Structure dataset 8: Jamaican

This language is described more fully in survey chapter 8.

Jamaican (Creole), also called (Jamaican) Patwa is spoken by the majority of Jamaica's 2.7 million inhabitants, in addition to hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans or people of Jamaican descent in diaspora communities, especially in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Although the language has had a long history of writing, writing was mainly done in the past by professional writers, especially in the field of literature. The internet and social media have drastically increased the number of ordinary persons who are now writing Jamaican. There is an official writing system (Cassidy-JLU orthography) for the language, but it is mostly used by linguists and a few other language enthusiasts. The ordinary folk continue to use an English etymological style to represent the language in writing. There is some local programming on radio and television in Jamaican and many advertisements across various media make extensive use of Jamaican. The language has several descriptions of its syntax and phonology (e.g. Bailey 1966, Akers (1981), Patrick 2007, Durrleman-Tame 2008), a dictionary (Cassidy & Le Page 1967/1980) and a recent translation of the New Testament done by the Bible Society of the West Indies (2012).

The default lect documented in APiCS Online is commonly referred to as basilectal Jamaican. Basilectal Jamaican is characterized by the categorical use of preverbal markers to express tense, mood, and aspect. Since most of the examples reflect my (Joseph T. Farquharson) native speaker competence, they represent a western dialect of Jamaican that is not often referenced in the linguistics literature. The distinguishing features of this variety is the use of wehn as anterior marker where eastern varieties use en, or min (highly restricted), and the use of de as progressive aspect marker where non-western dialects use a. It is assumed that most of the features of the western basilectal variety of Jamaican captured in APiCS Online are the same as or very close to basilectal varieties islandwide. Mesolectal Jamaican, the only other lect identified in the APiCS database is characterized by the use of preverbal did as anterior marker, the suffix -in to mark progressive aspect, and the variable occurrence of the -s suffix to mark plural, sometimes along with the prototypical basilectal marker dem (e.g. di gorlz [dem] 'the girls').

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No. Feature Value lect Details Source
No. Feature Value lect Details Source


Pulmonic Consonants
Place → Labial Coronal Dorsal Laryngeal
↓ Manner Bilabial Labio­dental Linguo­labial Dental Alveolar Palato-
Retroflex Alveolo-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal
/ Epiglottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop p b t d k g ʔ
Sibilant affricate t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
Non-sibilant affricate
Sibilant fricative s z ʃ ʒ
Non-sibilant fricative f v h
Approximant ɹ l j
Flap or tap
Lateral affricate
Lateral fricative
Lateral approximant
Lateral flap


Front Near-front Central Near-back Back Close Near-close Close-mid Mid Open-mid Near-open Open long high front unrounded vowel nasalized high front unrounded vowel long high back rounded vowel nasalized high back rounded vowel ɪlowered high front unrounded vowel ʊlowered high back rounded vowel ohigher mid back rounded vowel ɛlower mid front unrounded vowel ɛ̃nasalized lower mid front unrounded vowel ɔ̃nasalized lower mid back rounded vowel alow central unrounded vowel long low central unrounded vowel nasalized low central unrounded vowel

Special segments

Other segments
 w  voiced labial-velar glide


       Exists (as a major allophone)
       Exists only as a minor allophone
       Exists only in loanwords
No. Feature Value lect Details Source