Many people in Jamaica don’t actually believe that Jamaican Patois is a language on its own; they think it’s a dialect.
What I find is that the people who believe so tend to lean heavily in the direction of English when they speak. Their Patwa (that’s how it it is written in Patois) is poor and they tend to believe that everyone who can speak Patwa can understand English and vice versa.
Don’t think I’m just pointing figures; after all, I fell into this category for most of my life.
There has been such a huge uproar against the new Patwa Bible that is to be completed in a few years; a definite milestone for such an important book to be in our language! Honestly, too many Jamaicans still say, “Render your heart and not your garment…” (see Joel 2:13) I don’t see why people should need to learn another language to understand.
Anyway, it is a language on its own. It is English-lexified, yes (90% of the words [lexicon] is from [Middle] English), but it has distinct sound and structure.
It does not use “is”, etc.; it’s copula is “a”; but the copula is only used with nouns, not adjectives or verbs. Continuous aspect (-ing) is also “a”. Pluralization and possession is done in multiple ways; none of which are found in English. And, as if that weren’t enough, the words that have come from English are often used (very) differently.
On Monday, as a friend and classmate was practising for her Patwa oral presentation (yeah, I’m doing a Patwa course; fun!), she was making a mistake: “Mi name is…” (She’s from abroad.) As I mulled the correct sentence in my head, something dawned on me:
Although when we introduce ourselves in English, the word “name” is a noun, in Patwa, “niem” is a verb! I guess if you wanted to define it in English, it could be “to be named (the state, not the incident)” or “to call oneself”.