Communication in Jamaica
If you will be traveling to Jamaica, you don’t have to worry about learning a new language. English has been the official language since the 17th century in Jamaica. You may, however, have to learn how things are said, and be able to understand fairly heavy accents. Jamaican English pronunciation and meaning is very different from American English.
While English is the official language, you will also hear a special language known as Jamaican Patois. Patois is an African/English based language. Patois is pronounced as Patwa. This language was developed by Slaves from Africa when the British first started bringing them to the Caribbean. Patois is also a language that is still developing, and today, it is not only spoken, but it is also a written language. It has become an official part of the African Heritage.
Even though Patois is not standard English, you should still be able to communicate effectively, if you listen closely. Dat is translated to That in English. Da or De is translated to The. Tree is translated to Three. To understand what is being said, it is important to listen to the whole sentence.
Also note that unlike English, Patois does not really pay attention to past and present tense. For a Patois speaking Jamaican to say ‘He Said’ he would say ‘He say.’ Furthermore, the use of Patois may be greater in some areas of Jamaica, while it is used less in other areas of the country.
Some words are perfectly clear and understandable, and based on old English are correct in terms of Standard English in reference to what they mean. For instance, a married woman is a Mistress in Jamaica, not a woman who is having an affair with a married man, as it would mean in Standard English. A jug might be a glass or pitcher.
Mawning means Morning, or Good Morning. Whey you come from means Where are you from. How you di do means How are you. Whe yu name means What is your name. A whe yu a go means Where are you going.
Again, listen to the whole sentence to determine what is being said. Even if you can’t understand all of the words, you should be able to pick out enough words to determine what is actually being said or asked.
Jamaicans love to talk! They like debates, verbal games, and often use proverbs to make a point. Part of your Jamaican adventure should include many conversations with the locals. Not only will you learn a great deal, the wording and the accents are pleasant to listen to, and often even amusing.
When talking to Jamaicans, don’t stand too close! They are very animated, and tend to ‘talk with their hands.’ They also get very excited, which in turn may cause them to increase in volume. This doesn’t mean that they are upset, however, in most cases. Also note that you don’t have to speak Patois to be understood. Jamaicans generally understand American English quite well.