The Jamaican Englishes in their language spectrum

When did Creole speakers start using English, deploying Jamaican Standard English as the official language of Jamaica?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2022

17 Pages, Grade: 2,3



1. Introduction

2. Colonial and Postcolonial Linguistic History of Jamaica

3. Standard Jamaican English
3.1 Function and Role of Standard Jamaican English

4. English-based Jamaican Creole
4.1 Function and Role of Jamaican Creole

5. Linguistic features of English-based Creole and Standard Jamaican English

6. The development of Jamaican Languages and their use
6.1 Evolutions in Schneider´s Dynamic Model

7. Conclusion

8. Appendix

9. Bibliography

1. Introduction

English has become a world language for the modern world. Five hundred million people in 12 countries speak the language. With approximately 600 million, even more, people use English as a second language – but that is not it. Several hundred million worldwide have acquired a certain level of English since English is an official language in 62 countries.

The spread of the English language was primarily due to colonization and colonial policies instigated by Great Britain and its Crown. The location of concern for this term paper is the Caribbean, especially the largest former British colony in the Caribbean – Jamaica. The Island is of multiple English-speaking countries. It is interesting to explore the two variants linguistically, Standard Jamaican English and the English-based Jamaican Creole that have existed almost since colonization. However, we cannot get headfirst into the linguistic features of languages like Jamaican Standard English and Jamaican Creole. Firstly, there is a need to establish the history of the Jamaican languages, its current state, and perhaps even a prevision into the future.

As both varieties exist in the same spectrum in Jamaica, both languages should be looked at individually and with each other. Therefore, examining the function and linguistic features of Standard Jamaican English and the Jamaican Creole will be intriguing as their evolutions in its continuum.

Leading with a look at history and how the languages developed, the succeeding chapters will contain an interrogation of what function both varieties use—lastly, the question of the Jamaican language spectrum and its influences on each other.

This term paper intends to embark on the question of when and how Creole speakers started using English, deploying Jamaican Standard English as an official language of Jamaica. Additionally, I will also, for efficiency, refer to the English-based Jamaican Creole as JC and Standard Jamaican English as SJE.

2. Colonial and Postcolonial Linguistic History of Jamaica

English is considered an official language in Jamaica, meaning it is the language of institutions. English is the sole official language, while JC is the actual mother tongue of the majority of the people (Westphalen, 2016). Singer of “Buffalo Soldier” Bob Marley described the come to be of Jamaica “driven from the mainland to the heart of the Caribbean" (1983), regarding approximately 20000 enslaved people who were shipped to Jamaica, the Caribbean, from West Africa, the mainland (Prato, 2016).

The formation of the Creole is, therefore, not only plausible but necessarily logical, as the "massive import of people, who could not preserve a functioning […] language nor learn English fully" (Jettka, as cited in Prato, 2016). In combination with the many British dialects that arrived on the Island, inhabitants adopted instead those of the then Standard British English (Prato, 2016). Continuous imitation of what was heard from previously British people, then other Africans, led to the formation of the Creole (Prato, 2016).

Jamaica is the largest English-speaking Island in the Caribbean. Throughout its history, the languages on this Island have been subjected to many different influences, significantly affecting them. The first inhabitants of Jamaica were Arawaks, who used the Taino language, which, therefore, can be considered the indigenous language on the Island. As the Spanish settlers were the first arrivals, the Spanish became the first European influence in Jamaica, leading to Spanish Pidgins emerging to communicate with the Spanish and the Arawak. The Spanish did not arrive alone but brought the first enslaved Africans. In 1655 the British Crown took control over the Island.

After its conquest, many English settlers immigrated to use the territory for the plantation of sugarcane. These settlers did not only bring early modern English but more slaves taken from West Africa as labor with their multiple languages. Accordingly, English pidgin became the common language of communication while the number of Spanish pidgin speakers steadily declined (Viereck, 2002). Viereck (2002) states that the population of enslaved Africans in Jamaica grew quickly, up to 92 % in 1734, which means there was an enormous influence of African languages on Jamaican languages.

The Pidgin then became the Jamaican Creole during the 18th century, consisting of African languages and Standard British English (Lawton, 1984). Similar to the Dynamic Model of Schneider, there are stages of Pidgins turning into Creoles. Pidgins are both restricted in their expansion and restricted socially (Universität Duisburg-Essen). Creole often arises from pidgins who have met the limits of pidgins. There are two possible situations in which a creole arises from a Pidgin.

The first: The speakers of pidgins are limited in a situation where they cannot use their mother tongue. The second case has its problem with social groups where a greater language variety with more pedigree is deliberately cultivated (Universität Duisburg-Essen).

The Process of Pidgin to Creolization has four Stages. In the first Stage, Marginal contact linguistically holds only a restricted pidgin that is not widespread or common yet. The second stage is the Nativization that holds an extended the Pidgin and its use. The third stage is the Mother tongue development which is the transitional phase from Pidgin to Creole. The final stage is the Movement towards the standard language, which would be a decreolization. With Jamaica as an example, the transition and approximation of the Jamaican Creole to a Standardized language, SJE (Universität Duisburg-Essen), would be hypothetical. Nevertheless, as it will be explored further later on, the languages of Jamaica exist not in a clear-cut frame but rather in a fluid Spectrum.

Siegel (2002) predicts that Jamaican Creole had developed even before the stable Pidgin. Lawton illustrates two probable sources of both lexical and grammatical features of JC: West African languages or lexifier s. Siegel (2002) describes a lexifier as a language that holds the majority of the lexicon of a creole. Is that it with influences? Undoubtedly not, since other Caribbean and English Creoles influenced JC; mostly slaves and settlers from the regions, such as Guinea in West Africa, contributed to the linguistic developments of Jamaica (Viereck, 2002). With active slavery fizzling out during the early 19th century, the active influence of African languages also came to an end. This directly led to a decline in pidgin speakers and the fortification of JC (Siegel, 2002).

Jamaica gained its independence from the British Crown in 1962, meaning that roughly 200 years of British influences had long-term effects, evolving continuously with the influences of JC into Jamaican English, which still is its official language (Lawton, 1984). Currently, the two main languages spoken in Jamaica are SJE and JC, with English as the lexifier. The influences of another language on Jamaican languages, while not being mutual, the influences on Jamaican languages on each other are very much mutually as they coexist.

3. Standard Jamaican English

3.1 Function and Role Standard Jamaican English

Standard Jamaican English has an extensive application, as it is the official language of Jamaica and is, therefore, used in all areas of everyday public life. However, Standard Jamaican English is supposedly preferred in conversations with those without a close personal connection, but also a register for more intelligent or educated speakers (Prato, 2016). SJE is spoken by over two million English speakers in Jamaica, with approximately three million inhabitants in total.

SJE is used all around; it is the language of the law, government, and media, as well as in the institution of education and for most types of written communication (Sand, 1999). Historically, SJE is derived from British English but has, over time, undergone many changes. The independent variable known today holds clear influences or remains of the Jamaican Creole, which will be explored further in the paper. Standard Jamaican English is the variety of English used by natives.

In comparison with the JC, Jamaican English certainly has a higher prestige. In combination with being the Island's official language, this is socially valued higher. The Creole standardized as lesser due to the historical development of British settlers considering their language superior to the Creole language of enslaved people.

4. English-based Jamaican Creole

4.1 Function and Role of Jamaican Creole

Speakers of JC refer to their languages as Patwa or Patois, emphasizing their perception of the Jamaican Creole as more than a simple creole (Siegel, 2002). Phonologically, Patwa resembles the production of West African tribal languages. The modification came with the British settlers and their phonology and vocabulary as new input. Besides Patwa and Patois, the English-based Jamaican Creole is also known as Afro Jamaican or ungrammatical English.

While most of Jamaica speaks a variety of JC, as mentioned earlier, it is not the official language. It is used in an informal register and private areas of life or, as it develops, in contemporary life (Viereck, 2002). The Creole is frequently used by Rastafarians, which we will explore later. Rastafarianism, as a spiritual belief, uses the Creole a lot. Patois has drawn many influences of vocabulary from the bible. That is visible, for example, with vocabulary like Jah that is taken from the Hebrew word for “God” YAHWEH translating to the I am (Knohl, 2022).

JC is said to be of lower prestige, and its colloquial estimation developed from the British settlers' view during colonial times (Görlach, 1991). As mentioned earlier, the British settlers considered JC to be nothing more than wrong English by slaves, and as the times, the language, in combination with those who spoke it created the image of a lesser language for those of a lesser social status (Görlach, 1991). While considered to be of lesser status, JC has become a crucial symbol of Jamaican identity, which will be explored later. As we will explore later, JC has found considerable appeal in the arts as well.

5. Linguistic Features of Jamaican Creole and Standard Jamaican English

It might seem superfluous, but it is necessary to mention that Jamaican English has much in common with British English 1 as BE is one of its main influences. Lawton describes the phonological difference between BE and JSE as hardly significant compared to Received Pronunciation (1984). Furthermore, Received Pronunciation refers to the dialect of BE, which is understood by the whole nation. One can consider a neutral way of speaking that does not indicate the speaker's origin (Davis, 1998). The non-rothic and intrusive [r] demonstrate a similarity of function between JSE and BE. The intrusive /r/ is the feature that means that in RP, the end of a word a /r/ is pronounced though the word has no final /r/ (Davis, 1998).

Davis (1998) further explains that the vowels and consonants are similarly realized both in BE and SJE. Further on, Lawton (1984) points out a difference between BE and SJE in rhythm, as BE has a stressed time rhythm apart from SJE, which has a syllable-timed rhythm. Syllable timed rhythm means that every syllable of a sentence is stressed equally, meaning that the number of syllables directly determines the rhythm (Viereck, 2002).

The difference to BE results from this in that the rhythm is controlled by the number of stressed syllables of a phrase occurring periodically (Viereck, 2002). However, following the trend of much influence, the lexicon is similar to the BE, with some variation of meaning for SJE (Viereck, 2002).

Viereck (2002) leads the example of looking for synonymous to search in BE but translating to visit in SJE. Since English was not the only European language influencing the Caribbean, many loan words can be found, for example, in French, Portuguese, and Spanish (Viereck, 2002).

Regarding pronunciation, Viereck (2002) deems it to mention that the English-based Creole, JC, as its name implied, is close to the English language and its linguistic development. Viereck further on pinpoints that the largest correspondence between English and JC is found within the lexicon. Exemplary: /m a:wnin / - Morning; /min/ - mean; /breð a / - brother.

JC's phonology is not surprising for a Creole, a descended combination of its influencer regions, in this case of West Africa and other European languages, e.g., French and English (Prato, 2016).

The most striking differences between the JC and SJE are found in morphology, syntax, and phonology. This leads Viereck (2002) to conclude that these differences are crucial evidence for separating both as whole languages while in close relation. Why would this be in question? Since JC is not as standardized and heterogeneous as SJE, there is no universal writing system for it (Sand, 1999). Lawton (1984), in his elaboration, pinpoints another reason for it as the illiteracy of Creole speakers, which would mean, in reverse, that there is no universal spelling.

Continuing with grammatical aspects, JC does not "follow a consistent subject-predicate order" (Lawton, 1984), while SJE does. For Jamaican Creole, tense markers are usually found before the verb. According to Sand (1999), there are four different markers: the aspect marker (de), a marker of the past tense of stative verbs (wen), a future marker (wi), and finally, the lack of marker. Those markers are some of the most frequent markers while not being the only ones. JC has many more grammatical characteristics that affect the language features; discussing all of those would go beyond the scope.


1 For efficiency, I will use the shortened BE for British English

Excerpt out of 17 pages


The Jamaican Englishes in their language spectrum
When did Creole speakers start using English, deploying Jamaican Standard English as the official language of Jamaica?
University of Mannheim
World English's
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
Jamaican English, Creole, Language Development, Standard jamaican English
Quote paper
Sarah Ritter (Author), 2022, The Jamaican Englishes in their language spectrum, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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