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Jamaican English or Jamaican Standard English is a dialect of English encompassing in a very unique way, parts and mergers of both American English and British English dialects. Typically it uses British English spellings but does not reject American English spellings.
It is not to be confused with what linguists call Jamaican Creole, sometimes known as "Jamaican", though typically referred to in Jamaica as Patois or dialect; nor with the vocabulary and language approach of the Rastafarian movement. ("Patois" is a French term referring to broken or improper French but in Jamaica it refers to Jamaican Creole, which Jamaicans have traditionally seen as "broken" or incorrect English). Jamaican is generally considered to be a Creole language /Creole. Modern linguists hold the view that Creoles are full languages.
Jamaican Standard English is grammatically similar to British Standard English (see British English). Recently, however, due to Jamaica's proximity to the United States and the resulting close economic ties and high rates of migration (as well as the ubiquity of American cultural/entertainment products such as movies, cable television and popular music) the influence of American English has been increasing steadily. As a result, structures like "I don't have" or "you don't need" are almost universally preferred over "I haven't got" or "you needn't".
Recent American influence is even more obvious in the lexicon (babies sleep in "cribs" and wear "diapers" [or "pampers"]; some people live in "apartments" or "townhouses", for example). Generally, older vocabulary tends to be British ("nappies" mean cloth diapers; cars have "bonnets" and "windscreens"; children study "maths", use "rubbers" to erase their mistakes and wish they were on "holiday"), while newer phenomena are typically "imported" together with their American names. Naturally, Jamaican Standard also uses many local words borrowed from Jamaican Creole (such as "duppy" for 'ghost'; "higgler" for 'informal vendor'; and of course lots of words referring to local produce and food items - "ackee", "callaloo", "guinep", "bammy").
The most noticeable aspect of Jamaican English for speakers of other varieties of English is the pronunciation or "accent". Jamaican Standard pronunciation, while it differs greatly from Jamaican Creole pronunciation, is nevertheless recognizably Caribbean. Giveaway features include the characteristic pronunciation of the diphthong in words like "cow", which is more closed and rounded than in Standard British or American English; the pronunciation of the "but" vowel (again, more closed than the SB or AE version, though not as closed as in the Creole); semi-rhoticity, i.e. the dropping of the "-r" in words like "water" (at the end of unstressed syllables) and "market" (before a consonant); but not in words like "car" or "dare" (stressed syllables at the end of the word). Merger of the diphthongs in "fair" and "fear" takes place both in Jamaican Standard and Jamaican Creole, resulting in those two words (and many others, like "bear" and "beer") becoming homophones. (Standard speakers typically pronounce both closer to "air", while Creole speakers render them as "ear"). The short "a" sound (man, hat) is very open, similar to its Irish or Scottish versions.
Language Use: Standard Versus Creole
Jamaican Standard and Jamaican Creole exist side by side in the island in a typical diglossic pattern (see diglossia). Creole is used by most people for everyday, informal situations - it's the language most Jamaicans use at home and are most familiar with (and is closest to their hearts); it's also the language of most local popular music. Standard, on the other hand, is the language of education, high culture, government, the media and official/formal communications. It's also the native language of a small minority of Jamaicans (typically upper class and upper/traditional middle class). Most Creole-dominant speakers have a fair command of Standard English, through schooling and exposure to official culture and mass media; their receptive skills (understanding of Standard English) are typically much better than their productive skills (their own intended Standard English statements often show signs of Creole interference).
Most writing in Jamaica is done in Standard English (including private notes and correspondence). Jamaican Creole has no standardized spelling and is not taught at school. As a result, the majority of Jamaicans can read and write Standard English only, and have trouble deciphering written dialect (in which the writer tries to reflect characteristic structures and pronunciations to differing degrees, without compromising readability). Written Creole appears mostly in literature, especially in folkloristic "dialect poems"; in humoristic newspaper columns; and most recently, on internet chat sites frequented by younger Jamaicans, who seem to have a more positive attitude toward their own language use than their parents.
It's important to note that while for the sake of simplicity it is customary to describe Jamaican speech in terms of Standard versus Creole, that clear-cut dichotomy does not adequately describe the actual language use of most Jamaicans. Between the two extremes -"broad Patois" on one end of the spectrum, and "perfect" Standard on the other - there are various in-between varieties. This situation typically results when a Creole language is in constant contact with its standard (superstrate or lexifier language) and is called a Creole Continuum. The least prestigious (most Creole) variety is called the basilect; the Standard (or high prestige) variety the acrolect; and in-between versions are known as mesolects.
Consider, for example, the following forms:
"Im a wok ova de-so" (basilect)
"Im workin' ova de-so" (low mesolect)
"Im is workin' over dere" or "(H)e (h)is workin' over dere", "(high mesolect)
"He is working over there." (acrolect)
(As noted above, the "r" in "over" is not pronounced in any variety, the one in "dere" or "there" is.)
Jamaicans choose from the varieties available to them according to the situation. A Creole-dominant speaker will choose a higher variety for formal occasions like official business or a wedding speech, and a lower one for relating to friends; a Standard-dominant speaker is likely to employ a lower variety when shopping at the market than at her workplace. Code-switching can also be metaphoric (e.g. a Standard-dominant speaker switching to a lower variety for humoristic purposes, or to express solidarity).
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