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Free Language Lessons

Jamaica Culture - Jamaican Language Lesson
By:Allison Morris

In Jamaica, culture surrounds you. With every step you take there is some aspect of our lifestyle that reminds you that you're in Jamaica. Our food, our music, our dance, how we walk, even how we drive. But more than anything else, our inimitable language is everywhere.

Our language is most commonly known as patois (patwah), but is also called Jamaican dialect or Jamaican
English. Our official language is English. When I was growing up, people who spoke mostly patois were said to "chat bad". The perspective has changed somewhat in the last 20 years. Patois is more recognized as a language in its own right, and not as merely broken English. Without a doubt, some of the words are English derived, but there are many African words as well.

Jamaican language can be very direct. Some expressions leave no doubt as to their meaning. For example, a "belly skin" blouse, is one that exposes your midriff. And given that the word for bottom is "batty", it's only natural that a pair of very short shorts is known as a "batty rider"! We also tend to describe our body parts very literally. We say "hand middle", meaning the palm of the hand, and "foot bottom", meaning the sole of the foot.

And then there are our double words. We often use the same word twice, especially when we want to emphasise something:

-Chat chat - very talkative, indiscreet (Yu cyaan tell har nuttn, she too chat chat! -
You can't tell her anything, she talks too much!)
-Deggeh deggeh - an insignificant amount (All yu bring fi mi is one deggeh deggeh mango? -
All you brought me is this one mango?)
-Fool fool - exceedingly stupid (What a bwoy fool fool! - What a stupid boy!)

Let me give you a quick grammar lesson. Here are a few parts of speech:

-Crawp - scrape
-Nyam - eat
-Kin teet - grin
-Lef - leave
-Jook - prod, poke, prick


-Ginnal - trickster, deceitful person
-Macca - thorn
-Bulla - insult, also refers to a heavy, sweet bread
-Pickney - child
-Smaddy - somebody


-Fenkeh fenkeh - weak, substandard
-Fraidy fraidy - cowardly
-Red eye - covetous, grudgeful
-Dutty - dirty
-Faas - inquisitive

Adverbs (I think)

-Weh - where
-Wha mek - why

For the non-Jamaicans, let's see how good you are. I'm going to write a few sentences using some of the words listed above, plus a few others. Can you figure out what they mean? For the Jamaicans, see if you can do a less awkward translation than mine!

1) Watch weh yu a walk - mine di macca jook yu!
2) Wha mek yu a kin yu teet so?
3) Lef mi, nuh!

How did you do? Here's a rough translation. (They sound kind of clumsy in English.)

1) Watch where you walk - take care that the thorns don't stick you!
2) Why are you grinning like that?
3) Leave me alone!

It's one thing to learn the words, it's quite another to pronounce them correctly. Some people spend years trying and never get it right. So don't get discouraged if your new found language skills are laughed at. Even if we roll on the ground when you say "Yeah Mon", don't take it to heart. It's all good. After all - it's Jamaica culture!

Allison Morris' website about St. Elizabeth, Jamaica is also a storehouse of information about Jamaican culture. Visit this entertaining and information-packed site at http://www.real-jamaica-vacations.com.

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