Perhaps you heard Jamaicans talking and you just absolutely fell in love with the language. You probably didn’t understand a word they were saying, but the accent made it seem interesting.
Many people desire to learn Patois, but even the majority of the speakers of the language do not know the rules, and so are unable to explain them to a non-Patois speaker. At best, they can translate words or phrases, but may be at a loss to explain the basic Patois grammar rules.
Most people assume that Patois is just broken English, but many of the words are derived from other languages. Jamaica is considered a melting pot of cultures; Patois is no different. Also, there are different dialects, accents, and words used based on the part of the island that the speaker is from.
So, what are some of these rules that will make it easier to learn Patois, without having to depend on a phrase by phrase translation of the language? I will now proceed to explain some of the very basic rules, but bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive, so I may add more in the future. I will also compile a list of English words and their Patois equivalent in a future related post.
Patois words are never pluralized. The singular form of the word is always used sometimes with the aid of another word or two. Here are some examples:
- The mangoes……………The mango dem
- The men…………………..The man dem
- The books…………………The book dem
- The children…………….The pickney dem
- The girls……………………The gal/girl dem
For the examples above, there are a few things to note. I choose to use ‘the’ instead of the Patois word ‘di’ or ‘de’. I hope that makes it easier to understand the rule without placing too much effort of the spelling or pronunciation at this time. The word ‘dem’ is the Patois form of the word ‘them’, which signifies that the subject is plural.
Two simple translations using Example 1 are:
(a)The mangoes are ripe……..The mango dem ripe.
(b) I love mangoes……..Me love mango.
Also, it is very unusual to use certain English words. Note, that instead of saying ‘child’ in Example 4, I used the word ‘pickney’.
Patois words are never in the past tense or past participle forms of verbs. Everything is said using the present tense and possibly a few helping words. Here are some examples:
- I ate my lunch……………Me eat me lunch.
- I am eating my lunch………Me a eat me lunch.
- I will eat my lunch…………Me a go eat me lunch.
- I have eaten my lunch…….Me did eat me lunch.
- I went to school yesterday…..Me go school yesterday.
- I am going to school………..Me a go school.
- I had gone to school………..Me did go school.
As I mentioned before, I am choosing not to focus on the spelling and pronunciation of the Patois words in this lesson. It is also interesting to note that Patois is similar to English in that there is a standard, non-standard and slang version. All Jamaicans speak Patois, but for those in the upper class or more educated sect, they rarely revert to the slang version, except maybe in the privacy of their homes. Different versions of Patois are also spoken in formal and informal settings.
For instance, in Jamaica, a child at school while talking to a teacher might not use standard English. However, he will attempt to be more ‘proper’ with his teacher than with his friends. For example, if he wanted to tell her that the girls are outside, he might say…..”The girl dem outside.” Now if he was saying the same thing to a friend, he would say…..”Di gal dem outside.” Note that he used the word ‘girl’ when talking to his teacher instead of the slang word ‘gal’.
Parents also prefer children to use some words instead of others. A few days ago, my nephew was explaining to us that his cousin had eaten a snack. He said…”Najay nyam off di snack.” My mother was quite upset. She wanted him to use the word ‘eat’ instead of the slang word ‘nyam’. While simply changing the word ‘nyam’ to the word ‘eat’ didn’t completely make the sentence a ‘proper’ English sentence, she felt more at ease.
Once you begin to understand the rules of the Patois language, I am sure you will become a pro in no time! It is really a fun language and it is also a great way to impress your friends. Patois is just one aspect of the vibrant Jamaican culture. There is so much more to learn and explore!
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