Thursday, April 17, 2008


I was editing a book about Jamaica today, and in the course of my fact-checking started reading a few pages that discussed Jamaican Patois -- the 'Creole' language spoken to some degree, by a large number of Jamaicans.

Creole languages are fascinating, because at first glance they appear to be fairly simple, just a broken up dialect of standard English (or Spanish, or French.) The more you look at them, however, the more you realise just how little they have to do with English. It's not just the different words, or drastically different pronunciation -- it's the whole syntax, the construction of the language. Creole languages are essentially one language's words with another language's sentence construction. Jamaican Patois, for example, is widely believed to be a mixture of English vocabulary and syntax derived from various west African languages (like Twi, for example, from which it gets the word 'duppy', meaning ghost.)

The best demonstration of how different it is from standard English is by trying to understand the lyrics of Jamaican singers. Not Bob Marley, as generally he sang in slightly rasta-ised English, but someone like Pluto Shervington. 'It's indecipherability is just down to not getting the pronunciation and the recording', you think, but when you read the lyrics you realise that Patois bears about as much of a resemblance to standard English as Dutch, or Chaucer's English.

It's a good song though, about a rasta trying to buy some pork (which is not Ital)


Favourite fact of the day:

-- Cleveland was originally called Cleaveland, but the local newspaper couldn't fit the word on the front page masthead, so Cleveland it is.

Favourite book quote:

-- "As an industrial city, Cleveland had always experienced problems related to pollution. The city hit a low point, however, in the summer of 1969 when the Cuyahoga River, which flows through the city, caught fire."


"God's Turban and Tutu! Do I need a dair of the hog!" - Henry Rawlinson