Jamaican Patois is a rich language first developed by African people brought to the island as slaves by the Europeans. Amstar Destination Manager for Jamaica, Richard Bourke, connoisseur and lover of all things Jamaica, shares with us some key phrases of this unique and vital element of Jamaican national identity.
Patois, pronounced patwa, is a unique language that originated in Jamaica. The roots of Jamaican Patois go back to the days of slavery starting with the Spanish Occupation of the island and continued through British colonialism. It is a continuously evolving language and new words are added on a regular basis. All Jamaicans understand English, however most speak Patois. If you’re struggling to understand, just ask your Jamaican friend to slow down a bit; we tend to speak quickly and one word rolls into another!
To help you out on your next trip to Jamaica, here are some basic guidelines and key phrases for Jamaican Patois that will make your next trip to our beautiful island even that much more pleasant.
- In words that start with H, the H is usually dropped or silent and we tend to add an H on any word that starts with a vowel. “Am and hegg“(ham and egg) or as follows:
Teacha, ‘arry tek a ‘amma fi ‘it mi inna mi ‘ead – Teacher, Harry took a hammer to hit me in my head
Bwoy, Hemphasize yu Haitches Yu Hignorant Heediot – Boy, Emphasize Your H’s You ignorant idiot.
- We also do dis, dat, deese and doese instead of this, that, these and those.
- With Patois, we also tend to repeat things:
Is ready yu ready already – Are you ready?
Is come I come fi come call yu – I have come to call you.
Some of the examples above are overstated for emphasis, but I guess you get the idea.
Key Jamaican Patois Phrases
And for good measure, here are some of the key Patois phrases to prepare you for your next trip:
English translation Popular Jamaica expressions
- Yes Yah mon!
- Ok/Fine Irie
- What is going on? Whata gwaan?
- How are you? Howdi do?
- Are you home? Yuh deh home?
- Do you have a first aid kit? Yuh hab no fus-aid kit
- Good morning Gud mawnin
- What are you doing? Wah yuh ah duh
- Thank you Tenk yuh
- I miss you Mi miss yuh
- Are you going to do it? Yuh go dweet?
- Are you ready now? Is ready yuh ready already?
- I am going on the tour tomorrow Mi deh go pah tour tomarraw
- This man sold us some coconuts Dis man sell wi kuk-nat
- Tell me where I can find Dunns River Falls Tell mi weh wi find Dunns Riva falls
- Jamaica is so nice Jamdung nice so til
- Please sit and be quiet Siddung steady
- Please stop here Tap yah so
- Tell me when you are ready Tell me when yuh ready
- What’s on the menu? Wah deh pah di menu
- Are you ready? Ounu ready
- Keep the change Kip di change
- The hotel beach was nice Di otel beach did nice
- Where is the craft market? Weh di craf ma-aket deh
- I don’t want that one Mi no wah dat deh one
Whatever you say and no matter the language there’s one key that will always get you by: a nice smile. And remember, if you don’t understand, just ask your new-found Jamaican friends to repeat themselves slower and I am sure you will get what you need to know.
And for those of you wanting a little more detail, check out this great video by Jamaican Sinting:
Richard Bourke is the Managing Director of Amstar DMC in Jamaica. Born in 1960 to Jamaican parents, Richard has spent over 30 years working in the country’s hospitality industry. Currently President of the Trelawny Chamber of Commerce as well as the SKAL Club of Montego Bay, Mr. Bourke also acted as the former Chairman of the Montego Bay Chapter of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association. An avid proponent of all things Jamaican and a certified PADI dive master, his passions and hobbies include deep sea fishing, open water sailing, golf, growing orchids as well as all things culinary (cooking, eating out and wines). Richard is married and has one daughter.
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Cover photo credit: Jus’ Chillin | CC image via flickr.com/donhomer