How Patois is Not a Language

This project seeks to discuss the moot “Patois is not a language”. The reason for this topic is to assist persons in having a better grasp of the meaning of language, and to determine after thorough research and reasoning for and against if Patois falls into this category. Several pieces of works from journals, magazines and newspapers were read after which my thoughts and positions were expressed and integrated throughout. It was discovered that there are varying views on this topic among international and Jamaicans scholars, educators and even the common man, hence the need for a meaningful discussion and a conclusive response. It was shown that language is very complex, has set standards, meanings and is accepted and acknowledged widely. On the other hand the research found that Patois is a Creole or dialect, formed from different languages such as English, French and those from numerous African tribes. While some persons desire Patois to a language of Jamaica, and for the most ambitious the first language another set shuns its use altogether. In light of all this information, I believe that Patois is too restrictive; and it needs a lot more time for polishing and to evolve into uniformity and fluency to be considered as a language.
Over the years many books have been written, numerous studies carried out, commentaries and research done on whether Patois is a language or not. This paper will greatly assist in making it clearer to the reader what is the true position. I would like to first put on record the definition for a language and examine the similarities and or variances between that, and what is known as patois.
Definitions for language according to the Merriam- Webster Dictionary (2010):

The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of in a structured and conventional way.
Any method of expression and communication.
The system of communication used by a particular community or country.

In addition it is further stated by Morreale, Spitzberg & Barge (2007) that language is a complex phenomenon whose meaning depends on where and when it is used. It also defines as a verbal symbol system that allows us to take messages and utterances, in the form of words, and translate them into meaning. Competent communicators need to understand the rules and resources that people use to interpret the meaning of words and anticipate the consequences of their words on others.
Now that it is establish to some extent what a language is, it will also be made clearer what it is not, I will attempt to align what is written about patois with what was previously said about language. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2010), Patois is:

A dialect other than the standard or literary dialect.
Uneducated or provincial speech
The characteristic special language of an occupational or special group.

And according to Cayol (2008) the term ‘Patois’, of French origin, meaning ‘rough speech’, generally has negative connotations. Although most Jamaicans use the term ‘Patois’ to describe their language, linguists refer to our dialect as Jamaican Creole. As enchanting as the vernacular is or might be seen it is not fully recognized, accepted, regarded or classified as a language.
According to Robertson (2010) where as I share the love for the rhythm and nuances that come across in Patois, I am not blinded by this love to ignore its geographical limitations. These comments again points to the narrowness of Patois and its usage, and the obvious and imminent assertions and counter assertions and comments that have been and will be made on the subject.

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There is no concrete spelling format designed up to this time to be associated with words spoken in Patois and there is no organized, streamlined or standardized form of communication in it, one can reasonably conclude that it has a far way to go and quite a few hurdles to go over before one can rightly refer to it as language. In support of those arguments are Cayol (2010) who states, there is no commonly accepted standardized system of orthography. The Cassidy system is being purported by academics. However, the general populace is unfamiliar with it and as such the lay person writes the language in a phonological manner as exemplified by Dunn (2008) Gleaner article on the issue in which he wrote ‘gal pon di corna’. Furthermore, in my opinion there is not enough literature depth or knowledge stemming from Patois to catapult it to language status.
In moving forward it is good to know some history of Patois. According to Pryce (1997) Language in Jamaica today reflects the history of the country’s interaction with a variety of cultures and languages from many ethnic, linguistic, and social backgrounds. Aside from the Arawaks, the original inhabitants of Jamaica, all people were exiles or children of exiles. Over 90% of the 2.5 million people living in Jamaica today are descendants of slaves brought from western Africa by the British. The local Jamaican (Patois) is a reflection of a history of contact overtime between varieties of speakers.
The most influential speakers were immigrants from Africa and Europe. Kwa, Manding, and Kru are amongst the variety of prominent African languages apparent in Jamaican history. Lalla & D’Costa (1989) stated that Early Modern English was brought to the Caribbean by sailors, soldiers, indentured servants, convicts, and settlers (lower-class whites) in the form of regional and non-standard dialects. For the most part Early Modern English was highly conservative. Today the changes are not too far from where they were at those times. Hence the attitude towards patois by the elite in our society, and those who are confronted with this type of communication are almost offended. In their minds, only persons of a certain elk should use it.
Patois can more correctly be labeled as a Creole; and Creole can be defined as the simplified form of a language, and the result of a coming together, cutting and pasting of numerous languages. Jamaican Patois is clearly a mixture of English, a little French, many African languages, Spanish and various other languages. It should be kept in ones memory that the word “Patois” itself is of French origin, hence strengthen the point made earlier that patois is really in general a Creole and is not a full language standing on its own. Notwithstanding all the negativity that has been said about some of Jamaica’s popular forms of entertainment singing, dee-jaying, dancing among several other areas, these are still used as channels through which our culture is being disseminated to the world. Include the mass media houses and programs geared towards tourism, in addition to persons visiting Jamaica or migrating overseas to live, work or study and interacting with others through several means of communication some of our ways of speaking and the type of conversations had are all factors which have played a substantial role in the spread of the Jamaican culture and self styled language known to most natives as patois.
In revisiting one of the earlier definitions for patois, which states it is a “characteristic special language”, one can see where there is much energy being placed into the promotion of patois to gain greater status but patois it is considered a broken or degraded form of another language in the world. Patois is also referred to as an “uneducated or provincial speech” which does not argue well for it, nor does that fit in with the definition for any other language. We should never cease to remind ourselves that Creole languages are found all over the world on every continent.
Hence it is my view that Patois is the Jamaican and on a wider scale West Indian forms of Creole. According to Sebba (1996) it is when two or more languages come into contact to form a new language a Creole language is born. Some type of human “upheaval” that forces people to find a way to communicate, without using their own languages, stimulates the creation of a Creole language. In the case of Creole languages in the Caribbean, of which Patois is one, the “upheaval” is the past history of slavery. In Jamaica the African slaves were thrown into a situation where the only common means of communication was English, or at least broken English, therefore Jamaican Creole has a majority of its roots in English. The make-up words however were taken from a variety of West African languages.
Although a very strong case is being made out for Patois to be listed or identified as a language, even in Jamaica Patois still poses all sorts of problems and is a barrier to proper communication when used or mention in some circles. Of course that is because some persons just will not agree to the constant use of it, or how it sounds, thus associating the practice of it as a sign of those from the lower class of the society. The truth is that right now Patois is really very difficult to fully understand and the variations are so numerous that when spoken it comes across very raw/rough in some cases and may even sound strange to the hearer.
The Government has brought the matter to the Parliament on numerous occasions, but is yet to come to a consensus as to the true status of Patois. Until a firm position is reached, a struggle continues on the topic knowing full well that there are classes in the society who uses it much more, and much more effective that they do with the official language which is English. Patois from all indications is being used more widely in recent times and in the more rural areas, highlighting that it has its place among us.
After a careful and in depth study of the previous information which have been taken from finds in books, journals, newspaper articles and internet on the topic “Patois is not a language”, I must agree with the point mooted. My reasons for coming to this conclusion is based on several fact, firstly language in general is extremely complex and has several foundations upon which it is based. Some of these are syntax, spelling, formulations, sounds, words, meaning, symbols, principles and fluency.
While Patois is called language by some the vast majority disagrees, and yes it has some similarities and fulfils some of these complexities but it is clear that there are areas in which it comes up lacking. For example two points of major concerns are the spelling and the interpretations of Patois words used. There are too many ways of spelling the same patois words and reading them is also a great challenge, not to mention the pronunciations these are also very difficult, I believe these aspects as well as others not mentioned now will take time to develop, evolve and come to proper fluency. Bearing all these facts in mind it is my humble conclusion that Patois has a long way to go before it can be named as a language.