Jamaica’s Patois (patwa) All The Same, A Dialect Still..

I had a delight­ful yet spir­it­ed con­ver­sa­tion with my beau­ti­ful aunt Sandy who was vis­it­ing New York from Jamaica last Summer, which last­ed all the way as we drove up from Brooklyn to Poughkeepsie.
Aunt Sandy is an edu­ca­tor who lives in Jamaica, she loves her “patios” dear­ly. To be referred to as (pat­wa) from hence­forth.
Me I love my pat­wa equal­ly, but I’m clear-eyed about its lim­i­ta­tions and is some­what hes­i­tant about its poten­tial.
That is not to sug­gest that my dear aunt does­n’t. She just believes that as far as pat­wa goes, it is already where it ought to be and on that, we could not agree.
We are in win­ter now, and after much think­ing and men­tal tur­moil, I am still where I was on our dis­cus­sion.
I still say pat­wa is not a lan­guage but a col­lo­qui­al vehi­cle of com­mu­ni­cat­ing, in oth­er words a dialect.

So I decid­ed to look at the def­i­n­i­tions of both “dialect” and “lan­guage”, so here goes.
Dialect: A region­al vari­ety of lan­guage dis­tin­guished by fea­tures of vocab­u­lary, gram­mar, and pro­nun­ci­a­tion from oth­er region­al vari­eties and con­sti­tut­ing togeth­er with them a sin­gle lan­guage [Merriam Webster]
Makes sense to me since we learned that our beloved native pat­wa had its gen­e­sis in sev­er­al lan­guages, dialects and unique tongues brought over by our enslaved ances­tors which have been fused with the English, Portuguese and oth­er European tongues.

Language: (1a) The words, their pro­nun­ci­a­tion, and the meth­ods of com­bin­ing them used and under­stood by a com­mu­ni­ty.
b(1): audi­ble, artic­u­late, mean­ing­ful sound as pro­duced by the action of the vocal organs
(2): sys­tem­at­ic means of com­mu­ni­cat­ing ideas or feel­ings by the use of con­ven­tion­al­ized signs, sounds, ges­tures, or marks hav­ing under­stood mean­ings.(Merriam Webster)
Okay, so I took the lib­er­ty to high­light a few of the defin­ing words and terms which I believe are ger­mane in dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing between what is stan­dard lan­guage and the less for­mal dialect.

My con­tention is not that pat­wa isn’t to be cher­ished and advanced for what it’s worth. My dis­qui­et with char­ac­ter­iz­ing it as a lan­guage is born out of the belief that it is pre­ma­ture to do so.
Now, I under­stand that emo­tion­al­ism some­times clouds our think­ing and our sense of patri­o­tism gets in the way of ratio­nal eval­u­a­tion at times.
So I’m quite sure that my thoughts on this issue will run afoul of some patri­ots who are hell-bent on main­tain­ing that it is what they say it is because it is patent­ly Jamaican.
Of course, that was not the way my aunt Sandy and I dis­cussed it, we were cor­dial and even jovial even as we dis­agreed vehe­ment­ly.


I have to remind all as I remind­ed aun­tie Sandy, that pat­wa was the col­lo­qui­al means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion by the black, poor­er class of peo­ple in our coun­try.
We who came from the peas­antry were looked down on with scorn and deri­sion because we spoke the way we did by the upper Saint Andrew Gentry.
Until of course many from the peas­antry took advan­tage of edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties and joined the gen­try, or so they thought, smile.
By then the Gentry had become dark­er even if not any less offen­sive.
So, in oth­er words, pat­wa was scoffed at, scorned and ridiculed when the poor­er class of peo­ple used it until the gen­try went through its meta­mor­pho­sis and decid­ed that it was social­ly accept­able.

Now, all of a sud­den because pat­wa has their stamp of approval it is social­ly accept­able.
In oth­er words, it is not fash­ion­able and accept­able unless and until they say it is.

Despite all of that and the fact that I was roy­al­ly pissed at the gen­try dur­ing my pub­lic ser­vice years when they would ask me ” where were you trained”?
(Fake accents includ­ed)
Ha ha, how could a poor boy speak the Queens English so well, your kind clear­ly can only speak the pat­wa!
That is not the rea­son I say our beloved pat­wa is not a lan­guage.
Sure we use it to com­mu­ni­cate among our­selves, and yes, some for­eign­ers are fas­ci­nat­ed with it as they would with a cute lit­tle pup­py.
Nevertheless, each and every per­son who writes it spells the words dif­fer­ent­ly. The sen­tences are con­struct­ed at the whim and fan­cy of the writer and to a cer­tain degree that is a part of the charm of our Jamaican lin­go.
There is no con­sen­sus on how each word is to be spelled and doc­u­ment­ed and used uni­ver­sal­ly.
Because we have not yet for­mal­ized those process­es which are out­lined in the def­i­n­i­tion of lan­guage and because no one but us, plus a few curi­ous tourists under­stand what we are talk­ing about and would not under­stand any of it, even if its writ­ten, by the new gen­try , until then it is a dialect and noth­ing else.
Most impor­tant­ly, it is when we have a stan­dard way of writ­ing, spelling, and under­stand­ing words and are able to be test­ed on them that we are best able to deter­mine whether we are learn­ing what is being taught us.
It is not about each per­son doing his or her own thing his or her own way.
Auntie Sandy and I will agree to dis­agree on this one.