Jamaican Language - Patois
the voice of the island
Meet us at the corner shop on a Sunday evening and you’ll hear lavish stories of years gone by, spoken in the rhythmic sing-song of our native tongue, patois.
Fret not if you see two Jamaicans in dialogue – loud and animated with hands flying all around. Chances are, it is not a disagreement, though so it would seem to be. Jamaican ‘patois’ is expressed as much through gesture and drama as tone and rhythm. It is the way a very passionate people share ideas and feelings. So much more than a means of communication, the language emerged as the expression of a unique and proud people.
Patois emerged from the languages of those who came to the island. Centuries later what we have is a colorful lingo spoken by a people with a gift for vivid imagery, ridicule and irony, down-to-earth humor and bawdy cuss-words. A creative intermingling of words which primarily have their roots in the English, French and the African tongues.
Patois can be simple to understand if you take the time to listen. The words often come fast when the speaker is excited, but once you have a general conversation going, the words come much slower and are simpler to grasp.
The trick is to get a few key words and phrases correctly. Many words and phrases are unique to Jamaica. When in Jamaica you “nyam” (eat) your “bickle” (food) and “labrish” (gossip) with friends. “Jam” (hang out) on the beach with your “likkle boonoonoonous” (someone you love) or “bush-out” (dress up), “touch di road” (leave your house) and “go sport” (socialize). In the market, you’re sure to get “brawta” (a little extra) with any purchase.
The structure of the language also has some unique elements where we tend to drop the “r” at the end of words, so that “dollar” becomes “dolla” and “water” becomes “wata."
Double “t’s" within words become double “k’s," changing “little” to “likkle” and “bottle” to “bokkle." We often add or subtract “h” at will so that when you “harrive” at your “otel," “heverybody” will tell you “ello.” For simplicity, men and women both become “im” or “dem."
Enjoy “Ital stew” (salt-free, Rastafarian vegetarian dish) and a good “reasoning” (discussion) with your Jamaican “Idren” (friends). “Skank” (rock to Reggae music) at a local “dance” (street party) and drink a “stripe…well cold” (very cold Red Stripe beer).
And at the end of it all? “It sweet fi talk.”
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.