Maybe because it is spoken in an easily accessible country, Jamaican Creole has received a great deal of attention from creolists, perhaps more than any other ELAC (English-lexifier Atlantic Creole).1 The very first international creole conference was held in Jamaica, in 1968.

A Caribbean island nation of 4,240 square miles (ca. 11,000 square kilometres) with a population of nearly three million, Jamaica was originally inhabited by an indigenous Arawak people, the Taino, whose name for their home is recorded as Shamayaka “water country.” When the Spanish arrived in 1509 they began to exterminate the Taino, though some were still living there by the time that the English ousted the Spanish in 1655. Today, there is no distinctive Arawak community. In Puerto Rico and Cuba a Spanish-Taino blend language (inaccurately called “Taino Creole”) is spoken by people of Arawakan descent.

Although Jamaica is sometimes listed as the third largest anglophone nation in the western hemisphere after the USA and Canada, the statement is misleading since, while English is the official language, the one spoken every day throughout the country is Creole, known as Patwa or-increasingly-as Jamaican; Reynolds (2006: ix) calls it Jamic. A useful overview of the country’s linguistic situation is provided in Christie (2003). Patrick (2007) and Farquharson (2013) are short technical linguistic descriptions of the language.

Besides in their homeland, Jamaicans today live in the USA, Canada and Great Britain as well as elsewhere in the Caribbean. Some have gone to live in Ethiopia and France. In England their presence has given rise to a new dialect, where speakers of other West Indian creoles, as well as sections of English youth, may acquire a levelled variety dating from the 1950s, referred to as British Black English or London Jamaican (Sutcliffe, 1982, Sebba 1993, McArthur, 1998, Menz, 2013). Not everybody looks favourably on non-West Indians attempting this way of speaking, however, and refer to it as “Ja-fake-an.”

Like Gullah2 (but unlike for example Sranan3), it exists along a continuum with English, which means that in some areas Jamaican is spoken in a variety maximally remote from English, while in other places Jamaican metropolitan English is spoken with little or no Creole influence. Generally, however, what is heard in daily use is something that can be placed anywhere between the two extremes, no one’s individual way of speaking being fixed to just one particular spot between them. For example, a housewife in Kingston may deny that she can speak or understand Jamaican well, and make sure that she’s always heard in her own social circles speaking English. Her daily help, however, who comes into the city on the bus from the countryside may not have a great command of English, since she doesn’t usually need it or hear it where she lives. But she will try to “metropolitanize”

(i.e. make more English) her Jamaican for the sake of her employer, who at the same time will accommodate her by using what Jamaican she does know-thus the “deepest” Jamaican she can manage may still not intersect with the most anglicized effort of her housekeeper. About a third of the population, a million people, is monolingual in varieties of Jamaican Creole alone.

Since Jamaican and English exist at opposite ends of the unbroken spectrum described here, it’s clear that because of the “shading effect” that links them the two extremes are somehow related. This relationship provides plenty of popular discussion; some regard Jamaican as a kind of English, the way we might see Scottish dialects as kinds of English-for example see Francis-Jackson (2002) or Whittle (2004)-while most linguists classify it as a separate language, because when it comes to determining the relationships that two ways of speaking share, linguists do so on the basis of structure rather than of vocabulary. While English and Jamaican do overwhelmingly have much of their respective lexicons in common, their grammars and semantics (meanings) differ extensively. If we were to classify English solely on the basis of its words, we might have to consider pairing it with French; yet its grammar keeps it firmly in the Germanic camp-which would certainly not apply to Jamaican. The two languages differ in another respect: for English there is no unbroken continuum of ways of speaking having English at one extreme and French at the other, none of the “shading effect” that one finds in Jamaica between Jamaican and English, where we must decide whether what we’re listening to is Jamaican influenced by English, or English influenced by Jamaican. This variation underlies some fundamental considerations, such as what is the “best” Jamaican4, how it should be spelt, how to deal with teaching either language, and so on. Teaching English to ELAC speakers is an increasingly important area of study (see e.g. Walters 1964, Bailey 1966b, Craig 1969, Wight & Norris 1970, Le Page 1981 and Migge et al. 2010).


Jamaican shares the paradox faced by the speakers of most Creole languages: those who speak it best are those least exposed to European languages and culture-and it is one’s familiarity with the latter that has always carried prestige. Those who speak the basilectal (i.e. most creole, least English) Creole invariably maintain deep or “roots” culture as well, the furthest from the imposed colonial norms and thus the least prestigious. This has created a “snobbishness” for some individuals, resulting in their rejection of Jamaican language and culture and their attempts, driven by insecurity, to imitate the speech and behaviour of their British colonizers. One could be accused of trying to speak with a “Haxford hoccent”-i.e. an “Oxford accent,” nevertheless adding h’s and mistakenly modifying the vowels, reflecting Jamaican phonology.

While these attitudes linger, there is a rapidly-growing awareness and acceptance of the fact that Jamaican is a language in its own right, a part of Jamaican identity (see Wassink 1999); nevertheless Sagasta (2013: vi) could still mistakenly write that “most Patwah words are really broken English.” The years since Independence in 1962 have seen plays staged and radio programmes broadcast in it; a dictionary was published in 1980 (Cassidy & Le Page) and the New Testament in 2012. A new dictionary project is underway, and recently the state education system has considered formal instruction in Jamaican, while retaining English as the official language of education and government. The proliferation of popular books by Jamaicans (e.g. Henry & Harris 2002, Reynolds 2006, Blair 2013, Sagasta 2013) and even of foreign language visitors’ guides (e.g. Kühnel 1991) also testify to this positive change.


The origins of Jamaican are a source of contention for creolists. Are its roots in Africa or the Caribbean? The first Africans were brought to the island by the Spaniards, who left them behind when they were ousted by the British. Coming mainly from the Gold Coast they spoke only their own African languages, principally Akan, taking them to their homes in the mountainous interior of the island. Such Maroon (fugitive) populations existed in various other slave-holding colonies as well, including Suriname and North America.

The earliest British attempts to populate Jamaica began in the mid-17th century, when numbers of people from the British Isles settled there either voluntarily-administrators, militia, merchants-or were sent out involuntarily as a labour force, many Scottish and Irish among them. As in the North American colonies, these last were not in sufficient numbers to meet the demand for work, and Africans from other British possessions in the Caribbean began to be brought in from the Lesser Antilles, Barbados especially. In the decade following 1667 when the Dutch took Suriname from the English, most of the latter left that colony for Jamaica, taking with them about a thousand of their slaves, who made up about one tenth of the island’s entire African population at that time. That a remnant of their own Suriname creole might still be found in Jamaica is discussed below.

The earliest samples of Jamaican that we have are not particularly reliable. They were either recorded inaccurately by Europeans who didn’t speak it, or who may have been copying down bits and pieces of the half-learnt English of the African slaves, and not the native Creole of the Jamaicans. In the course of time Jamaican became the language of all sections of the population, European, East Indian and Chinese as well as African.

Some words in Jamaican are so old that they are now obsolete in English, for example tinin ‘made of tin,’ from “tinnen,” bos ‘kiss,’ from “buss” and paravencha ‘maybe,’ from “peradventure.” The early settlers from the British Isles included many who came from Scotland, and Scottish dialect words abound. Some examples are bans (a piipl) ‘crowds (of people),’ belagot ‘a glutton,’ besi ‘a busybody,’ gig ‘a toy hoop,’ kiba ‘cover,’ krabit ‘parsimonious,’ maaga ‘emaciated,’ swag ‘swerve’ and worom ‘worm.’ The African words are extremely numerous, and have been the subject of entire studies (e.g. Mittelsdorf 1978 and Farquharson 2012). Examples are bakra ‘white person’ from Efik or Igbo, dokunu ‘a starchy pudding’ and maki ‘a greeting’ both from Twi, oka ‘boiled cassava flour’ from Yoruba, balafu ‘xylophone’ from Mandinka and nyam ‘eat’ and unu ‘you (plural)’ from various possible African sources. In addition there are some words from Chinese (e.g. piikapo ‘a gambling game,’ mempou ‘bread,’ tang-nyin ‘Chinese person,’ ukwi ‘black person,’), Spanish (e.g. benaka ‘come here’ skaviich ‘method of preparing fish’), Portuguese (e.g. pikni ‘child’), Hindi (e.g. chala ‘go away!) and French (e.g. leginz ‘herbs for seasoning’ and maybe bawu ‘handcart’).


Creole grammar has been called ‘optimal’ grammar, i.e. optimally efficient, because in the course of its formation, what is not needed to be able to communicate is discarded, and what is needed is retained. When groups of people having no language in common are in prolonged contact, the fixed, basic words of one of them-generally the one associated with control of the situation-are remembered and used as something to work with, but not its grammatical endings and other bits that change unpredictably, if you don’t know the grammar (consider for example the endings on e.g. ‘prove’: prove-s, prove-th, prov-ing, prove-d, prove-n, prov-able); since such bound-on endings contain the grammar (for making plurals, tenses, comparisons, adverbs, &c.) but are not acquired, then all of the grammatical relationships that link together the words in a sentence must be handled differently, and this is where creole grammar takes over. As one example, to show the comparison of an adjective English requires the ending -er (thus small, small-er), but in the pidginization process while small gets retained, the -er doesn’t. Most of the West African languages handle comparisons by using the word meaning “surpass,” and this is the consensus that the captives arrived at as their model since the new construction would be familiar to everyone even with English words: “This box is small, surpassing that box.”5

The usual definition of a creole is that it is a pidgin language which has acquired native speakers. Pidginization is what has been described here, since every one of the captives finding himself in this situation had his own native language; the emerging pidgin was a makeshift, created rapidly in extreme circumstances to meet their immediate needs.

Most pidgins disappear once their usefulness is done; but if those who are using it remain together, and cannot be reunited with other speakers of their own language, then the pidgin must continue to serve its purpose, and become better equipped, linguistically, to serve as the sole everyday language. Thus it makes more sense to speak of a pidgin’s stabilizing rather than its necessarily nativizing. For native speakers to begin using it, between two and three years have to pass after initial contact, so we regard stabilization as an adult, second-language-learning process, different from any changes their children subsequently make.

Social history

In the contact situations that create new languages such as Jamaican, social as well as physical factors keep the speakers of the ‘metropolitan’ language (in this case English) separate from those creating the creole. During slavery time, captive Africans speaking many languages found themselves herded together and forever separated from their own language groups. Under such shared conditions, the basic human need to communicate with each other became crucial. Whenever possible (though not always successfully), slaves who spoke the same language were kept apart from each other. In 1689 one seaman, Richard Simson, advised in his journal to collect slaves “of different languages, so that they find that they cannot act jointly,” and in 1744 another, William Smith, wrote that assembling captives that spoke separate languages would ensure that “there will be no more likelihood of their succeeding in a plot [. . . this being] of no small happiness to the Europeans.”

They had little opportunity to learn the language of their captors, who were not dealing with them directly. Instead, they were put under the charge of overseers (on the African coast they were men known as grumettos), who were free wage-earning Africans, acting as middlemen between the Europeans and Afro-Europeans, and the slaves. It was they rather than the enslavers who kept the captives imprisoned in the coastal barracoons and factories before transportation, and it was they who often oversaw the handling of the slaves during the trans-Atlantic voyage (Putney 1987, Bolster 1997, Rediker 2007). Their command of the language of their white and Afro-European employers6 varied; it was not their native speech, but it was the lingua franca of the world they lived in, and was used by these middlemen in their dealings with the captives as well as with the people who paid them. The vocabulary being picked up each day from their grumetto overseers was all that the enslaved men and women had in common, and they had no choice but to use it in order to communicate with each other and with their overseers-and not so that they could speak to their captors.

In the early years slaves were kept waiting on the coast for a year or even longer before shipment across the Atlantic, and then that voyage could last for several weeks. This gave the earliest arrivals plenty of time to acquire a good knowledge of pidgin, and even when the volume and efficiency of the slave trade increased, so that the newly arrived slaves would not have had time to learn it, they still learnt some from the slaves they were put to work with once they reached the Americas. The decline in numbers of locally-born children7 made the continual import of new African slaves necessary to keep the estates viable. The African-born captives were referred to as bozals, and were taught the Creole by those locally-born. Thus the learning process continued to re-shape the language as newcomers continued to arrive. After abolition, Africans (and East Indians) continued to come into the Caribbean, this time as a willing free labour force. Because they were able to maintain their own communities, their languages survived much longer in their new homelands, and some are spoken to this day, or else are only remembered and used in a limited way ritually, to speak to the souls of the ancestors.

Jamaican exists in several mainly regional dialects; grammatical and lexical forms used in one area will differ in another (for example, mi a ron and mi de ron ‘I’m running,’ mi ben sii and mi did sii ‘I saw’); rural speakers retain more strictly creole grammar and African vocabulary. But there is one variety in particular that has caught the attention of both linguists and historians, and that is the dialect used during spirit possession to speak to the souls of recently departed family members. This has been used, presumably exclusively, by members of Maroon communities in the country’s interior, and has therefore been labelled by academics as “Maroon Spirit Language,” though its speakers call it Diip Konchri (‘Deep Country’) talk. The rationale for its use is that in order to speak to members of older generations, they must be addressed using the same speech as themselves, therefore Diip Konchri is characterized by archaic pronunciations, mainly by adding final vowels to words, and by otherwise modifying ‘regular’ Jamaican pronunciation. But it is the existence of a number of words that are not found in the latter, which has puzzled creolists. It has words that are shared with the Sranan spoken in Suriname (such as sa to mark the future construction) and with the Krio spoken in Sierra Leone(such as onti ‘what’, in Krio wɔtin, wetin); it’s equating ‘BE’ verb is na, found in both Sranan and Krio, but like sa and onti, not in regular Jamaican. Did Sranan-speaking slaves bring these features with them when the British left Guiana after 1667? Did all of Jamaican sound like Diip Konchri at an earlier time, and it survives only as a remnant? Or were these conservative forms brought into Jamaica by the Krio-speaking Maroons from Freetown who settled there in the 1840s? Or-a third possibility-is it an entirely local sociolinguistic development? The answer may be a little of each.

Spelling Jamaican

Like most creoles, whenever they have been written down in the past they were spelt according to the rules of their lexifier languages, and even when standard orthographies have been devised, speakers still tend to do so. Thus the word for ‘him’ might be written ’im with an apostrophe to show that the ‘h’ is missing. There is no reason to do this, since the pronunciation is always im and never him8, and even though a standardized system was developed and is used by linguists, the entries in the Dictionary of Jamaican English are in both spellings. The one that is used in the Jamaican New Testament is a slightly modified version of the system developed by the late Frederick Cassidy. This uses the same consonants as English, but indicates the vowels by a, e, i, o and u, three of them lengthened as aa, ii and uu, with ia, ua, uo, ai and ou as diphthongs. Nasal vowels are followed by hn: gwehn ‘going,’ waahn ‘want.’ A quite divergent spelling is found in Chang (2014) and another in Liam Martin’s bible translations (2010).

Characteristics of Jamaican pronunciation include the diphthongs ie and uo, which are also heard in the dialects of British English spoken the West Country, from which area many sailors joined ships leaving Bristol in colonial times, e.g. Devonshire ‘breeak’ and ‘hwome’ (‘break’ and ‘home,’ Jamaican briek, uoom). From the same area, and at one time far more geographically widespread in Britain, are the features of pronouncing initial k’s and g’s as ‘ky’ and ‘gy,’ cf. Somerset ‘cyart,’ ‘geallon’ (‘cart’ and ‘gallon,’ Jamaican kyaa(r)t, gyalin) and of maintaining the a-vowel in such words as ‘walk,’ ‘talk,’ ‘morning’ ‘voice,’ ‘lawyer’ and so on: Jamaican waak, taak, maanin, vais, laia. The pronunciations –kl– and –gl– corresponding to English –tl– and –dl– (bakl ‘bottle,’ migl ‘middle’) appear to be entirely internal developments. Unlike Sranan and Krio, but like English, Jamaican has distinctive vowel length: ship ‘ship,’ shiip ‘sheep,’ kyan ‘can,’ kyaan ‘can’t.’ The most conservative varieties are not ‘rhotic,’ i.e. do not sound an ‘r’ before another consonant or at the end of a word, thus fos(t), (h)ie ‘first,’ ‘hear’-though in urban speech these are likely to be pronounced fors(t) and (h)iir. In older Jamaican this last was yeri, as in Krio and the Surinam creoles.

Jamaican grammar

What is described in this article is the “deep” Jamaican that is mostly heard in rural parts of the country, but it must be kept in mind that it is a composite. The first academic linguistic description of Jamaican Creole was written by Beryl Bailey in 1966, and she was criticized in some quarters by those who maintained that she had abstracted every single creole feature and compounded them into a standardized, but unreal, dialect since nobody spoke that way all the time. Patrick (op.cit., p. 128) has called it a “modern abstraction.” Suffice it to say that all of the features described here do exist and are used daily, but not by every speaker and not all the time. Do we say “I haven’t got any” or “I don’t have any”? “To whom did you speak?” or “Who did you speak to?” Do we pronounce either as “ee-ther” or “eye-ther”? Jamaican is no different.

The following grammatical sketch follows the outline provided for Gullah and Krio in our magazine (Hancock, 2014 and 2016).


Jamaican nouns have one fixed form, which can be singular or plural, thus uman ‘woman, women,’ fut ‘foot, feet.’ Plurality is also indicated by following the noun by dem: uman dem, fut dem, though it becomes redundant if plurality is already evident: trii fut ‘three feet.’

If dem follows someone’s name, it refers to that person’s family or group of friends, thus Jan dem means “John and his friends.’

The word for ‘the’ is invariably di or i, while ‘a’ or ‘an’ is a or wan: di tiicha gi mi a buk fi riid ‘the teacher gave me a book to read,’ im miit wan uman pan i ruod ‘he met a woman on the road.’

Possession is constructed by following the possessor by the possessed, thus ‘the man’s book’ is di man buk. Alternatively, fi- can precede the possessor thus fi di man buk, and in a “possessive absolute” construction the fi is also used: di buk a fi di man ‘the book is the man’s.’


These have verbal function as well as adjectival, discussed under Verbs below. As in English, these precede the noun: wan big ous ‘a big house,’ trii priki gyal ‘three pretty girls.’

Comparative and superlative adjectives follow the English model, i.e. with -a and -is (from -er and -est): big, biga, bigis, one of the few bits of “bound” grammar in the language.

The demonstrative adjectives are dis, da(t) (older dara) and dem, which can combine with ya (here) and de (there): dis-ya, disaya, da-de, dara de, dem ya, dem de.

Dem-ya bwai ‘these boys,’ dem-de gyal ‘those girls.’

The possessive adjectives are mi ‘my,’ yu ‘your (singular), im ‘his, her, its,’ wi ‘our,’ unu ‘your (plural), dem ‘their.’ As with the nouns, these can combine with fi:

Mi ous, fi-mi ous ‘my house,’ unu gyaadn, fi-unu gyaadn ‘y’all’s garden,’ and as with nouns too, fi- forms pronominal possessive absolutes:

Dis ous a fi-mi ‘this house is mine,’ dara gyaadn a fi-unu ‘that garden is y’all’s.’


The subject, object and possessive personal pronouns are mi ‘I, me, my’ yu ‘you, your’ (singular), im ‘he, him, his, she, her, it, its (but ‘it’ is sometimes it or i), wi ‘we, our,’ unu ‘you, your’ (plural), dem ‘they, them, their.’ In less “deep” Jamaican, shi, ar, a (‘she,’ ‘her,’ ‘I’) and other anglicized forms may intrude.

Possessive pronouns may or may not combine with fi: mi ous, fi-mi ous ‘my house;’ the so-called ‘possessive absolutes’ (‘mine,’ ‘yours,’ ‘ours,’ &c.) do take fi, however: dem ya buk a fi-unu ‘these books are y’all’s,’ mek mi put fi-mi de ‘let me put mine there.’

Some other pronouns are smaadi ‘somebody,’ nobari ‘nobody,’ sintn ‘something,’ notn ‘nothing,’ (h)uu-fa ‘whose,’ (h)omoch ‘how many, how much.’

The relative pronoun is we: i man we mi nuo ‘the man that I know,’ i bikl we mi nyam ‘the food that I was eating.’ The ‘complementizer’ that introduces embedded sentences is se: mi ie se yu na waan fi dwiit ‘I heard that you don’t want to do it.’ Both we and se occur in Krio and Gullah, though neither is in Sranan, which had di and taki for these functions).


Adverbs deriving from adjectives (like English ‘quick, quick-ly’) have the same form, their grammatical function being shown syntactically, i.e. by their position in the sentence: i loud pikni dem a plie ‘the loud children are playing,’ i pikni dem a plie loud ‘the children are playing loudly.’ Other adverbs include we, wepaat ‘’where,’ uu, uuda ‘who,’ wa mek ‘why,’ wen, wataim ‘when,’ ou ‘how,’ suun ‘soon,’ no(u)ng ‘now,’ tidie ‘today.’


The infinitive marker is fi (cf. Sranan fu, Krio fɔ, Gullah fə) ‘to:’ fi waak ‘to walk.’ ‘For’ with this function is found in the south-western British dialects, e.g. Somerset summut vor ate ‘something to eat,’ Gloucestershire gie un a book for read ‘give him a book to read.’

The verb alone signifies the past tense or the habitual aspect: mi sii di gyal ‘I saw the girl,’ mi guo a skuul ebri die ‘I go to school every day.’

The past tense is also indicated with ben or wen or men, commonly abbreviated to ’en. In less basilectal speech, did is used (this was the form chosen for the New Testament translation): im ben gi im pikni sinting fi nyam ‘she gave her child something to eat,’ mi wen tel yu aredi ‘I told you already.’

The future is expressed with wi or a go: mi wi dwiit (< du it) ‘I will do it,’ im a go dwiit ‘(s)he is going to do it.’

Action in progress is shown by the word a (in some areas da and de) which comes before the verb, as in the last example. Mi a ron ‘I’m running.’ This combines with (b)en/wen/did thus: Mi ben a ron (en a ron, did a ron, &c.) ‘I was running.’ Completed action is shown with don as in Mi nyam i don ‘I ate it (completely).’

Like Gullah, but unlike Krio or the Suriname creoles, Jamaican incorporates such auxiliary forms as kud, wud, shud, mait (‘could,’ ‘would,’ ‘should,’ ‘might’) which like English can combine with a (‘have’): Mi kud a dwiit ‘I could have done it.’ These have their own negative forms: kudn, wudn, shudn, maitn. Negative verbs otherwise have na: Mi na a ron ‘I’m not running.’

As stated above, adjectives are also verbal, so lang for instance means not just ‘long’ but ‘to be long’: i ruod lang ‘the road is long.’ As such they too take the auxiliaries: i ruod en lang ‘the road was long,’ i kansat a go loud ‘the concert is going to be loud.’

Other forms of “Be”

In English the one verb ‘be’ (i.e. am, is, are, was, were, being) has many different functions. It supports adjectives (‘she is nice’), it supports nouns (‘she is a teacher’), it supports verbs (‘she is running’) and it locates (‘she is here’). In creole grammars generally, these functions are each handled differently.

In the examples above, ‘be’ before adjectives doesn’t occur in Jamaican (im Ø nais). Before nouns, i.e. in an ‘identifying’ function, it is a (or da in some places): (im (da tiicha). The same (d)a as already shown, indicates action in progress (im (d)a ron). The so-called ‘existential’ BE is de (im de ya), as it is in Krio, Gullah and the Suriname creoles as well. All of these are negated with na: im na nais, im na (d)a tiicha, im na a ron, im na de ya.

With its ‘identifying’ function, (d)a can go before question adverbs at the beginning of a sentence, thus a wepaat im de? ‘where is (s)he?, lit. ‘it is where (s)he is?’ Similarly it goes before verbs that are repeated at the beginning of a sentence for emphasis, thus a waak mi waak kom ya, a na ron mi ron, ‘I walked here, (and) not ran,’ lit. ‘it is a walk I walked here, not a run I ran’; a loud yu loud fi chruu! ‘you’re really loud!’ Compare this with Irish English ‘it’s loud you are.’


Another ELAC characteristic is ‘verb serialization,’ most easily explained as the lack of conjunctions where English would have them. Thus “I picked up” the book and took it and gave it to John’ would be Mi pikop i buk kya(r) i gi Jaan. Serialization is regularly a feature with verbs of motion or direction, i gyal ron go de, i bwai ron kom ya (‘the girl ran there,’ ‘the boy ran here’). “Kyari go bring kom” is easily understood as a euphemism to mean ‘gossip.’


Most written Jamaican is not in its most conservative rural varieties but in “mesolectal” styles that include forms that are closer to English. The following texts reflect this. The first, from 1939, is by the well-known raconteuse Inez Sibley, and is from one of her regular columns entitled “Quashie’s Reflections” that appeared regularly in the Kingston Daily Gleaner. The second is a childhood recollection by Llewellyn Adams, like Sibley from the Portland area and probably harking back to the same period. It appears in Adams (1991: 86). The third-more contemporary-extract is part of Shakespeare’s “Seven stages of man” from his As you Like It, Act 2 Sc. 7, translated by Larry Chang (Chang, 2014: 161):

Mi lib a konchri bot mi did mek op mi main fram fos dat mi gwain get di bes luk pan i nyu Gobna, we dem se na gwain ded so iizi. Mi did waan fi tel di odas dat mi a di fos fi sii im, so mi get op aali bifuo son hat, go kech mi jakas fi raid a tong. Wel, wi galang arait tel wi get paatwie pan di ruod, siim laka i jakas tink a maakit mi a go, an wen im sii mi a chrai fi mek im go f(r)da, i danki braps, an im pudong im fut a doti fi chruu. ‘Galang,’ mi se, ‘galang jakas,’ an mi dig im iina im tomok, bot im na fiil i yet, so mi go kot wan big tik.
“I live in the country, but I made up my mind right away that I was going to get the best look at the new Governor, who they say isn’t going to die so easily. I wanted to tell the others that I was the first to see him, so I got up early before the sun got [too] hot, and went and got my donkey to ride into town. Well, we went along okay until we got part way along the road, and it seemed that the donkey thought I was going to market, and when it saw that I was trying to make it go further, the donkey stalled, and put his feet down into the dirt, really. ‘Go on,’ I said, ‘Go on, donkey,’ and I poked him in his belly, but he hadn’t yet felt it, so I went and cut a big stick.”

Wan nait mi a kom, an truu mi stil av di chiga iina mi fut, mi waak; mi no iina di ruod pan i tuon, pan i bruk-tuon we dem pred out pan i, kaa dem a juk, mi waak iina i bankin said. An mi faal dong, brok out aal di tuoniel an di pliet mash, flai ota de kom out a i trie we mi a kyai. I mash bikaa mi faal dong siem plies, so mi ha fi lego di trie fi no lik mi fies a grong. Mi kyach op pan mi han.
(“One night [as] I was coming, and because I still had chiggers in my feet, I walked, not in the road on the stones, the river-stones that they spread out on it because they pierce, [so] I walked on the bank along the edge. And I fell down, broke off all my toenails and the plates smashed, fly[ing] out of the tray that I was carrying. They broke because I fell down in the same place and so I had to let go of the tray so I wouldn’t hit the ground with my face-I stopped myself with my hands”).

Di uol wol a stiej
Ebri man an uman onggl a plie onggl ‘only’
Dem ab wen dem fi lef an wen dem kom iin
An wan man iina fi-im taim plie nof paat nof ‘plenty (of)’
Im ak dem a sebm iej. Fos di biebi
A mumu a chuo-op iina nana an mumu ‘dumb’; chuo-op ‘vomit’
Den, di nenge skuul pikni wid im bag nenge ‘complaining’
An shaini maanin fies, a kraal laik sniel
No waan go a skuul. An den i miet
A sai laka fornis, wi sapsi chuun sapsi ‘sad, miserable’
Mek a fi’m mieti yaibrou. mieti ‘lover; mistress’
(All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow).


  1. Creolists also group creoles as FLACs (French-lexifier Atlantic Creoles), FLIOCs (French-lexifier Indian Ocean Creoles), ELPCs (English-lexifier Pacific Creoles), PLACs (Portuguese-lexifier Asian Creoles) and so on.
  2. Gullah is described in the No. 9 issue of Kreol (Hancock 2014).
  3. Sranan is spoken in Suriname, and will be described in a forthcoming issue of Kreol Magazine.
  4. Those overseeing the Jamaican New Testament decided upon did rather than ben or (w)en as the preferred standardized past-tense marker and ar ‘her’ rather than im for example, both choices characteristic of styles more influenced by English. Some educators argue that the less like each other English and Creole are, the easier it is to keep them distinct from each other and avoid cross-interference.
  5. This particular construction did not become a part of Jamaican grammar.
  6. Elsewhere I have posited the existence of a local variety of what I’m calling ‘Coast English,’ – an interim stage between the speech of the ships and the emergence of the new creoles. It is hypothesized to have resulted from the domestic unions between English-speaking seamen and their African wives, acquiring new, non-nautical vocabulary from the various English dialects and local languages, and being modified in its role as a second language by its African speakers. It was not a new Creole language during this stage, but an attenuated local variety (or varieties) of English.
  7. The traumatic experience of being torn from one’s homeland and family, the horrific conditions of being shipped and sold and the sometimes barbaric treatment of the women caused many to become infertile. Some estates relied on the steady shipment of new slaves to prevent their collapsing altogether from lack of numbers.
  8. The initial H may be heard in emphatic speech, but may also be heard in emphatic pronunciations of words that never had an H, e.g. haaks ‘ask.’

Works referenced

  1. Adams, L. Emilie, 1991. Understanding Jamaican Patois. Kingston: LMH Publishing.
  2. Bailey, Beryl, 1962. A Language Guide to Jamaica. New York: Research Institute for the Study of Man.
  3. Bailey, Beryl, 1966a. Jamaican Creole Syntax: A Transformational Approach. London: Cambridge UP.
  4. Bailey, Beryl, 1966b. “Some problems involved in the language teaching situation in Jamaica,” in Roger Shuy, ed., Social Dialects and Language Learning (Champaign: NCTE), pp. 105-111.
  5. Bailey, Beryl, 1968. Jamaican Creole Language Course. Washington: US Peace Corps.
  6. Bennett, Louise, 1966. Jamaica Labrish. Kingston: Sangster’s.
  7. Blair, Teresa P., 2013. A-Z of Jamaican Patois (Patwah): Words, Phrases and How We Use Them. Bloomington: Author House.
  8. Bolster, W.J., 1997. Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  9. Cassidy, Frederic, 1961. Jamaica Talk. London: Macmillan.
  10. Cassidy, Frederic & Robert B. Le Page, 1967. Dictionary of Jamaican English. London: Cambridge UP.
  11. Chang, Larry, 2014. Biesik Jumiekan. Washington: Gnosophia Publishers.
  12. Christie, Paula, 2003. Language in Jamaica. Kingston: Arawak Publications.
  13. Craig, Dennis, 1969. An Experiment in Teaching English: A Development of Teaching Methods among Primary School Children in the West Indies. Southwick: Caribbean Universities Press.
  14. Cundall, Frank, 1919. “The migration from Surinam to Jamaica,” Timehri: Journal of the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana, 6(3): 145-172.
  15. D’Costa, Jean & Barbara Lalla, 1989. Voices in Exile. Tuscaloosa: Alabama UP.
  16. DJB, 2012. Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment. Westlea: Bible Society Resources, Ltd.
  17. Durrleman-Tame, Stephanie, 2008. The Syntax of Jamaican Creole. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  18. Farquharson, Joseph T., 2012. The African Lexis in Jamaican: its Linguistic and Sociohistorical Significance. Doctoral thesis, The University of the West Indies, Mona.
  19. Farquharson, Joseph T., 2013. “Jamaican,” in Suzanne Michaelis et al., The Survey of Pidgin and Creole Languages, Oxford: Oxford UP, Vol. I, pp. 81-91.
  20. Francis-Jackson, Chester, 2002. A Guide to Jamaican Dialect. Kingston: LMH Publishers.
  21. Hancock, Ian, 2014. “Creoles in Texas,” Kreol 9:44-48 and 11:70-81.
  22. Hancock, Ian, 2016. “Krio.” Kreol, to appear.
  23. Henry, Mike & K.S. Harris, 2002. LMH Official Dictionary of Popular Jamaican Phrases. Kingston: LMH Publishing.
  24. Kühnel, Annette, 1991. Patois für Jamaika. Bielefeld: Rump Verlag.
  25. Le Page, Robert B., 1960. Jamaican Creole. London: Macmillan.
  26. Le Page, R.B., 1981. Caribbean Connections in the Classroom . . . Language Problems of Children of Afro-Caribbean Descent. York: The Mary Glasgow Language Trust.
  27. Martin, Liam, 2010. De Holy Biebl: a Jamaikian Vosian. New York: Tropical English.
  28. McArthur, Tom, 1998. “British Black English.” Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. London: Oxford University Press.
  29. Menz, Jessica, 2013. London Jamaican. Munich: GRIN Verlag.
  30. Migge, Bettina, Isabelle Léglise & Angela Bartens, 2010. Creole Languages in Education. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  31. Mittelsdorf, Sybille, 1978. African Retentions in Jamaican Creole. Doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University.
  32. Patrick, Peter, 1999. Urban Jamaican Creole. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  33. Patrick, Peter, 2007. “Jamaican Patwa (Creole English),” in John Holm & Peter L. Patrick, eds., Comparative Creole Syntax. London & Colombo: Battlebridge Publications, pp. 127-152.
  34. Putney, Martha S. 1987. Black Sailors. New York: Greenwood Press.
  35. Rediker, Marcus, 2007. The Slave Ship: a Human History. London: Penguin Books.
  36. Reynolds,Dennis J., 2006. Jabari: Authentic Jamaican Dictionary of the Jamic Language Waterbury: Around the Way Books.
  37. Russell, Thomas, 1868. The Etymology of Jamaican Grammar. Kingston: Decordova & MacDougall.
  38. Sagasta, Laxleyval, 2013. The Original Jamaican Patois. Parker: Outskirts Press.
  39. Sibley, Inez K., 1939. Quashie’s Reflections. Kingston: Bolivar Press.
  40. Sebba, Mark, 1993. London Jamaican: Language Systems in Interaction. London: Longman.
  41. Sutcliffe, David, 1982. British Black English. London: Blackwell.
  42. Walters, Elsa H., 1964. Learning to Read in Jamaica. Mona: Centre for the Study of Education.
  43. Wassink, Alicia, 1999. “Historic low prestige and seeds of change: attitudes towards Jamaican Creole,” Language in Society, 28(1): 57-92.
  44. Whittle, Patricia, 2004. An Anthology of Jamaican Dialect Poems. Kingston: Arawak Publications.
  45. Wight, J., & R.A. Norris, 1970. Teaching English to West Indian Children. London: Methuen Educational.