Mi fadda dead (Part II)

Mi fadda ‘im dead from diabetes. Is it what dem say but mi tink it ‘im gyal fren Gloria do ‘im someting wicked. Ya lawd! Why ‘im can die from diabetes when ‘im right as rain lars year heaster time. Ee stuff ‘isself sick wit dozen bun dem. White as a sheet was it! Haal a dem tink ‘im dead sho, but mi harntie she kept pourin’ white rum in ‘im … an den ‘im come to so farst ‘e bite de bawl off de spoon … Nah me seh man what can be so strong cyan do nutten fe diabetes? Nah man, dat ooman a wicked! She gwaan to de cuttin’ but she doan wan’ show de hortopsy report? Ahm tellin’ ya, she ‘fraid fe tell de trut’! But me know she cook up a woal ‘eap a white rice for ‘im an dat is what kill ‘im. Kill ‘im dead in de taxi to de ‘ospital!

Dem togedda about ten ‘ears, y’nah, an’ mi fadda jus’ leave hevryting to she. Mi fambly? … Nutten! She nevah pay not one dollah fe church ‘im. An’ she get up an’ do the ology, y’nah? Tell a bag o’ lie bout mi fadda an’ she. Dat ooman disgustin! Disgustin!!

She kill ‘im fe get free is what.

Read Mi fadda dead (part I)
For what it’s worth, both pieces are based on other texts: Part I borrows from the opening lines of L’Étranger by Albert Camus, while Part II gives a big nod to Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.

Future Walmart

Who said Jamaicans lacked entrepreneurial spirit?

Future WalmartFuture Walmart customers (Runaway Bay, 21 April 2006)

Dem demographic an’ focus group dem hit de nail to rass!

Me fadda dead (Part I)

Me fadda dead dis harftanoon. Or maybe dis mornin’, ah doan really know. Me sista she call me nah on me cell, say im was sick dis mornin an im tek a taxi to Kingston public ospital but ‘is eyes dem roll back all white in the taxi an im cyaan talk no more. De doctor dem aks im where it ‘urt an im point to ‘is ‘eart. And den im dead before dey can do anytin’.

Ah! Ah! Ah! When ah got de call ah couldn’t believe it. Ah staggered true de ‘ouse, me arms outstretch, graspin for sometin’ to grab onto, ah couldn’t see anytin’, ah was sobbin’ sooo ‘ard. Oh! Oh! Oh! me daughter she taught ah was laughin’. Ah got to de bartroom and sat on de toilet weepin’ wit’ me cellphone still to me ear.

Ah was goin’ to see im dis weekend … an now im go so quick an ah cyaan never see im again!

Wit’ me sista we went to the ospital. Dem say cos me daddy die so quick dem doan know how he die so they haffi cut im before we can tek the body.

Nah dem goan cut im Tuesday.

An de funeral parlour dem want 80,000 dollah fe de burial. Dem tief dem! Me get 6,000 a week, me husban a likkle more. I doan know what we goan do …

Me own church woan church me daddy cos im not a member dere. Ah’m a member fe ten years at leas’ an dem woan church mi own fadda! An dem call demselve christian! Me neighbour she give me de number of a pastor who will church im, but me ‘fraid to call and aks ‘ow much im want fe de churchin.

Me haffi go fe see the cutting. Me aks me sistah go wit’ me but she too scare fe go.

Read Mi fadda dead (Part II)

Make my day

I spent a chilly morning at the over-air conditioned offices of the National Water Commission offices in an attempt to get my latest bill reviewed.

It was for 22,000 dollars.

It was partly my own fault. Three months in, I noticed our consumption rate had never moved from zero. I had paid each monthly bill, but that was only for the fixed service charge. As a model citizen, I called the Water Commission to alert them to the problem and they promptly came round and changed the water meter. Now, call me stupid, but I didn’t think they’d have the nerve to give me a high estimate for those three months.

OK. I am stupid.

Pay bills or die tryingWhile waiting at the NWC office, we were entertained by a large angry woman in a tight open-backed top. She was more pumped than 50 Cent, although she probably built up her muscles by carrying food, water and children. She was an unstoppable force, striding up and down brandishing her note of final warning and shouting at the security,

Ya cyaah do nutten!
Ya cyaah do nutten!
Ya cyaah do nutten!

Elderly ladies in faded flowery dresses and pillbox hats pushed up their glasses, nodding and muttering,

Is true. Dem tief dem.

I felt I had scored a small victory against the all-powerful utility companies when I walked out two hours later with a new bill … for 319 dollars (US$5).

Exercise in stylee

There is an ongoing debate in Jamaica concerning the validity and usefulness of patois, the local dialect. On one side, some argue that it is an authentic language of communication used by the majority of Jamaicans and should therefore have its place in the school curriculum; on the other side, critics argue that promoting patois will limit the user’s opportunities in a standard English world. Just yesterday, one critic, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University no less, stated that encouraging patois at school:

encourages a lapse of mental and physical discipline as well as the wanton disregard of conventional standards.
Daily Observer, 27/01/06

At that level of understanding, he might have added that it stunts your growth and can lead to blindness.

As a linguist, my starting point is that any language in use is valid and worthy of study. The interest is in discovering how different languages are used to present users’ different experiences and perceptions of their world. Patois fascinates me with its etymological richness and its oral strength. Etymologically, it echoes the national motto,


with its incredibly diverse borrowings from other languages: Wolof (Senegal), Twi & Fante (Ghana), Ewe (Ghana & Togo), Ibo & Hausa (Nigeria), Bube (Bioko), Bantu Douala (Cameroon), Kikongo (Congo), Gulla (US South Carolina dialect), Amharic (Ethiopia), Galibi (Guyana), Hindi, Portuguese, Spanish, Latin and of course English.

The oral strength of patois is evident in its many phatic expressions, such as hear me now, y’hear? Ah tell yah, seen? Phatic expressions serve to keep communication open by checking reception. It is considered to be the primary function of language for babies, when they learn that their first attempts at communication trigger enthusiastic responses. In standard English, the most common example these days is on a cellphone with poor reception:

Hello! Hello! Can you hear me?!

In face to face conversation, however, standard English has become more formalized and expects the listener to follow without extra phatic encouragement.

As a validation exercise, I thought of rewriting a famous text in patois. The text itself is without interest; the trick is rendering it in different ways. Originally published in 1947, Raymond Queneau’s Exercices de style have become the most celebrated example of a writing constraint, where the writer imposes a restriction on the limits of writing. Other examples include texts by Queneau’s disciple, Georges Perec, such as La disparition, which was written without using the letter “e”, and Les revenentes in which the only vowel used is “e”!

The constraint of retelling the same banal story in 99 different styles reveals the incredible potential of language that we use every day without thought. The different versions include telling the story as if in a dream, or in the style of a book blurb or as an offical letter, or simply playing with time, colours, different accents or jargon. Exercices de style was brilliantly translated into English by Barbara Hepworth, who privileged Queneau’s spirit of playfulness over mechanical translation.

So here’s the point of this post: a retelling of Queneau’s story in patois. The story in standard English is as follows: the narrator gets in a crowded bus and notices a young man with a long neck wearing a hat with a plait (braid) instead of a ribbon. The young man has a minor altercation with another passenger then quickly retreats to a free seat. Shortly after, the narrator sees the same man in discussion with a friend. The friend tells the young man that he should put the button on his overcoat higher (!). Hardly Hollywood material, but the point is forcing this meagre material into different forms through the power of language.

Here’s my attempt at a patois version:

Now hear dis, mek Ah tell oonu, wa day de bus dem full up wid so much people dem. An ah see dere one dem jump up good fuh nutten boasie maaga jancro wid him winjy neck fit fe choke, ah tell yah bwai! ‘im a fix a ribbon an ‘is ‘at fenky-fenky come een like ‘im Selassie ‘isself, yaah! Smady cut yai an’ ‘im vex an’ bawl some faasty nying’i-nying’i. It oht fi mek one kass-kass, ah’m tellin’ yah. Cho! ‘im nah tallowah doh an’ ‘im jus’ kiss ‘im teet’ an’ a go cotch far dereso quick quick.

Kiss mi nek, nah tree hower layta me see ‘im gen laba-laba wid ‘im breddah oo seh ‘im muss put ‘im button likkle more higher depan ‘im coat so, seen?

Jack Mandora

I would be grateful if other true speakers of patois correct and improve my version. For non-patois speakers, see if you can come up with another version based on your regional dialect or local slang or marketing jargon or …