Jamaican Language - The voice of the island

Jamaican Language and Common Phrases

What languages are spoken in Jamaica?

The most commonly spoken language is Jamaican English, and then Jamaican Patois.

Jamaican English is the official language of Jamaica and is widely used in media, education, government, and business. The English used in Jamaica has mostly British grammar and spelling in its colonial history, but American English has also changed it over the years.

The majority of Jamaicans do not speak English as a mother language but learn it as a second language in school, the first being Jamaican Patois.

The most widely spoken language in the country is Jamaican Patois (also known as Patwa and Jamaican Creole).  While Jamaica is the official language, many Jamaicans speak Patois in their day-to-day casual conversations. Compared to 50,000 English-speaking Jamaicans, 2.7 million speak Jamaican, a kind of Creole English born during the slave trade. 

The Jamaican Patois is a blend of African languages, English, Arawak (the original Jamaican language), Portuguese, French, Irish, Chinese, Spanish, and Scottish. It was considered to be the worst language in its history but it has since been regarded as the language of liberty and independence in Jamaican history.

In addition to English and Jamaican Patois, what language do the Jamaicans speak, if anything? Arawakan, spoken by the indigenous people known as Taino, is Jamaica's only living indigenous language.

Jamaican boy with green eyes - Burning the culture barriers
Learning Jamaican language concept. Young woman standing with the Jamaica flag in the background. Teacher holding books, orange blank book cover.

Learning the Jamaican Language

 

It is good to learn a couple of phrases and words Jamaicans use in their everyday conversations when planning a vacation in Jamaica or start doing business there.

The official language of Jamaica is English, which means that tourists to Jamaica who speak English have no trouble interacting entirely with the local population. But learning more about Jamaican ducks can help you connect with the local people and make your journey or business a more positive experience.

It's not about mastering the local language to speak it fluently. To the local people you meet and communicate with on your journey, attempts to respect the local style of speech should be courteous.

If you take the time to listen to it you can easily understand the dialect. When the speaker is excited, words normally emerge fairly rapidly, but when there is a general conversation, the words come out much more slowly and are easier to understand.

"Patois" from Jamaica is conveyed as much by gesture and drama as by rhythm and sound. This is how people exchange thoughts and emotions with very passionate people. The language appeared as the voice of a special and proud people, far more than a means of communication.

Common Phrases in the Jamaican Language

Some common Jamaican phrases you might come across or find useful:

 

  • ‘Small up yuhself’

A good phrase to know when using crowded buses or taxis. It simply means making space.

Notice how similar it looks to the English phrase “Small up yourself”. 

 

  • ‘Weh Yuh Ah Seh’

The translation of the word to English is equal to "What are you saying?" or otherwise "How are you doing?" The sentence can also be spelled as' weh yaw seh.'

 

  • ‘Inna di morrows’

Used for saying goodbye.    "Tomorrow" will be the literal version, which means "see you later."

 

  • ‘Boonoonoonoos’

Boonoonoonoos is a word for love in the Jamaican language. In Engish, this means "special person". When visiting Jamaica, if you have a loved one with you, we suggest calling them a  "boonoonoonoos friend" to share your feelings. It is often used to denote things or objects that are also pleasant.

Jamaican man walking on the coast holding the Jamaican flag
  • ‘Mi Soon Come’

Literally, the Jamaican word means: I am there. But don't be mistaken if you’re told to come soon. The island's weather is much more slow and sluggish than the rest of the planet, so this expression could be interpreted from a few hours to a few days.

 

  • ‘Wah Gwaan’

If you heard the speech of former US President Barack Obama when he visited Jamaica ahead of his second term, you might have heard him greet his audience using this phrase. It is an informal welcome which means “How are you?” or “What’s up?”.

 

  • ‘Kick Up Rumpus’

Kick-up rumpus means getting a nice riotous time. It was also the title of Colourman and Jackie Knockshot's hit 1985 album.

 

  • ‘Lickkle more’

In other words, ‘see you later’ or ‘goodbye’. For example, mi see yuh likkle more den – means I’ll see you later then.

 

  • ‘Irie’

To say "all is well," the Jamaican proverb "Irie" is also used. Be conscious that to greet others, Jamaica has several varieties. When someone asks "How are you?", "My Irie" would be a reasonable response.

 

  • ‘Ya Mon’

"Man" is an important word in the Jamaican language for the locals and is often used when you speak to someone, whether it is a child or adult. "No problem" or "yes" is the English version of the Jamaican word "ya mon". For instance, if someone suggests to you a rum runner, you may want to say "Ya, mi!"

 

  • ‘Chaka-Chaka’

Chaka-chaka is used when something is being perceived as low performing, disorganized, and messy.