The Languages of Jamaica

Jamaica is a beautiful island that happens to be the place most of my forebears are from. Since the age of 3, I have been exposed to the Jamaican languages due to being partially raised by my grandmother after the death of my mother in 1987.

Jamaica has 4 main languages, two of which exist on a dialect spectrum from acrolect (“upper dialect”) to basilect (“lower dialect”).
  • acrolect = upper-class dialect
  • mesolect = middle-class dialect
  • basilect = lower-class dialect.
Various social factors determine where along the spectrum you speak, and even people like me from the Jamaican diaspora, often speak the mesolect in certain situations which I will go into in more detail later.
1. Standard Jamaican English (SJE) is the acrolect. It is basically a mix between Standard English with a slight accent, the language Jamaican newsreaders speak. This video where they speak SJE is from a by-election they had in Jamaica in April 2019.

2. Jamaican Creole (JCr) also known as “Patwa” (from the French word “Patois”) is the language most people speak and is the basilect. In this video, the woman being interviewed begins speaking in SJE but then moves further into JCr as she becomes more emotional and angry about having lost her home in a recent landslide.

SJE exists on a continuum with JCr. As I said before, the woman in this video starts more closely to SJE then gradually moves further and further into JCr as her emotions become stronger. The effect of emotion on the dialect you choose is a phenomenon that even British-raised Jamaicans, such as me, experience very often.


Screenshot 2019-04-07 at 13.44.22

Twi loanwords make up the largest part of the African influence in Jamaican Creole, and Jamaican Creole has Twi arrangement and grammar.
The other two languages spoken are spoken both as everyday languages by the Maroon people, as as more ritual languages to speak to their ancestors.

3. Jamaican Maroon Creole (JMCr) also known as Uol Taim Patwa (Old Time Patwa) or ‘Maroon Spirit Language’, is a kind of language used by the Maroon people who escaped slavery in the early days and lived and still live in the mountainous areas. It has largely been replacd by JCr as a daily language, but it is used as a ritual language to communicate with their ancestors who were born in Jamaica after slavery began.

4. Kromanti (Kr) is a language the Marrons  use to ritually communicate with their ancestors who were born in Ghana before the trans-Atlantic slave trade began. Kromanti has minimal English influence and many speakers of Twi and Fante say that they understand a large percentage of it.

The man in the following video begins speaking JMCr at 3:20 and then in Koromanti at 3:40 switcvhing back to JMCr (which is 90% mutually intelligible with JCr) for the rest of the video.
Another example:

Kromanti is named after KormantinCentral region, Ghana. Fort Amsterdam was built by the English between 1638 and 1645 as Fort Cormantin or Fort Courmantyne.

The Maroons, are descendants of Africans who escaped from slavery and established free communities in the mountainous interior, primarily in the eastern parishes of Portland, St Andrew and St. Thomas.
Africans enslaved during Spanish rule of Jamaica (1494-1655) were the first to develop such refugee communities. The English, who invaded the island in 1655, expanded the importation of slaves to support their extensive development of sugar-cane plantations. Africans in Jamaica continually fought and revolted, with many who escaped becoming Maroon.
The revolts had the effect of disrupting the sugar economy in Jamaica and making it less profitable. The revolts simmered down only after the British government promised to free the slaves if they stopped revolting; and slavery was abolished in 1834.


The Windward Maroons and those from the Cockpit Country resisted conquest in the First Maroon War (c. 1728 to 1740), which the government ended in 1739-1740 by making treaties to grant lands and to respect Maroon autonomy, in exchange for peace and aiding the colonial militia if needed against external enemies.

Tension between British colonial Governor Alexander Lindsay, 6th Earl of Balcarres, and the majority of the Leeward Maroons resulted in the Second Maroon War from 1795 to 1796. Although the governor promised leniency if the Maroons surrendered, he later backtracked and, supported by the Assembly, insisted on deporting 600 Maroons to British settlements in Nova Scotia. The deported Maroons were unhappy with conditions in Canada, and in 1800 majority left by succeeding in getting passage to Freetown, eight years after the Sierra Leone Company established it in West Africa (in present-day Sierra Leone) as a British colony.




CoromanteeCoromantinsCoromanti or Kormantine (derived from the name of the Ghanaian slave fort of Fort Kormantine in Koromanti, Ghana[1]) was the English name for enslaved people from Akanethnicities from the Gold Coast in modern Ghana. The term was primarily used in the Caribbean and is now considered archaic.


“Drums of Defiance: Maroon Music from the Earliest Free Black Communities of Jamaica | Smithsonian Folkways”Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Retrieved 2017-04-21.

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