Jamaican Rasta Patois

English to Jamaican Patois Translation

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Jamaican Patois Patwa or Creole is a Jamaican language developed in the seventeenth century by slaves from west and central Africa when they were exposed to the English language spoken by their slave masters. Jamaican Patois exists mostly as a spoken language. It was used to speak so that the slave masters didn’t know what they were saying. Jamaican Patois shows similarities to pidgin and creole languages of West Africa due to the common descent and blending of African and European languages.

Jamaican Patois is spoken by many expatriates in Miami, Toronto, New York City, Panama and London. Ninety per cent of the 2.5 million people in Jamaica are descendant of slaves bought from West Africa by the British. It is a mixture of their African dialects and English which is what their masters spoke. English is the official language but Patois is the local language and instilled with its African Roots. Jamaicans today switch between their standard English and Patois and would speak very differently to a government agency for instance than they would to a friend in the street.

Children learn patois at home and then learning “Standard” English at school and there is an argument that patois become an official language and to let the children express themselves in the language that they know. Its almost like the English they learn at school in a foreign language.
Rastafarians speak their indigenous tongue even in difficult circumstances in defiance of the superiority placed on the “Standard” English.

The Language of the People

It is the language of the people not educated city folk. The Rastafarian speak has been referred to as soul language or ghetto language. The Rastafari believe that the word has the power to change the present and the future and language can create, destroy heal and hurt. Communication through words holds moral and spiritual responsibility. To the Rastafarians “wordsound” is power and as the bible says, Jah created the heavens and earth just by speaking the word.

I is a powerful letter and also a number, one. When a rasta says I and I they are including divinity in what they are saying and indicate that they belong to the world and are not separated from it. The concept of One Love and “I and I” stress the evil of separation and indicate the same love for everything, you, your significant other, children, neighbour, and boss and so on.

Rasta Speak Modifications

A Rasta doesn’t say I will “come back soon”, they say “ I will come forward” .”Understood” is another word that has been changed in this way. Rastas say that understanding means comprehension, which is a positive, uplifting experience, therefore it is only logical to say “overstood.” One last example of this change because of “wordsound” is the word -oppression.” Rastas and Jamaicans have been oppressed for years and it is a very negative thing but, the word oppression has the sound up in it which signifies something positive, therefore it makes much more sense to say “downpression” when referring to this very negative thing. Reggae musicians like Bob Marley, Burning Spear and Bunny Wailer utilise Patois in their hard political lyrics.

Rasta speak is not a separate language from Jamaican Patois just an extension with modifications to fit their overstandings. Rastas use speech as a holy tool which goes back to their African ancestry. Wordpower takes them back before enslavement and downpression when their dignity was natural and not something to be constantly striving for. Jamaican Patois is a wonderful language in its own right, rich in history and heartfelt expression. Listening to someone speak in patois is a marvellous experience even if you have a hard time overstanding what they are saying.


Thanks to some of the sources of this glossary…Reggae International, Stephen Davis, Peter Simon, R&B, 1982 – KSBR 88.5 FM, Laguna Beach, CA. Handout. – posted on rec.music.reggae – Mike Pawka, Jammin Reggae Archives Cybrarian – Understanding Jamaican Patois, L. Emilie Adams, Kingston – Richard Dennison/Michio Ogata – Glossary from “The Harder They Come” (Bo Peterson) – Norman Redington – The Beat – Allen Kaatz – Jah Bill (William Just) – Arlene Laing – Jennifer G. Graham – Norma Brown/Zoe Una Vella Veda – Richard V. Helmbrecht – Norman Stolzoff – Christopher Edmonds – Lisa Watson – Dr. Carolyn Cooper – Ras Adam – Chip Platt – Michael Turner from an article in “The Beat” – Nicky “Dread” Taylor – Simrete McLean – The Unofficial Web Site on Jamaica – Paul Mowatt – Carlos Culture – Liner Notes – Blood & Fire release: Jah Stitch:”Original Ragga Muffin”, presumably Steve Barrow – Clinton Fearon -Original member of the Gladiators/ – Barbara Kennedy – Itations of Jamaica and i Rastafari – Phil “Bassy” Ajaj – Karlene Rogers – Dean Holland – Scottie Lake – Roger Steffen’s Supersite – Sara Gurgen – Kevin Robison – Christopher Durning – Ronald E. Lam – Trainer Adams – Editor of Dub Missive magazine. – Karlene Rogers – Howard Henry – Messian Dread – Roger Steffens – Bunny Wailer (related to Roger Steffens) – Jahworks.org – Jamaican Handbook of Proverbs – www.jamaicans.com-The Reggae Box – Hip-O Records
A Great big thanks to Mike Pawka http://niceup.com/patois.txt

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