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There’s money in J’can Patois, say linguists

Published:Monday | October 7, 2019 | 12:07 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

Coordinator of the Jamaican Language Unit at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Dr Joseph Farquharson, has asserted that there is still a stigma attached to Patois, otherwise called Jamaican creole, because it was born out of the island’s colonial past.

This year is being recognised by the United Nations as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and linguists say 40 per cent of the world’s estimated 6,700 languages are in danger of disappearing – the majority belonging to indigenous people.

“They are endangered because speakers are shifting, and in some areas, it is because of the expansion of some cultures and the language associated with those cultures,” Farquharson said.

He agrees with Trinbagonian linguist Mervyn C. Alleyne that the Caribbean is a “linguistic graveyard”.

“If you check the pre-Columbian era, there were numerous languages around, and those don’t exist anymore,” Farquharson said.

He added that many people continue to shun indigenous languages because they perceive that economic advancement is linked to other dominant languages.

Farquharson said the Jamaican language is not endangered as it is spoken by the majority of people living in Jamaica and Jamaicans who have migrated, along with their offspring.

Associate language professor Dr Rohan Lewis said there is earning potential in translating English to Jamaican, and vice versa.

“People on trial in parts of Canada and the United Kingdom have a legal right to a Jamaican interpreter. There are always calls for Jamaican interpreters as part of that process,” Lewis highlighted.

Economic value

Farquharson argued that whereas 50 years ago the argument could be made that there was no economic value in the language, that is not so today.

“There’s the language going hand in hand with the music, and people are attracted to the music, not only because of the beat but because of the language that it is in. The evidence for that is there are musicians in countries like Nigeria and Ghana who use the Jamaican language in their music. In Zimbabwe and Kenya, it’s the same,” he said.

Patois has been unofficially exported to countries around the world, but the Jamaica Language Unit would like to be more deliberate action in taking Patois across the globe.

“We are finding, more and more, that there are persons who want to learn it ... . There are social media groups set up for the learning of the language, not by Jamaicans but by Ugandans. We want to create courses for second-language learners and market those courses worldwide because we know that there is an interest,” Farquharson explained.

The Jamaican Language Unit was established to play an advocacy role for Patois to be recognised as a language. With that now achieved, its objective is to have it integrated into the standard setting.