Languages

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English and Patois are the main languages in Jamaica.

We are the largest English speaking island in the Caribbean, but Patois and Creole is our Jamaican dialect, which is usually fun for tourists to learn and speak.

Jamaican Patwa (also written as Patois or Patwah) is a unique local dialect spoken in Jamaica. Considered a form of broken English, the history of Patwa has evolved into an interesting language that is synonymous with Jamaican culture and recognized around the world through tourist experiences and popular culture.

Patwa began to develop when British colonists came to Jamaica in the 1600s. Slaves were brought into the country along with the British settlers, and these slaves originally spoke languages native to Africa. Consequently, it was decided that English was the only legal language that could be spoken in Jamaica to prevent slaves from communicating amongst themselves and secretly plotting against their masters.

Learning to speak English was difficult for African slaves and this resulted in the broken English that became Patwa. Along with creating language barriers, the British strategically separated the slaves, allowing variations of the language to spread throughout the island.

Despite the obvious English derivatives, Patwa pronunciations, spellings, and meanings are often different because of its fusion of African and European dialect.

While Patwa is not an official language, it is well respected in Jamaica. The language is so culturally relevant that the vast majority of Jamaicans speak Patwa as well as Standard English. Tourists will often hear Jamaicans speak to one another using Patwa in a variety of settings. Still, there is no reason for visitors who are unfamiliar with Patwa to feel alienated. Residents of the island country are always friendly and considerate of guests by addressing them in common English or teaching them Patwa terms during their stay. Here are some popular terms to know when visiting Jamaica.

Likkle More: See you later
Tank yuh: Thank You
Gyal: girl
Labrish: small talk or gossip
Pickney: child
Deh yah: I'm here
Irie: alright, pleasant
Wah di time? : What time is it?
A wha dis? : What is this?
Yuh good? : Are you okay?
Weh yah guh? : Where are you going?
Weh yuh cum from?: Where are you from?
Mi cyah badda: I can not bother/ I can not be bothered with
Wah gwaan: what’s up?
Nuh ha nutten: Do not have anything