English in Jamaica: The Coexistence of Standard Jamaican English and the English-based Jamaican Creole

Seminar Paper, 2006

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. A brief linguistic history of Jamaica

3. Standard Jamaican English (JamE)
3.1. The Role of Standard Jamaican English
3.2. Linguistic Features of Standard Jamaican English

4. Jamaican Creole (JC)
4.1. The role of Jamaican Creole
4.2. Linguistic Features of Jamaican Creole

5. The Post-Creole Continuum

6. Conclusion


Books of Reference and Further Reading:
Primary Sources:
Literary Aids:

1. Introduction

Throughout the last centuries the English language spread all over the world first and foremost due to the colonial politic of its motherland: Great Britain.

Especially in the Caribbean the British empire had a lot of colonies in the past - one, in fact the biggest one, of these was Jamaica. Being one of the world’s many English-speaking countries it is worth studying especially from a linguistic point of view because it is one of the few Caribbean countries in which a standard English and an English-based creole have been employed almost since its colonization. To get a precise picture of what English is like in Jamaica one has to consider the history of the Jamaican languages as well as the present situation. As a standard variety and a creole coexist in Jamaica, one has to look at both of them in isolation and at how they influence each other. Therefore it will not only be of interest to examine the function and some of the linguistic features of Jamaican English and the Jamaican creole but also the post-creole continuum.

First of all, a look at the history will make clear how the English language developed in Jamaica. The following chapters will deal with Standard Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole in particular and, finally, the examination of the post-creole continuum will make the consequences of the mutual influence of these two languages clear.

David L. Lawton’s text “English in the Caribbean” and the book Linguistic Variation in Jamaica: A Corpus-Based Study of Radio and Newspaper Usage by Andrea Sand will form a useful basis for the study of the English language in Jamaica and will be completed by other subject-relevant literature.

The aim of this term paper is to provide an insight into the linguistic diversity in Jamaica and thus to illustrate how a standard variety like Standard Jamaican English and a creole like Jamaican Creole coexist. This text does, however, not aim at completeness with regard to the linguistic features of these languages, which is not least due to the fact that the linguistic situation is not completely explored yet, but it shall serve as some kind of introductory description of the English language in Jamaica and thus contribute to a basic understanding of the subject.

2. A brief linguistic history of Jamaica

Jamaica is the biggest English-speaking island in the Caribbean sea. During its history the languages on this island have undergone many different influences that had a great impact on them.

The first inhabitants of Jamaica were Arawaks who spoke Taino, which can thus be considered to be the indigenous language in Jamaica (www-user.tu-chemnitz.de). When the Spanish began to settle there, Spanish became the first European language in Jamaica and the first Spanish-based pidgin[1] languages came into being because they were needed for the communication between the Spanish settlers and the Arawaks. The Spanish settlers also brought the first African slaves to Jamaica. Having been a Spanish colony for many years the island became a British one in 1655. The conquest of Jamaica caused the immigration of many English settlers who used the island for the cultivation of sugar cane on huge plantations. With them they brought not only the early Modern English language but also slaves from West Africa who worked for them on their plantations and who brought their different African tribal languages with them as well. Due to the need for a common language to communicate English-based pidgins were created (Viereck 2002: 191). While the number of speakers of the Spanish-based pidgins decreased steadily and only a small community that was called Maroon was left, the speech community that used the English-based pidgin grew (www-user.tu-chemnitz.de). According to Viereck (2002: 193) the number of slaves in Jamaica increased from year to year till in 1734 92% of the Jamaican population were African slaves. This figure underlines the huge influence of African languages on the languages in Jamaica. The pidgin developed into the Jamaican Creole[2] (JC) in the 18th century, which can basically be described as a mixture of African languages and Standard British English (Lawton 1984: 255). Siegel (2002: 336/337) mentions that the Jamaican creole might have already been developed before a stable pidgin existed. He also makes clear that there are two possible origins of the lexical and grammatical features of Jamaican Creole: the lexifier[3] language or the West African languages. Furthermore other Caribbean creoles and Guinea Coast Creole English had an impact on JC because slaves and settlers from those regions made a valuable contribution to the linguistic development on the island (Viereck 2002: 194). The slave trade of the British colony stopped in the beginning of the 19th century and thus put an end to the direct influence of African languages (www-user.tu-chemnitz.de). As a consequence the number of pidgin speakers decreased as Jamaica became steadily creolised and thus JC was more and more spread. Jamaica remained a British colony until it reached its independence in 1962 (Lawton 1984: 255), which is a fact that underlines the direct, long-term influence of the British language, and the former Standard British English of the settlers developed, through constant influence of the Jamaican Creole, into the Jamaican English that is the official language in Jamaica until the present. Nowadays there are two major languages that are spoken in Jamaica: Standard Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole with English as its lexifier. Both have and still do influence each other as they coexist and thus are in close contact with each other. Hence there can be found many different varieties of Jamaican Creole, which will be dealt with in one of the following chapters.

3. Standard Jamaican English (JamE)

3.1. The Role of Standard Jamaican English

Standard Jamaican English is the official language of Jamaica and used in all domains of public life. It is not only the language of the government, the law and the media but also used for education and for almost all kinds of written communication (Sand 1999: 70).

It derived from British English but has undergone a long development with constant influences of other languages, such as West African languages, other European languages or Jamaican Creole for instance, since it came into being. It was this development that created the standard English that is spoken in Jamaica nowadays and which caused that JamE came off of the British model but became an independent standard variety[4]. In fact, today’s JamE shows many influences not only of JC but also of American English, which can be explained with the close geographical situation and tourism (Viereck 2002: 195).

In comparison to the Jamaican creole, JamE has a much higher prestige, which means that it is higher valued by the Jamaican society probably due to its status as an official language, the fact that it is on the contrary to Jamaican Creole a standardised language and maybe because of the Jamaican past in which it, as the language of the settlers, was considered to be superior to the creole, the language of the slaves.

3.2. Linguistic Features of Standard Jamaican English

JamE has many features in common with the language it derived from, namely British English.

With regard to phonology, Lawton (1984: 255 ff.) points out that there is no substantial difference in comparison to Received Pronunciation[5] and thus makes clear that JamE is a non-rhotic[6] language like British English and shows similar features like, for instance, the intrusive [r][7]. He also makes clear that both languages have the same consonants and vowels that are similarly realised.

Despite these similarities he describes the prosody of these languages as being different from each other by mentioning that JamE has a syllable timed rhythm[8] while British English has a stressed timed rhythm[9].


[1] A pidgin is a language developed for certain purposes such as trade and thus works as a contact language between people with different linguistic background who do not know each others languages and thus have to create a new one to communicate. This implies that a pidgin does not have native speakers (Yule 1996: 233 ff.). A pidgin has only a little lexicon and very simple grammatical structures (Siegel 2002: 336).

[2] A creole is the first language or mother tongue of a child of a pidgin speaker and thus has native speakers. The grammar is more complex than the grammar of the pidgin. (Yule 1996: 234)

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

[4] A standard variety is the language of education and the media of a certain country. It has a standardised 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)

[5] 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)

[6] 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)

[7] 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 [ә]. This is only done when the next word starts with a vowel. Thus a glottal stop is avoided. (Davis 1998: 110)

[8] 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)

[9] 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.

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English in Jamaica: The Coexistence of Standard Jamaican English and the English-based Jamaican Creole
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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English, Jamaica, Coexistence, Standard, Jamaican, English, English-based, Jamaican, Creole
Quote paper
Antje Bernstein (Author), 2006, English in Jamaica: The Coexistence of Standard Jamaican English and the English-based Jamaican Creole, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/71333


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