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Why Speakers and Interpreters of Jamaican Patois Are Multilingual from doydonifyi's blog

I was recently asked by the Court through a colleague of mine to interpret Jamaican Patois, also known as Patwah, Patwa or Jamaican Creole into and from English. The occasion was a plea hearing for an aggravated assault charge conducted virtually via Zoom. At the appointed time, I logged on and was placed in a breakout room for a pre-conference interview with the defendant and his attorney. I took the opportunity to ask the defendant what part of Jamaica he was from. He replied that he was from Kingston, the parish capital of Jamaica. His ability to speak and understand English was quite good. I was able to figure out what register of Jamaican Patois to use when interpreting for him.

The attorney marveled at being able to understand a significant amount of the conversation between the defendant and me. He remarked that he had expected the Jamaican Patois to sound like Haitian Creole. I explained to the attorney that Jamaican Patois comprises of English, Spanish, Portuguese and the African language, Twi. Therefore, this was partly the reason why he or any listener might decipher English-sounding words when the defendant and I were speaking. Furthermore, it did not make sense for me to speak in a register of Jamaican Patois that was different from what the defendant was using.

When we entered the virtual courtroom, the attorney explained this to the judge who still required that I interpret everything that was said in the hearing, both into English and into Jamaican Patois. Moreover, the defense attorney commented that it was important for the defendant to feel comfortable enough to be able to communicate in his native language with the help of an interpreter. However, except for technical legal terminology that the average lay person might not be acquainted with, the defendant understood everything that was being said in English by the judge, the prosecutor, the defense lawyer and the law clerk, and they in turn seemed to understand what he was saying, even before I interpreted for him.

I hasten to emphasize that this will not always be the case. A skilled linguist can distinguish a Jamaican Patois speaker’s place of origin, level of education, register of Jamaican Patois spoken, and English communication skills within minutes of the start of a conversation. The more English is incorporated into Jamaican Patois is indicative of how watered down the language has become for various reasons: (1) Some people feel that Jamaican Patois is a socially inappropriate and inadequate way of communicating in English. It has been erroneously referred to as “broken English.” (2) Parents are aware that their children will have no difficulty learning Jamaican Patois among their friends. Therefore, they insist that the children focus on learning English, since English is the primary global language of trade, professional life and communication. The more English is a part of the learning experience of Jamaican Patois speakers, the less difficulty they will have following what is being said by lawyers, judges, law clerks and legal personnel.

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By doydonifyi
Added Sep 29 '21


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