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Weird Bibles 5: Jamaican Patois Bible

December 8, 2012

Well, you’ve probably seen the news articles today – the Bible Society is now selling the New Testament (“Nyuu Testiment”) in Jamaican Patois (“Jamiekan Patwa”).  Pretty impressive for a dialect which has no standardized written language!  “Kaa, yu si, Gad lov di worl so moch dat im gi op im wan dege-dege Bwai Pikni so enibadi we chose iina im naa go ded bot a-go liv fi eva.”

You can listen to “Di Gud Nyuuzbout Jiizas azkaadn tu Luuk” here, you can listen “1 Korintiyan13” here and listen/read many more samples here.

Here are some samples highlighted by the Bible Society:

1. Matthew 1: 23  The prophecy of Jesus birth: ‘Lisn op! Di uman we neehn  slip wid no man a-go get beibi…’ rather than, ‘Behold a virgin shall be with child’. 

2. Matthew 2: 11 The wise men give Jesus their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, reads, ‘Dem tek out di present we dem did bring, an gi di pikni – guol, frangkinsens an mor.’ 

3. Mark 1:16 Jesus calls his first disciples saying, ‘Fala mi’, rather than ‘follow me’. 

4. Mark 4: 39 Jesus calms the storm.  In English it reads, ‘Jesus stood up and commanded the wind, “Be quiet!” and he said to the waves, “Be still!”. In Patois this now reads, ‘ So Jiizas get op an taak chrang tu di briiz, an tel di sii fi sekl dong.’ 

5 Luke 1: 28 The Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to Jesus. Read in church services every Christmas as, ‘Hail though that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.’  This now reads, ‘Mieri, mi av nyuuz we a-go mek yu wel api. Gad riili riili bles yu an im a waak wid yu all di taim.’ 

6. Luke 2: 7  Mary wraps Jesus in ‘swaddling clothes’ when he is born. In Patois this is now,  ‘Shi rap im op iina biebi blangkit ‘. 

7. Luke 6: 27 ‘Love your enemies’ becomes ‘lov unu enimi’ 

8. John 2:3 Mary tells Jesus that the wine has run out at the wedding in Cana, before he turns water into wine in his first miracle. In English this reads, ‘They have no more wine’. In Patois it now reads, ‘Dem na’av no muor wain lef’. 

Now, it might rightly be argued that this is not weird Bible at all – that this is merely a translation into a spoken dialect (that, among other things, helps take a snapshot of that dialect).  While that is arguably the case (and this is certainly a project pursued with earnestness) it is not an unnatural reaction for speakers of American or British (or Canadian, New Zealand, or Australian) smile.  The translators defend their choice thusly:

Q: Won’t translating the Bible into Jamaican cause more laughter than seriousness?

A: "Sun a shine but tings no bright;
Doah pot a bwile, bickle no nuff;
River flood but water scarce, yawl
Rain a fall but dutty tough." –Ms Lou (Dutty Tough)

No one who reads the except above would find it funny; Jamaican can be used to convey hardship, tragedy, love and a wealth of other emotions without being humerous. BSWI and its partners are very serious about what they are doing. They believe the Bible is a respectable book and that persons who read or hear it must be able to identify it as a book that is to be taken seriously. The Bible will be translated with this in mind. Also, the translation will be tested in locations on the island before it is published.

Previous posts:

Weird Bibles 4: Digital Handwritten Bible
Weird Bibles 3: Playful Puppies Bible
Weird Bibles 2: Etymological New Testament

Weird Bibles 1: Archaic Aramaic script
An Orthodox translation

See also here.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2012 11:36 pm

    I just listened to the Luke 2 passage — I like it! It doesn’t sound funny or weird to me, it sounds real and down to earth. Given the kind of people that Jesus hung out with and preached to, I think there’s a lot of merit in translations that are in dialect rather than educated diction.

  2. December 9, 2012 8:42 am

    What is weird is the missionary motivations by outsiders; here’s from the mission statement of the project –

    “By translating the Bible into the heart language of the Jamaican people, we aim to aid in effecting positive change in the spiritual, ethical, psychological and social life of Jamaicans.”

    Notice, the “we” here are not “the Jamaican people.” True, there are several recruited “Jamaican people” on the project. Nonetheless, the central person, the sole and primary exegete of the Bible is not Jamaican. Rather, he is David W. Kuck, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America missionary (with his wife Mary Kuck), the former pastor of the First Lutheran Church in West Haven, Connecticut, now with the Global Mission Unit, who’s written the book, Preaching in the Caribbean: Building Up a People for Mission.

    Their published goals for this project are:

    “To produce an accurate and acceptable translation of the Holy Scriptures (of the New Testament first and then of the Old Testament) into Jamaican Creole (Patwa). The final product will be suitable for use in areas such as evangelism, discipleship, individual/group recreational listening, youth ministry and broadcasting.”

    It would seem that these missionary, evangelism goals are different from the goals of many Jamaicans who use their language for other purposes. The purposes of many would be to gain liberation from colonial influences and to gain national and cultural identity for “Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora.”

    This USA-missionary led evangelistic Bible translation project appears to give no recognition of Jamaican literature. The goal for “accuracy” would come before love of the language, of its poetry, of the nationalism it calls for in general. It is doubtful, for example, that David and Mary Kuck have consulted with the Jamaican writer of Jabari – Authentic Jamaican Dictionary of the Jamic Language: Featuring Jamaican Patwa and Rasta Iyaric, Pronunciations and Definitions. This individual, author Ras Dennis Jabari Reynolds, writes:

    Who seh wi chat patwa (patois)? It is said that Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Guyanese, St. Vincentians, Antiguans, all speak patois, which is the dialectal offspring of the language of the colonial powers of these islands. What do we really speak, and does our language have a distinct name? Let us first find out what is patois. It is an illiterate or provincial form of speech; broken English; jargon. Jargon is confused speech, gibberish, or technical phraseology.

    Ever since the late 17th century, English scholars of linguistic geography have been fascinated by the “broken English” spoken by Jamaicans. Broken English? What about the West African languages, namely Akan, Igbo, Wolof, Twi and others that are rooted in the linguistic protest of enslaved Africans in Jamaica: These so-called slaves, forbidden to speak in their native tongues, eventually developed an alternative to the King’s English by incorporating words from their various West African languages. Those words influenced today’s Jamaican words, such as dugu-dugu, quashie, buju, and countless others. Yes, a lot of the words we use are African, but very few people know about this. Why? The word patois does not take these things into consideration, and it undermines our unique and creative spirit as a people. The name of our language must reflect that out of many, we have one language. Thus the ideal name is Jamic. Jamic must be given credency because it represents the legacy of the Africans who formed the mode of communication, this vernacular. In this vein, Jamic is not just our spoken and written language, it is our language as a nation and people. Jam is short for Jamaica, and the suffix –ic, means of or relating to; therefore, Jamic simply means of or relating to Jamaica. In this case, it refers to the language. It must be noted, also, that the Rastas during the 1950s to 1980s took the language and formed their own argot: Iyaric. The lingo was developed in the spirit of self-determination, and the goal was to harness the power of word and its sound.

    This speech pattern is the “Principle of Word + Sound = Power” (W+S=P), a phonetic system that inflects specific words, depending on their sounds, to make them more appropriate in the context that they’re used, for instance, the word ‘downpressor’. Professor Hubert Devonish and others of the linguistics department at the University of the West Indies have advocated for the recognition of our language. But is it our language that they are promoting, or is it ‘broken English’ (as in Creole or patois?) Remember, if it is not Jamic, it is not ours. Interestingly, courses are being taught of “our” language in Britain’s Birmingham City College. Our national pride and self-determination make us, Jamaicans, the forerunners of change from oppression; therefore, we mush redefine ourselves. As a beginning, we must redefine the name of our language. Bob Marley said, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” In celebrating our 43rd Independence, it should be made clear that we have a language of the people, for the people. We do not speak broken English, or patois, we speak Jamic. And we do so with pride.

    What would be far less weird is if a Thomas MacDermot, a Claude McKay, an Una Marson, a Louise Bennett-Coverly, a Derek Walcott, a Mikey Smith, and a Bob Marley had rendered the Bible in their own language for non-Euro/American missionary purposes.

  3. December 9, 2012 1:02 pm

    Victoria, I understand your point of view. But there was something about that recitation that made it seem odd — the cheesy synthesizer music playing in the background. Jamaica has an unusually rich musical heritage — why not draw on that if the attempt to to make a work of lasting value?

  4. December 9, 2012 1:07 pm

    Kurk, your comments remind me of a poem by Louise Bennett (Miss Lou):

    By Louise Bennett

    Fe me fambly is not peaw-peaw,
    Me daughta Sue dah-teach.
    An wen rain fall, or Parson sick,
    Me son Uriah preach!

    Sunday gone, rain come so till Parson
    Could’n lef him yard,
    People was eena church an so
    Uriah get weh broad;

    Him climb up pon de pulpit, him
    Lean over, him look dung,
    Him look pon all we enemy
    An lash dem wid him tongue!

    De fus one him teck on, was Lize
    Who tell de lie pon me,
    Him stare in a her face an say,
    “Thou art de mouti-mouti!”

    Him sey “Thou art de rowasam!”
    “Thou art de meddlesam!”
    An den him look pon me an sey,
    “Thou art de slaughtered lamb!”

    Him teck on Teacher Brown, for wen
    Him was de size o’dat,
    Teacher beat him one day because
    Him call Teacher “top-knot.”

    So ‘Riah get him revenge now
    For him stare straight pon Brown
    An say, “let him dat sittet’ on
    De house-top not come down!”

    Him teck on Butcher Jones, who noted
    Fe sell scrapses meat,
    Him say “Thou shalt not give thy neighbours
    Floolooloops to eat!”

    Him tell dem off, dem know is dem,
    Dem heart full to de brim,
    But as ‘Riah eena pulpit
    Dem can’t back-answer him!

    So wen church member mel me, I
    Don’t answer till it reach
    A rainy-day wen Parson stay
    Home, an Uriah preach.

  5. BBWOY permalink
    July 12, 2014 5:06 pm


  6. fimichat permalink
    November 13, 2014 9:04 am

    Jamaican Patwa is not a dialect. It is a language. Linguists have been well aware of this since the middle of the 20th century.

  7. November 13, 2014 9:53 am

    fimichat –

    Thanks for your comment.

    Linguists using English often use the borrowed French word patois, which also means “dialect,” to describe the language of Jamaica. The Oxford English Dictionary includes this note of origin:

    French patois local or regional dialect (early 14th cent. in Old French in this sense; 1285 in sense ‘incomprehensible, vulgar gibberish’), further origin uncertain and disputed: see Trésor de la Langue Française s.v. patois and Französisches Etymol.

    And the following definitions:

    A dialect spoken by the people of a particular region (esp. of France or French-speaking Switzerland), and differing substantially from the standard written language of the country. Also gen. (freq. depreciative): a regional dialect; a variety of language specific to a particular area, nationality, etc., which is considered to differ from the standard or orthodox version.


    Also patwa. Any of the (English or French) Creole varieties of the Caribbean, esp. the English Creole of Jamaica. Also more widely: the variety of English spoken by some black British people of Caribbean descent.

    And then, “Jamaican Patwah’s web site” (ostensibly “governed by the laws of the State of St James, Jamaica“), has the following:

    Although the official language of Jamaica is Standard English, many Jamaicans also speak Patois which is a separate dialect/language. Jamaican Patois (also known as “Patwa”, “Patwah” or “Jamaican Creole”) is the language that is used by most Jamaicans in casual everyday conversations while Standard English is normally reserved for professional environments.

    “Jamaican Patois is a separate language from Jamaican English.”

    Jamaican Patois is a strange language in that it has many borrowed words from many different languages, for example, English, Spanish and some West African languages. However, the pronunciations of these words are very similar to Jamaican English.

  8. Heather McPherson permalink
    August 10, 2017 11:05 am

    I applaud this as a move of The Holy Spirit in this Church Age! Might I suggest that had the KJV et al been used as a parallel with the Patois/Patwa version of God’s Message of Salvation and attendant life of the Christ-follower, “Jamaica Land We Love” would have found itself in a far different state of Spirit, than it has over these last many years. Who could have predicted the criminal or corrupt mind based on all things class, colour and economics? Who’s brave enough to call it that the hope and inspiration of The Word, of being of value and the message of Love perhaps excluded loads of our fellow Jamaicans; and to what end?

    Educators, who happen to be Christians or Christians, who happen to be educators have known the issues run beyond class/socio-economics, yet would be hard-pressed to deny how they impact progress : the plain truth is that Jamaica has developed a parallel language, which we ALL understand, yet we do not ALL struggle with Received Pronunciation English, Grammar and so on. At the risk of tipping the scales of the staus quo: I submit that many do struggle with these fundamentals – should such of my compatriots miss the Scriptures by dint of birth, circumstance? Is that even a Christian concept? Was the Street Greek of parts of the New Testament more valuable than the motivation to spread God’s Word to “The Least of” God’s people? Shame on those, who decry this move (now a reality) even as the National Anthem is a humble, beautiful prayer! The second verse says it best!
    Language evolves. Read The “Lord’s Prayer” in the language of Chaucer! T’will make my point better than this my diatribe aimed at modern Pharisees, who see not as far, you will see.

  9. Norval Smith permalink
    May 10, 2019 3:36 am

    J. K. Gayle says “Linguists using English often use the borrowed French word patois, which also means “dialect,” to describe the language of Jamaica.”

    In fact it’s not linguists in general who do this – they usually refer to the main language of Jamaica as “Jamaican Creole” – but Jamaicans themselves who frequently call the language Patwa. I would suggest that Jamaican linguists who use the term “Patwa” are just using the standard term on Jamaica. The etymology of this word is irrelevant to its use.

    The fact that English is the official language is irrelevant too. Jamaican linguists as well as various Ministers of Education have pointed out the educational problems caused by the assumption that Jamaican Creole is just English. But a bilingual approach to education has met with great resistance from people who refuse to recognize that there is any problem at all.

  10. May 15, 2019 10:42 am

    Thank you for your clarifications and additional information, Dr. Smith. Is Krio a variety of the Creole language of Jamaica. Do Jamaicans distinguish Krio and Patwa?


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