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The Patois Perspective

By Manal Rajan

Patois is the official language spoken in Jamaica. It is a dialect derived from English and Creole. It originated in the 1800s, a time when Jamaica was a colony of ruling European empires. First occupied by the Spanish, Jamaica was later taken over by the British who developed sugar cane plantations across the island. African slaves were imported by the British as labourers to serve on these plantations during this time. Majority of the slaves that were brought to Jamaica originated from the Western Coast of Africa, which influenced the development of the language.

One of the key tactics used by slaveholders to maintain control over the growing population was to divide and rule. This meant that upon arrival on the island, individuals were separated from members of their family and community. This was done to prevent any possible uprising by the slave populations. Given the diversity in culture and language among African communities, this meant that slaves on a single plantation often did not speak the same language. Patois was thus developed as a means of communication among the slave populations that differed from what was spoken and understood by their Masters.

Below is a list of a few popular Patois phrases:

  • What’s up? – Wah gwaan, Whappen, Whe yu a seh?

  • Everything is good – Mi deh yah, Everyting criss

  • I Will Be Right Back – Mi Soon Come

  • To Eat – Nyam

  • Jamaica – Jamrock, Jamdown, Yard

  • Friend – Bredren (male), Sistren (female)

  • Well Done – Big up! Respect!

  • I understand – Zeen

  • Over there – Ova deh

  • What Are You Up To? – Wha Yuh Deh Pon?

Despite a lot of similarities in words between English and Patois, the Jamaican pronunciation of words is quite different. This was a big part of the learning experience when we first arrived on the island. And now, 6 months later, Zeen.

Manal Rajan was working as a Health Administrator intern with Jamaica Family Planning Association/FAMPLAN in St. Ann’s Parish, Jamaica.


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