Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Elegance of Patois

You know, chillin with the Jamaican blog community offers me the opportunity to maintain my patois. Where else could I go to see someone type in patois [Dr. D] or hear long forgotten words like mookot [a la Mad Bull]. Well, mi really glad fi get a chance fi chat likkle patois still you know--cause it hard no backside fi continually chat like me a Yankee [tr: I'm realy glad to have the chance to speak a little patois because it's really hard to speak like an American all the time].

Now, on the subject of speaking like an American: I used to have a boss when I was an undergrad that considered himself to be a "linguist" and he would spend hours trying to "teach" me how to speak "proper english". You ever see my dying trials? this man trying to tell me things like, "no Angry, we don't say "couch", we say "cauwch" or "it's not cow, it's cauw" or my favorite one yet, "you water your garden with a hose and live in a hauwse". This was the same man that one day said to me "look Angry, does the new plam in my office remind you of home?" For the life of me, I wanted to roll over and die with laughter right there! The man could not pronounce the simple four letter word "palm". I had to excuse myself and go to the bathroom to laugh and laugh I did...in fact, I laughed until I had a muscle contraction in my back and tears came to my eyes.

Now, the one thing that really got my goat was the fact that this man one day [close to when I was about the graduate and leave the job forever] said to me "Angry, you know that your english has improved a lot since working here and I'm glad I was able to teach you", I was mad as hell, imagine, me a native speaker of english being told by someone that my english had improved, what the f*ck? Me, the student who could bang out complex essays in 15 minutes that got nothing short of an A (and a few offers of publication by my overzealous professor), what the hell? Anyhow, I couldn't tell him bout him rass, since I really did need him to write a letter of recommendation for me. But, I made a "special" Jamaican mix CD for him as a going away present. You see, he was a homosexual, though everone knew it and he tried to hide it (never could understand why gay folk oftentime tend to call their significant others their "roommate"). Anyhow, the mix CD consisted of "Boom Bye Bye" by Buju Banton, "Chi-Chi Man" by TOK, "Love P*nany" by Shabba Ranks and a few other selections that send across a clear message that the vast majority of Jamaican men only like women and don't take too kindly to "batty mechanics". Can I tell you people, the man loved the CD...couldn't understand one shyte of what the DJs were saying, but he loved it anyway...*sigh* the elegance of patois...you gotta be born and raised in Jamaica to understand what the hell we talking about...to the rest of the world our words sound like harmonious drivel.

Speaking of elegance, one of my favorite pasttimes as a undergrad was to curse in patois during class. No one could understand what I was saying and I was quite content to lay down thick layers of the b.c. and the r.c. to my professors--and the worst part is that, when you say it with a smile, they're all thinking "isn't that cute, the poor little confused Jamaican boy is telling me such wonderful things in his native tongue!". Well, I had a ball doing this for my first semester, especially in French class where I would say things like "Bonjour, Je M'appelle B*mbo R*ss" [I hated my teacher with a passion and these little things amuzed me]. Well, in my second semester, I had an english teacher that gave us unbelievably large volumes of work and one day made the comment "why the r*ss dis bl*odcl*et woman haffi gi big man so much work fah?" At the end of class, the teacher [a skinny, bone white woman with a thick southern accent] pulled me aside and asked me to refrain from cursing in her class. *shock, awe, fear* I later learned that she had dated a Jamaican for a while and was quite familiar with the little quirks of our patois. Well, suffice it to say, I stopped cursing in patois in class.

I like to consider patois as a language of itself, due to the fact that it does have a complex grammatical structure and all the other requirements based on Chomsky's Taxonomy that would make it a language (so I did learn something from the "linguist" after all). Anyhow, I consider myself to be tri-lingual. English, Patois and Spanish [I would count the 12 programing languages that I know, but I don't speak in C or Java, so I won't]. The only problem that I have is that I sometimes tend to get confused with the three languages and run into all manner of strange problems. For instance, take the other day when I call Pebbles in Spain and her mom picks up the phone. I start talking to her in spanish, but instead of saying "si", I would respond with "yeah man"...oops, poor woman was confused as anything. Or one day I go to the cafeteria for lunch and I look at the guy (a 100% african american) "Yow, sell me two hamburger and a pepsi nuh". Of course, the guy had no idea what I was saying and I had to repeat my order. The thing is that this happens to me mostly when I'm alone for long periods of time--I guess I feel more natural speaking patois and the fact that I talk to other Jamaicans like Yamfoot, Dr. D, Mad Bull and Strainer10 online in patois, it causes my brain to lapse into patois-mode. Normally, when I interact with a lot of people from different cultures on a regular basis, I have no problem context switching between the three languages--in fact, I've had many moments where I had to carry on conversations in all three languages and not miss a beat.

I know that patois is often looked down on by some Jamaicans and people that speak the hardcore patois are oftentimes considered to be stupid or uneducated. My grandmother used to hate to hear us speak patois and would always force us to speak the queen's english...sadly, it was very difficult to cope in school where other kids spoke patois and you spoke "properly", especially since I went to an all-boy's high school where you were ostracized if you didn't sound or act like the rest of the population. So, in a way, high school forced me to learn patois and I'm really glad that I did too because I've found that it allows me to communicate more efficiently with people from all walks of life. Yes, it's true that I am well-educated, but I never want the fact that I have a Masters degree and study/live/work in the US to set me too far apart from my friends who have not been as blessed with education success. Hence, I will never try to dilute my accent or "forget" about my patois, which is a part of my heritage. For when it all boils down to it, I am a Jamaican pure and true and I can never turn away from my culture or the people that knew me and were friends with me when I had nothing.

100% Jamaican. No Preservaties or Addtivies.

{arf,arf}

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