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Thursday’s posts look at sociolinguistics or child language acquisition: accents, stereotypes and how children learn to speak

The word of God in our own language.

The Bible is being translated into Jamaican Creole Patois, and the project is excepted to come to an end very shortly.

It’s viewed by sceptics as not being “proper”; that it’s almost like slang. In the same way that people think that Scots isn’t a real language, creoles aren’t seen as a language because they have a lot of similar features to English.

Creoles are developed versions of Pidgins.

Pidgins are languages formed when English came into contact with the language of an area being colonised.

A need to communicate springs up between the traders and the locals, and so the two languages form another.

As they would be spoken not by the colonisers but by the locals, they generally took on the lexicon (words) of English (or French, German, Portuguese), and the grammar, syntax, and phonology of the native language. This means it’s easy to speak, but also easily understood.

Pidgins are very simple languages. They have a very small vocabulary and a limited range of vowel sounds. This is fine, because they are only spoken as a trade language; the local language still exists away from the colonisers.

Until, that is, the language is acquired as a first language.

When the locals learn the pidgin as a first language and not as a means of communication with another group, it is no linger a pidgin but a creole.

The language begins to develop in another direction, with grammar becoming more complicated, and vocabulary expanding (mostly compound words made up of two words in the pidgin).

The language is then on a continuum. In the same way that you’ll hear people in Scotland who you can understand perfectly well and people who they subtitle on tv even in Scotland. It just means that some people speak in a variety far removed from English, while some speak a variety which is very understandable.

All the above happened in many countries during colonisation. If you look up Haitian creole, you can see how similar it is to French. Some are Portuguese- or Spanish-lexified. It depends on the language the locals had contact with.

In Jamaica, it was English; and Patois is the result.

Now, they’re in the process of translating the bible into Patois; into a language that really speaks to the locals.

Luke 1:26-28

26 Wen Ilizibet did prignant fi siks mont, God sen ienjel Giebrel go a wan toun iina Gyalalii niem Nazaret, 27 fi kyari wan mesij go gi wan yong uman niem Mieri we neva slip wid no man yet. Mieri engiej fi marid Juozif, we kom from di siem famblili we King Dievid did bilang tu. 28 Di ienjel go tu Mieri an se tu ar se, “Mieri, me av nyuuz we a go mek yu wel api. Gad riili riili bles yu an im a waak wid yu aal di taim

While this is easy to understand, other extracts are less like English.

Luke 1:1-4

Tiyafilas Sa, Uol iip a piipl chrai fir ait dong di sitn dem wa apm mongks wi. Dem rait it dong siem wie ou dem ier it fram di piipl dem we did de de fram di staat, si di sitn dem wa apm an we priich di wod.

As I said, the translation is controversial.

On the one hand, Patois is stigmatised, and someone who speaks only that will have a hard time getting ahead in life.

It’s also patronising – Jamaicans can read and understand English. Critics argue that the Patois Bible will cost a day’s wage, yet won’t be as nicely bound or as prestigious as the English; it’s not something they’d want guests to see or to write the births and deaths of the family inside.

However, watch this video:

If translating the bible means that it brings it to life for Jamaicans, and if it helps the language lose some of its stigma, who are we to argue?

We also see the people in the video style shifting along the continuum themselves – they know when to use a variety close to English and when to speak in Patois; there’s no fear that they might “forget” English.

It’s just that their language is Patois.