Jamaican Creole is considered a language like any other for two basic reasons:
1. It possesses the characteristic features of a language AND 2. It performs the functions of a language.
Below is a brief outline of some of these linguistic features:
PHONOLOGY: the sound system of a language. Patois has a sound system independent of English.
- Jamaican Creole does not use the 'th' sound but substitutes two other sounds: the 't' sounds as in 'tik' for the English 'thick' and the 'd' sounds as in 'dem' for the English 'them'.
- Jamaican Creole does not pronounce the 'h' sound at the beginning of English words. Therefore English 'hour' becomes 'our'. Similarly there is the tendency to hyper-correct and pronounce the 'h' sound at the beginning of words that do not require it, therefore English 'egg' becomes 'hegg' and 'exam' becomes 'hexam' and so on.
LEXICON: the vocabulary of a language. Although the lexical items of Patois are English based, many are used in non-English ways.
- Some Patois words that appear to be similar to English words do not carry the same meaning, e.g. 'Ignorant' in Patois means easily angered, very upset and not lacking knowledge (which is the English definition). Another example is 'Belly' that in patois can refer to pregnancy.
- Some English words are compounded to create nouns not present in English for example 'Foot bottom' for the sole of the feet and 'Eye water' for tears.
- Some Creole words are formed by reduplication (base words are repeated to form new words). For example friedi friedi to mean fearful or timid, chati chati to mean talks excessively or out of turn.
- Some Creole words are adopted from other non-English languages, eg, maroon-Spanish, pikni-Portuguese, unu, (you plural) -Igbo
GRAMMAR: rules governing the correct use of language
- Pluralization is signalled by the addition of the 'dem' after the noun eg. The people dem. Or to emphasize the numerical marker- 'de two book dem'.
- Possession is not signaled, as in English, with the apostrophe 's' suffix but by the word 'fi' as in 'A fi mi handout'
- Zero Copular construction. A Copular links the subject to the predicate. It is derived from the verb 'to be'. Creole can have a zero copular structure eg. Jane sick for Mary is sick in Englich or Jane de home for Jane is at home.
SYNTAX: the proper agreement of words in a sentence
- Patois mainly uses syntax to highlight certain elements within a sentence while English often uses pronunciation by verbally stressing that which is to be emphasized. For example Creole: Is Susan eat di chicken? versus English Susan ate the chicken? Creole: Is di chicken Susan eat ? versus Susan ate the chicken?