Podcast: The relationship between Jamaican language and music

A few weeks ago, I listened to episode 1 of a series of Caribbean Language Podcasts. The topic? The history of Jamaican music, with a focus on music.

History of Jamaican Music Blog Pic2

It was interesting. Some of the information was stuff I already knew (and has been mentioned in previous blog posts), but I did learn a lot. It was recorded in 2012, the year Jamaica got her independence. The link to the podcast was posted in a blog dedicated to the Caribbean Language Podcasts, but the direct link to the podcast itself is right here.

I figure most of my readers might not be as interested in the linguistic history of Jamaica, so I’ll list some of the points that stood out to me.


Linguistic study of Jamaican Creole

Before anyone started studying Jamaican Creole, Jamaica was considered a language that largely spoke one language: English. “Dialect”, as JC was called back then, was, as it is today by many, just considered “broken English”.

And then white people (like R.P. Le Page) started coming in and saying… “Hey… Jamaicans speak something different. It has a different structure. It’s definitely not English.”

But, some Jamaicans, of course, thought, “Who are these foreigners with their so-called ‘science’ of linguistics to tell us about what’s our language…?”

Jamaican Creole a dying language…?

When it first started to be studied from a linguistic perspective, Jamaican Creole (Patwa in the language itself) was expected to die out in a few decades. Technology such as the radio, along with better education, would make English more available to the people, so only old people would use it.

Of course, that didn’t happen. It’s still here, alive and well.

Jamaican language in poetry

When Jamaica attained independence in 1962, there was an anthology of Jamaican poems published. The poems of Miss Lou were among them. But, as “dialect” poetry, they were there in the comedy section, separate from the stuff considered serious, which were, of course, in English.

Jamaican language in music

Jamaican music made a slow shift from English to Patwa. In fact, Millie Small, of “My Boy Lollipop” fame, underwent speech training so that the Jamaican language/speech patterns wouldn’t pop up in British interviews. (Wow… We thought so little of our language…?)

Originally, it started with just the choruses being in Patwa (“Ai man baan ya…”), with the verses, of course, being in English. The idea is that the issues were expounded in the proper tongue, while the emotive parts, would be be expressed in the language of the people. (Another example: “No woman, no cry” by Bob Marley.)

It’s when the idea of speaking over music, DJing, was born that Patwa gained traction in music. The songs would be sung in English, but eventually, live recordings of DJs doing their thing, instructing the people at the parties and events to enjoy themselves became popular. That grew into today’s Dancehall, of course.


So that’s it. If you have 37 minutes to spare, give it a listen!

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