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): a 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.