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Patois Could Become Jamaica's Official Language

As Jamaica gradually loosens its ties with the Britain, momentum is building to make Patois the country's official language, alongside English.

Rastafarian in Jamaica

The proposal was floated by the leader of the opposition People's National Party, Mark Golding, at the party's recent annual conference. Golding said Jamaica was suffering from "a language problem", adding that "part of the legacy of our colonial past is the belief that the Jamaican language, created by our own people, is somehow unworthy and only to be spoken by those who can't do better".

But, Golding continued, "it is time to move beyond that negative and backward way of thinking. It is time for Jamaica to formally recognise Jamaican as a language".

Some supporters of Patois say that turning the language into an official tongue "will help instil more national pride in the Caribbean country", said the British African-Caribbean newspaper The Voice. It would also allow Jamaicans to conduct official business in places like courts and tax offices in the country's most widely spoken language.

Patois has been "long stigmatised with second-class status and often mis-characterised as a poorly structured form of English", said The New York Times. In fact, the language has its own distinct grammar and pronunciation, and linguists say it is as distinct from English as English is from German. Patois "features a dizzying array of words borrowed from African, European and Asian languages", the paper added.

The next general election in Jamaica is scheduled for 2025, and some observers say that Golding's push towards adopting Patois is simply a political ploy to help get him elected as the next prime minister.

Andrew Tucker, a former Spanish lecturer at Howard University, in a column for the The Jamaica Observer, thinks that adopting Patois as an official language could put Jamaicans at a disadvantage in areas such as trade, tourism and academic research, some have argued. "No serious foreign investor wants to communicate with someone in the Jamaican dialect," he wrote.


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