Understanding The Jamaican Language

Learning and understanding the Jamaican language is easy. The primary language spoken in Jamaica is English. However, Jamaicans also speak a dialect called Patois (Patwah). Patois is a sweet sounding broken English which we often heard mimicked in movies such as “Cool Runnings”. A famous slang we often hear in movies, reggae songs and from Jamaicans would be: “Yeah Man”. The Jamaican dialect is one of the most romantic of dialects among countries such as France, Italy, and England. Many know of our popular reggae singer Bob Marley who mainly spoke the dialect and universalized our tongue.

The tiny Island of Jamaica has three counties and within these counties there are 14 parishes. The most popular of 14 parishes are St. Ann (Ocho Rios), St. James (Montego Bay), Kingston and Westmorland (Negril). In every parish the dialect carries a different sound. Some you may not even understand depending on the speed of talk and the tone. Here is an example. A simple illustration is as follows. For the phrase, “how are you”, you may hear variations such as “Whaapen”, “How yuh duh”, “Ev’ry ting a’right”, and more.

The great thing about Jamaica is that every Jamaican is taught English Language in school and even though they may not choose to speak the language properly, they understand it and for the most part can speak it well; hence communicating with a Jamaican is a very easy process. The Jamaican school system gives Jamaicans an opportunity to learn other languages. Two of the most popular languages taught are French and Spanish. Some Jamaicans with a high school and university education are fluent in speaking French and Spanish.

If you are speaking to a Jamaican and you do not understand what is being said, do not be afraid to ask them to slow down. They will not be embarrassed. They will slow down, they might even mimic your accent to help you understand them better. (This I find very funny).

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