How to Speak Jamaican Patois

Written by ehow culture & society editor
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Jamaican patois, sometimes called Creole or simply just Jamaican, is a rich mix of Central and West African tribal languages that adopted some of the vernacular of English in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, Jamaican patois stands on its own as a dialect-language that uses descriptive idioms to fill out a fairly basic grammar. Follow these steps to speak Jamaican patois.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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  1. 1

    Begin with the Jamaican idioms. The most noticeable aspect of Jamaican patois to a non-speaker is the heavy reliance on idioms. Idioms like "No one cyaan test," which means no one can compete with a given person, use both the vernacular and the grammar of the patois. Learning a few of the idioms and their meanings will give you a context for advancing with the patois.

  2. 2

    Learn the patois' pronouns. Jamaican uses a system of pronouns that is based on the English pronomial system but differs significantly enough that it needs to be learned. Switch personal pronouns, for example, so "I" becomes "mi" and "me" becomes "I," and replace possessive pronouns like "mine" with "fi" to start speaking the patois like a Jamaican.

  3. 3

    Get the vocabulary. One of the most difficult parts of speaking Jamaican patois is the rich and dynamic vocabulary. Though infused with English, the system of Jamaican words is unique. You should learn Jamaican words and the many different grammatical uses that they have. The word "nuh," for instance, means a general negative that includes "no," "don't" and "doesn't."

  4. 4

    Get the tenses and aspects. Perhaps the most difficult part of speaking Jamaican patois is learning how to properly conjugate verbs. Jamaican's system of verb tenses and aspects is completely different from that of English. Most importantly, you should master Jamaican's version of the English "to be," which is frequently left out of sentences or is replaced with a copular "a" or "e," such as "Mi a di speaker," to mean "I am the speaker."

  5. 5

    Explore inflection and pronunciation. Jamaican patois has a rhythm and lilt that comes from its blend of African roots and Spanish and French Romance languages. You can get a sense of the rhythms of Jamaican by listening to reggae lyrics. The spelling of Jamaican patois-"mon" for "man," for example-reflects English words softened in pronunciation by Romance accents.

  6. 6

    Become familiar with Rasta culture. Many Jamaican terms are drawn from the practice of Rastafarianism, a unique Jamaican syncretic religion that combines themes from the Hebrew Bible with the veneration of Haile Selassie, a former Ethiopian ruler, as a messianic figure. Again, reggae music is a good starting point for tracing the influence of Rasta on Jamaican patois. The Jamaican word for "God," for example, is "Jah," drawn from the biblical Hebrew "Yahweh."

Tips and warnings

  • If you can't learn Jamaican patois directly from a native speaker, explore websites like that offer glossaries and audio files.

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