Patois vs Patwa | Chakachaka vs aada

Piggybacking on a post from a couple weeks ago, I decided to give a short comparison between the chakachaka (Patwa word meaning ‘messed up, disorderly’) and the Cassidy/JLU system. The former is what most Jamaicans use, because the new system (the ‘official’ system) has not been taught in most schools yet. Chakachaka writing is ‘disorderly’ because the words are spelt any number of ways, ranging from the exact English spelling (e.g. ‘nothing’) to an attempt at expressing the sounds of Patwa (‘nutten’), to something in between (‘nothin’, ‘nuthin’, etc.)

The Cassidy/JLU standard is… well, standardised. Just as with any standard writing system, words are spelt the same way every time.

Know why I like this way? For one thing, it represents Patwa as its own language, not as a failed attempt at writing English. Let’s take a look at an example:


An except from the Jamaican novel Legitimate Resistance by Errol McDonald

See the use of apostrophes in words such as t’ink, hav’? What else does that mean but that these are broken forms of the English words? And then, look at the word sey. (How is that even pronounced…?) The ‘y’ at the end exists only, I suspect, because of the influence of the English word say. But it’s often spelt seh, too. Even within a single sentence, a single word is spelt two different ways: “built dem own church an schools and even supply stores.” And the word truth is another issue… the ‘th’ sounds are an English reality, not a Patwa one.

People tend to associate Patwa itself with disorder, as if it is a language with no rules, no structure. And I think that the chakachaka system is part of the reason for that. Giving a language a writing system legitimises it. It allows people to see the structure that they did not see before, or chose not to see, as the case may be.

Even the English language went through this kind of standardisation and legitimisation. It was the language of the rabble, the lower class. In fact, the Church fought the translation of the Bible into English for many years for that very reason. Just as people today think Patwa is a rough, unholy language, they thought the same about our high and lauded English today.

Another thing about chakachaka writing is that it inevitably allows Englishisms through. Built is English; not Patwa. The chakachaka writer has to make decisions about how to write the language in a way that makes it interpretable to the reader; that often results in English slipping out because English spelling rules will never be able to capture a language like Patwa.

With a standard, you don’t have that problem. You just write.

Di sliev maasta dem did tingk se wen imansipieshan kom, dem wudn afi pie fi kip an kier dem sliev, an dem stil av di sliev dem fi du di work fi chiip. Dem did tingk se di sliev dem wuda ron go bak tu dem, an se dem kudn diil wid friidom. Dat kudn forda fram di chuut./Notn neva go so, nontaal. (My attempt at translating some of the excerpt into Patwa)

Our Jamaican language can be written in a standard way; a way that shows that it is a language on its own.

Fi wi langwij. Fi wi kolcha. Fi wi raitin.

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