Jamaica’s official language is English, but we also speak Jamaican or Patois (or Patwa) - a colorful, descriptive and emphatic creole dialect that has been shaped by our African, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English colonial heritage. A beautiful symbol of our resilience, patois is the crafting of the expressions of a people, forced into a society with a different language, to express themselves in their own way, and to give meaning to it.
Today, speaking Patois fills us with immense pride, as it has become a symbol of our vibrant Jamaican culture, recognized and cherished across the globe. At the forefront of this movement was the renowned poet, the Honorable Dr. Louise Bennett-Coverly, affectionately known as Miss Lou, considered to be the mother of Jamaican culture. Her influential works have allowed Patois to transcend barriers, captivating hearts both locally and internationally. Her tireless efforts have played a pivotal role in establishing Patois as an integral part of our nation's language. Today Patois has been incorporated it into academic linguistic programs, offering formal education in our cherished language, further solidifying the significance and enduring legacy of Patois in Jamaican society.
The indomitable spirit of reggae music, carried forward by iconic figures like Bob Marley have propelled Patois into the mainstream, permeating every corner of the world. Even today, the Jamaican language is constantly evolving, heavily influenced by dancehall culture. Be sure to keep on top of the latest trends to keep up with us!
Accented by our signature lilting sing-song style of speaking, Jamaicans are easily recognized by our language world-wide. We are a passionate people, and so you can often hear us speak Patois when we can get loud and animated, especially at sporting events or when engaged in lively bar or "verandah chat", usually involving our favourite topics - the news, politics, sports or religion.
Talk like a Jamaican
With a lot of gestures and inflections behind our words, it can be hard to pick up on what we’re saying at first, since it all comes at you so fast. Different regions within the island have their own accents and words too, but you'll be alright if you ask the speaker to slow things down a bit. You might even get an impromptu lesson in how to speak Jamaican!
Immerse yourself in the culture where language unites and celebrates the vibrant diversity of our nation and talk to Jamaicans wherever you go! You will be sure to learn some Patois before returning home, if you ever do. You will be sure to pick up some phrases like Wha' gwaan? (What's going on?) or greetings like Bless up. Hurry and come back to adventurous in Jamaica. Soon, you will be talking like a Jamaican too.
Learn a few of our favorite words and phrases to really get you in the vibe for a Jamaican trip. They can only come in handy here, too.
Wha’appen? (What’s up?) - greeting used among friends.
Nuff (Plenty) - used to represent volumes…of just about anything; also to describe an overbearing personality, e.g. “Memba fi buy nuff tings” at the craft market (Remember to buy lots of things); “How da gyal so nuff?” (Why is that girl so overbearing?)
Bashment (Excitement/Party) - used as a noun, adjective, adverb, e.g. “Mi a go a ‘bashment’” (I am going to an exciting event), “Im roll up inna one bashment car” (He arrived in an impressive vehicle), “What a bashy piece a outfit yu wearing!” (The outfit you’re wearing is gorgeous!)
Rhaatid! (Wow!) - used as an expression, adjective or to intensify, e.g. “Rhaatid, di gate drop down” (Wow, the gate fell), “She get a rhaatid lick” (She got a bad hit), “A figet di mango to rhaatid” (Oh no! I forgot the mango).
Walk Good (Good bye, take care, safe travels) - departing salutation, issued with good wishes.
Anancy (Anansi): The principal character in many Jamaican folk tales, Anancy, a spider, is shrewd and cunning. The name is now generally used for a spider.
Bammy: Flat round ‘pancake-looking’ bread made from grated cassava from which the bitter juice has been extracted.
Bankra: Basket made from straw or wicker.
Blabba mout: Person who talks too much.
Cho-Cho: Small pear-shaped vegetable often cream or green in color also known as chayote.
Criss: Jamaican expression meaning “Pretty;” “fine;” or “okay.”
Finnicky: Flighty; jumpy.