up in an ‘English-speaking country’ without having come to terms with or grasped the official language. I believe that the elevation of Jamaican Patois to official status would remove the linguistic confusion of many so-called English speakers who read news replete with grammatical errors every night on television.

Martha Brae