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Jamaican Phrases
The History, With Examples

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Jamaican Phrases 
Contributed by Cheri Youmans

In Jamaica the Creole language spoken by the island’s inhabitants is known as Patois, and while it is not officially recognized as a language, as no Creole languages are, it represents a commingling of European and African influences that continues today.


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While English is the official language of Jamaica, Patois is spoken much more frequently, and the most common phrases are almost exclusively in Patois.

A little history for you?

Well, the original inhabitants of Jamaica, known as Arawaks, most likely emigrated from Latin America. During the end of the 1600’s, the demand for sugar from the West was great and to capitalize, the Europeans brought in slaves from Africa.

This cohesion of African and European (primarily English) languages, between the late 1600’s and the end of slavery in 1834, including a few Spanish, resulted in the Jamaican Patois language.

Jamaican Patois is known for its use of expressive phrases. If you listen carefully you’ll realize that most Jamaican phrases sound very much like English - with an accent, a common phenomenon to Creole languages.

But contrary to thought, Patois is not broken English. Many Jamaican phrases are informal, reflecting the laid back nature of island living.

Whereas in England, a proper "Good day" is a standard greeting, the Jamaican "Wha Gwan" translates into "What’s going on?" a phrase more resembling the popular “What’s up?” often used by American teenagers.

"Rae tay tay" is another common phrase, which showcases the informal nature of the language, meaning “blah, blah, blah”. One can guess this is used often by teenagers there. Used frequently by teenagers and others of any age feeling amorous "Mi lub yu kyaan done" translates to "My love for you cannot end". Poetic stuff!

For those on the opposite end of the lovey dovey spectrum, “Nuh mek mi vex, mon,” in English is “Don’t make me mad!” While there is no data on the subject, hopefully the romantic phrase is used more frequently. Love does make the world go round in any language, particularly the magical, multicultural diction of Jamaican Patois.

So, if and when visiting Jamaica, try to get a greater understanding of it's history of how this unique language or type of talk came to be and how it is still used today.

Want more? Get the extended list of Jamaican sayings & phrases here.

Return to Jamaica's Culture from the Jamaican phrases.
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