Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole. Language or Languages?

Academic Paper, 2019

17 Pages


Contents :

1. Introduction

2. Colonial and Postcolonial Linguistic History of Jamaica

3. Standard Jamaican English
3.1 Social Function and Role of Standard Jamaican English
3.2 Linguistic Features of Standard Jamaican English

4. English-based Jamaican Creole
4.1 Social Function and Role of Jamaican Creole
4.2 Linguistic Features of English-based Jamaican Creole

5. The Jamaican Post-Creole Continuum

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography


In the modern world, English is becoming a universal language. 500 million people in 12 countries speak this language. On this occasion, objections may arise, since about 900 million people speak the Mandarin Chinese language. However, do not forget that approximately 600 million more people use English as a second language. Another important addition is the fact that several hundred million people all over the world have a certain knowledge of the English language, since in 62 countries this language has the status of an official language.

Over the past centuries, English has spread throughout the world, primarily thanks to the colonial policies of its homeland: Great Britain. Especially in the Caribbean, in the past there were many colonies in the British Empire - one of them, actually the largest, was Jamaica. Being one of many English-speaking countries in the world, it is worth studying, especially from a linguistic point of view, because it is one of the few countries in the Caribbean in which standard English and Creole English have been used almost since its colonization. To get an accurate picture of what English in Jamaica looks like, you need to look at the history of Jamaican languages as well as the current situation. As the standard variety and creole coexist in Jamaica, you need to look at both of them in isolation and how they affect each other. Thus, it will be interesting not only to study the function and some linguistic features of Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole, but also the post-Creole continuum.

First of all, a look at the history will show how the English language developed in Jamaica. The following chapters will discuss, in particular, standard Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole, and will introduce the main linguistic features and, therefore, reasons to consider these two languages different or identical. And finally, the study of the post-Creole continuum will clarify the consequences of the mutual influence of these two languages.

The purpose of this term paper is to give an idea of linguistic diversity in Jamaica and thus discuss whether standard Jamaican English and creole, such as Jamaican Creole, are different languages, and show how these varieties coexist.

Colonial and Postcolonial Linguistic History of Jamaica

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, which have had a great influence on them. The first inhabitants of Jamaica were Arawaks who used Taino language, which, therefore, can be considered to be the indigenous language on the island. When the Spaniards began to settle there, Spanish became the first European language in Jamaica, and the first Spanish Pigin languages appeared, because they were necessary for communication between Spanish settlers and Arawak. Spanish settlers also brought the first African slaves to Jamaica. Being a Spanish colony for many years, the island became British in 1655.

The conquest of Jamaica caused the immigration of many English settlers to the island who used the territory to grow sugarcane on big plantations. With them, they brought not only early modern English, but also slaves from West Africa who worked for them on their plantations and who also brought with them their various African tribal languages. According to the need for a common language for communication, English pidgin was created (Viereck 2002: 191). Although the number of speakers of Spanish pidgin was steadily declining, and there was only a small community called Maroon, the speech community using the English pidgin grew. According to Viereck (2002: 193) the number of slaves in Jamaica grew rapidly utill in 1734 92% of the Jamaican population were African slaves. This figure highlights the enormous influence of African languages on languages in Jamaica. Pidgin became Jamaican Creole (JC) in the 18th century, which was a mixture of African languages and standard British English (Lawton 1984: 255). Siegel (2002: 336/337) writes that Jamaican creole may have already been developed before the advent of stable pidgin. He also explains that there are two possible sources of the lexical and grammatical features of the Jamaican Creole language: the lexifier1 language or the West African languages. In addition, other Caribbean Creoles and Creole English on the Guinean coast influenced JC, as slaves and settlers from these regions made a valuable contribution to the linguistic development of the island (Viereck 2002: 194). The slave trade in the British colony ceased at the beginning of the 19th century and thus put an end to the direct influence of African languages. As a result, the number of pidgin speakers has declined as Jamaica began to creole constantly, and thus JC became more and more common. Jamaica was colony of Great Britain until it gained its independence in 1962 (Lawton 1984: 255), it is a fact that emphasizes the direct long-term influence of the British language, and the former standard British English of the settlers evolved thanks to the continuous influence of Jamaican Creole in Jamaican English, which is the official language in Jamaica until today. Currently, two main languages are spoken in Jamaica: standard Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole with English as a lexifier. Both have and continue to influence each other, since they coexist and, thus, are in close contact with each other. Therefore, you can find many different varieties of the Jamaican Creole language, which will be discussed in one of the following chapters.

Standard Jamaican English

Social Function and Role of Standard Jamaican English

Standard Jamaican English is the official language of Jamaican island and is used in absolutely all areas of public everyday life. It is not only the language of law, government and media, but also the language of educational institutions and is used for almost all types of written communication (Sand 1999: 70). It was based on British English, but since it appeared, it has long been subject to the constant influence of other languages such as West African languages, other European languages, or Jamaican Creole. It was the process that created standard English, which is currently spoken in Jamaica, and which led to the fact that JamE left the British model, but became an independent standard variety2. In fact, today's JamE demonstrates the great influence not only of JC, but also of American English, which can be explained by the close geographical situation and tourism. (Viereck 2002: 195).

Compared to Jamaican Creole, JamE has a much higher prestige, which means that Jamaican society values it more, probably due to its status as an official language, the fact that Jamaican Creole is standardized and possibly because of the Jamaican past, in which it, as the language of the settlers, was considered superior to the Creole language of slaves.

Linguistic Features of Standard Jamaican English

JamE has a lot in common with the language it derived from, that is British English. Regarding phonology, Lawton (1984: 255.) claims that there is no significant difference compared to Received Pronunciation3 and therefore clearly shows that JamE is a non-rhotic4 language like British English and demonstrates similar functions, such as, for example, the intrusive [ r] 5. He also explains that both languages have the same vowels and consonants that are similarly realized.

Apart from these similarities Lawton describes the prosody of these languages as distinct from each other by mentioning that JamE has a syllable timed rhythm6 while British English has a stressed timed rhythm7.

Although the vocabulary seems to be very similar to British English, one has to remember that some words in JamE may mean something different than in British English. A bright example for this is to look for, which means to search in British English but to visit in JamE (Viereck 2002: 195). There are many more words that have different or extended meanings in JamE and British English. Viereck (2002: 195) stresses that many, especially European, languages have influenced the languages in the Caribbean so one can find many loans from French, Spanish or Portuguese, for example. In addition, the influence of the Jamaican Creole may also occur.

Whilst JamE and British English have a lot in common, Sand (1999: 71) talks about the latest evolution of JamE by quoting Christie (1989): “More and more, however, actual usage for both oral and written purposes falls short of the traditional model, British English, more often than not, unintentionally.” This quote makes it clear that JamE is increasingly becoming an independent language that uses many of the linguistic features of the language from which it evolved, but is also a standardized language characterized by elements that come from many language influences and are thus freed from British English.

Currently, due to the development of economic ties, the high level of migration from the United States of America, the development of cable television, the influence of American English is constantly growing. As a result, the expressions I don't have are replaced by I haven't got. The influence of American English is even more obvious and evident in the use of vocabulary: (babies sleep in cribs and wear diapers [or pampers ]; some people live in apartments or townhouse s) or (babies wear nappies, not diapers; cars have bonnets and w indscreens; children study maths, use rubbers to erase their mistakes and wish they were on holiday). The phenomena of modern life are “imported” along with American names and titles. Speaking of pronunciation, it should be noted that the most interesting fact is that the pronunciation of Jamaicans is very similar to pronunciation in southern Ireland and is significantly different from Jamaican Creole. One of the main features of Jamaican phonetics is that in Jamaican English there is no such distinction between short and long sounds as in standard English. Particle a performs the functions characteristic of the indefinite article a (as well as the definite article the); the verb to be in the form are, reduced to the form a. (De Camp 1961: 61-84)

The open short sound / a / - [Λ] is pronounced labiably practically like [o]. For example, study - / stody /.

In positions where in English Jamaican sounds [o] or long [o:], in Patwa often sounds [a] or long [a:]. water - / waata /, off - / a: f /, gone - / ga: n /, sorrow - / sarrow /.

[ e : ] (formed by combinations of letters ir, ur) goes to [Λ] [^] (short open / a /). girl - / gul /, turn - / tun /, worse - / wuss /.

Open [e] / [ae] /) often goes into [a] man - / man /, that - / dat /, stand - / tan '/.

The vowels that make up the English diphthongs change places: the first, stressed, move to the end, sometimes (but not always, for example, nUa = know along with their stress, and the second are pushed forward, sometimes, especially when part of them fall accents become clearer in pronunciation.


1 A lexifier is the language from which the majority of the lexicon of a creole derived. (Siegel 2002: 335)

2 A standard variety is the language of education and the media of a certain country. It has a standardized grammar, spelling and lexicon to which the inhabitants of that country stick to and it is used at least for written communication (Yule 1996: 227).

3 Received Pronunciation (RP) refers to one particular dialect of British English that is not attributed to a certain region of Britain and thus understood throughout the whole nation (Davis 1998: 41/42) and does not allow any conclusion concerning the origin of the speaker. This pronunciation is often considered to be highly prestigious (Viereck 2002: 20).

4 In rhotic dialects the /r/ is always pronounced when it occurs in the spelling of a word whereas it is not dominant or even not pronounced before a consonant or at the end of a word in a non-rhotic dialect (Davis 1998: 105).

5 The intrusive /r/ is a special feature of RP and means that a /r/ is pronounced at the end of a word although the word does not have a final r but a shwa []. This is only done when the next word starts with a vowel. Thus a glottal stop is avoided (Davis 1998: 110).

6 The term syllable timed rhythm refers to the fact that each syllable within a sentence is equally stressed and so the rhythm is influenced by the numbers of syllables (Viereck 2002: 195).

7 According to Viereck (2002: 195) the rhythm of Standard British English is determined by the number of stressed syllables within a sentence that occur in regular intervals.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole. Language or Languages?
University of Rostock  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
British and American Transcultural Studies
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Jamaican English, Jamaican Creole
Quote paper
Anastasiia Bilousova (Author), 2019, Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole. Language or Languages?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/501358


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