Jamaican Patois Edition

Language is always evolving, and the direction of a language’s evolution is a function of its users. In Jamaica this meant, first, the development of a creole by West African slaves after British rule in the 17th century; and, secondly, with the island’s population being majority Black since the 1670s, said creole’s growing into an unofficial national language.

Because it was based on a White man’s language, and Whiteness had long been associated with high social status, Jamaican patois was traditionally looked down upon as a failure to attain the White Englishman’s educational standards.

This, however, is changing (at least in Jamaica), and linguists at the University of the West Indies in Kingston have been working on a translation of the Bible into Jamaican patois. The hope of supporters is officially to legitimise the creole as an authentic language in its own right.

The results are striking. What follows is from Luke’s Gospel—or, in patois, Jiizas—di buk we Luuk rait bout im:

Original: ‘And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.”’

Patois: ‘De angel go to Mary and say to ‘er, me have news we going to make you well ‘appy. God really, really, bless you and him a walk with you all de time.’

The BBC report on this development includes a film where a Jamaican cleric frames this in nationalist terms. His easy switch from patois to Standard English, from illiterate to literate English, as if they were different languages, is rather odd.

Jamaican patois’ literary pretensions may represent a more advanced stage in a development that has occurred in other former colonies.

In Singapore the local creole is known as Singlish. It is an accretion of words originating from English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, and, to a lesser extent, various other European, Indic, and Sinitic languages, with television-derived American and Australian slang thrown in for added global spice. Singlish is disglossic, meaning it has high (acrolectic) and low (basilectic) variants. The former is most similar to Standard English, the latter appears almost like a foreign language: compare ‘This person’s Singlish is very good’ with ‘Dis guy Singrish si beh zai sia.’

In Malaysia the English-based creole is called—somewhat appropriately—Manglish. The creole shares roots with Singlish, and West-coast Manglish is nearly identical to the former.

Closer to home, in the United Kingdom there is Hinglish (Hindi + English), which is spoken both in India and in the United Kingdom. Its usage in Britain is so widespread that some years ago Collin’s published a humorous dictionary, titled The Queen’s Hinglish, How to Speak Pukka.

Hinglish is not like Jamaican patois, Haitian creole, or Singlish, but operates more like Spanglish, with borrowed words thrown into the base language and occasionally rearranged grammar. Hinglish words include: airdash (travel by air), chaddis (underpants), chai (Indian tea), crore (10 million), dacoit (thief), desi (local), dicky (boot), gora (white person), jungli (uncouth), lakh (100,000), lumpen (thug), optical (spectacles), prepone (bring forward), stepney (spare tyre) and would-be (fiancé/e).

Sensing the rage of White citizens and the existential threat it poses to the status quo, British politicians have sought to keep the chanko stew in the multicultural pressure cooker from exploding through feinted acts of appeasement—purely cosmetic, if not outright deceptive, ‘changes’ in immigration policy. In the minds of many mainstream White politicians, immigration is inevitable, necessary, and will not fundamentally affect the power balance in the country. And in the minds of some such politicians, immigration might alter the outward complexion of the country, but will not change its fundamental values or institutions—Blacks and Asians will become ‘White’ inside. Thus, any rage coming from within the indigenous White majority (‘racism’ in the PC dictionary) is a nuisance that needs to be managed and controlled until ‘education’ and exposure eliminates it in time.

Yet, based on the experience of former colonies, a fundamental alteration of the ethnic and racial composition of the citizenry in the European territories now being colonised by settlers from Asia, Africa, an the Caribbean, will bring along with it the long-term decline of Standard English and the rise of creole variants, which, may in due course obtain official legitimation. In this sense, Jamaica may be affording us a preview of Europe’s future, rather than another emblem of the island’s further divergence from Britain and convergence with West Africa.

In this scenario, the traditional upper classes in Britain would gradually change complexion, becoming progressively Asian and Muslim. Whiteness retaining its link with high status would prescribe a period of mimesis, where the new upper class would initially use a variant of Standard English as a class demarcator. In time even this Standard English will likely be seen as an obsolete vestige from a superseded past under White hegemony. It will likely be said that ‘no one speaks like that anymore’, the same way that no American politician today sounds like Woodrow Wilson in 1912, William Taft before him, or William McKinley in 1896. The same way that the BBC abandoned Queen’s English, even a creolised form of our Standard English will give way to a full creole.

This is not to say that what we call Standard English would remain static in a scenario where Europeans regain control of their destiny. The various spelling reform efforts in English predate the era of mass immigration, and scientific and technological advances, along with the social structures and behaviours that they give rise to, are constantly adding terminology to our dictionaries. New words have legitimately entered the English language from non-Indo-European sources via, for example, American, South African, and Australian English. Language is and should be constantly evolving. The question here is how ours is likely to evolve, who it is that will influence its evolution, and for what reasons.