Sociolinguistics Defining Simplicity: Jamaican Patwa Term Paper

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[. . .] One interesting note is that many individuals mark the permanence, if anything can be called permanent about language based on its written use. This can in part be seen by the development of canon of literature or a canon of vernacular translation of dominant culture literature. In one sense a form of postcolonial development that will have a significant impact on sociolinguistics is the idea of cultural identity and independence. This can seriously be reflected in a current attempt by some to generate a Jamaican patwa version of the King James bible.

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THEY say the Bible is best understood in a person's mother tongue. But in the Caribbean they've had to put up with the stuffy English King James version for centuries. Now, in a mark of its independent spirit, Jamaica has come up with a translation in patois - the island's own unofficial language. One of the first stories getting the Creole treatment is the traditional Christmas tale. In the depiction of the Angel Gabriel's visit to Mary, the New King James Bible's version of Luke reads: 'And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women." In the patois version, it becomes: 'Di ienjel go tu Mieri an se tu ar se, "Mieri, mi av nyuuz we a go mek yu wel api. Gad riili bles yu an im a waak wid yu aal di taim." Proponents of the Jamaica Bible Society patois version argue that since many islanders have difficulty understanding standard English, it is wrong to have the holy book in a 'foreign' tongue. Most of the words in Jamaican patois are English words filtered through a distinct phonetic system with fewer vowels and different consonant sounds. Clergy on the island said the patois gospel had gone down a storm. Pastor Lloyd Millen said: 'People feel liberated. They say they are able to visualize the Bible better. (2010, Daily Mail)

Term Paper on Sociolinguistics Defining Simplicity: Jamaican Patwa Assignment

Though this particular example may seem a silly one to some it lends credence to the idea that Jamaican patwa is indeed a thriving language that will continue to evolve and develop as an aspect of cultural identity. Comparing the two passages linguistically rather than comically demonstrates that the Jamaican patwa version of the same passage clearly lends varied meanings to the message of the passage. While the English simply says Mary should be happy because she is highly favored by the lord, the lord is with her and that she is an example of a blessed woman. While a translation of the Jamaican patwa passage says that the angels are going to make her very happy that the lord really loves her and that he will walk with her all the time. It is difficult to remove cultural bias when viewing the comparative passages in part because of the subject matter but it is also clear that there is a variation on meaning that is significant and not simplistic. To some degree the two passages compared offer a perspective variance that is significant in context. Where the English King James version of the passage demonstrates a sense of aloof interaction, while the Jamaican patwa passage translation offers the reader a very personal, close and practical message associated with the meaning of the passage.

To say that the lord is with her is an abstract concept whereas to say that the lord walks with her all the time demonstrates the complexity of thought that is specifically culturally based. Of course to some degree these two translations offer a view into the meaning of faith and the practice of Christianity as much as the offer a glimpse into the sociolinguistic difference between these two cultures. It is also important to note that the King James Version of the bible is written in a context that no longer exists. Upon further research I did in fact discover that the version of the bible used for this translation was indeed not the King James Version but the Greek New Testament and is stated by the society responsible for the translation to have had the same level of rigor and high standards associated with any other vernacular translation of the text (Green, 2010).

Secondly, even a vernacular translation in English of the same passage is lacking the very personal message associated with the Jamaican patwa translation, as Luke 1:28 reads in the American Standard Version: "And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee, and in the" and another translation from the Bible in Basic English "And the angel came in to her and said, Peace be with you, to whom special grace has been given; the Lord is with you." (Parallel Greek New Testament, 2007). The remarkable difference is obviously cultural, as even the most comparable vernacular translation, notably developed by other postcolonial societies do not give the verse the close and personal relationship that the Jamaican Patwa version does.

Though this discussion may have sounded a bit like a diversion from the topic the point of its inclusion is to serve as an example of the subjective nature of the terminology associated with sociolinguistics in a postcolonial society. The definition of linguistic simplicity then collides with the definition of sociolinguistic simplicity as the now four translations above differ considerably in complexity as well as, tone, length and most importantly message. This having been said one can also argue that the Jamaican Patwa example offers a "childish" personal association with God, so maybe the last thing we should look at, for the sake of interest is Luke 1:28 in a children's bible. The International Children's Bible translates Luke 1:28 as "The angel came to her and said, "Greetings! The Lord has blessed you and is with you." Once again we are disappointed in seeking favor for the idea that the translation might be a simplified i.e. childish example of meaning, yet clearly the now 5 translations are divergent, the most divergent and individual being the Jamaican Patwa translation. If surface and nuance are then used to define simplicity, Jamaican Patwa is, at least in this example is not simple at all and if Jamaican cultural identity has anything to say about it, it will also continue to be translated and codified as a viable dialect of English.


(2010, December 21). Wel api, the Jamaicans with a Bible in patois. Daily Mail. p. 24.

Cooper, K.J. (2009). Parts of Speech. Crisis (15591573), 116(3), 16.

Green, J. (2008). Translation Tiff. Christianity Today, 52(9), 15.

McWhorter, J.H. (2005) Defining Creole, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Olade Abih, E. Smith, N. (2009) Complex… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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