What Language Do Jamaicans Speak?
There is a lot of misinformation about the language spoken in Jamaica. Many people in other countries don’t know that Jamaica is one of 64 countries worldwide where English is the official language.
Consequently, it is the language used in all school instruction and to conduct any form of business in Jamaica. One of the reasons why Jamaica is such a popular tourist destination for North Americans is because we speak the same language!
However, the vast majority of Jamaicans also speak patois, a native creole which combines remnants of the language of our former colonizers – English and Spanish – with aspects of our ancestral languages from Africa. Jamaican patois is often used in our music, reggae and dancehall, and also in theatre and movie productions. Due to misrepresentation in the international media, some people from other countries are surprised to learn that Jamaicans speak English fluently. Some foreigners have even termed the local language as ‘Jamaican Spanish’.
The vast majority of Jamaicans are fluent in both patois and English. All kindergarten, primary, secondary and tertiary schools instruct their subject classes in English, and high school graduates sit a comprehensive English Language examination that tests reading and writing ability during their final year. English requirements for graduation from Jamaican universities are also notably stricter than that of some universities in North America. Note that Jamaica defaults to British spelling and pronunciation when it comes to the English language, meaning we write ‘honour’ instead of ‘honor’ as one example.
In daily life, most Jamaicans will speak patois informally with friends and family, then switch to English when having a business or work-related conversation. Jamaican patois is very expressive and it is not uncommon to see speakers gesticulating or using colourful facial expressions.
Common Jamaican Phrases
How yuh do? – How are you?
Wa’gwaan? – What’s up? or What’s going on?
Me nuh like it – I don’t like it.
Me nah go deh suh – I’m not going there.
Wah yuh wah me do – What do you want me to do?
Me soo cum link yuh – I’ll be visiting you shortly.
Big up yuself! – I have a lot of respect for you. or You did a great job!
Nuff respeck! – I respect you! or I mean you no disrespect.