Survey chapter: Jamaican

Structure data for these languages can be found in structure dataset 8.

1. Introduction

Jamaican,1 often referred to in the linguistics literature as Jamaican Creole, is chiefly spoken in Jamaica, a Caribbean island of the Greater Antilles lying approximately 18° 15 N, 77° 30 W. The language is the mother tongue of the majority of the island’s 2,8 million inhabitants, but Jamaican monolinguals make up well below 50% of the population. Most Jamaicans are bilingual speakers of both Jamaican and (Jamaican) English. In addition to Jamaican spoken at “home”, there are hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans in diaspora communities in Canada, the United States of America (USA), and the United Kingdom (UK). In the case of the UK, Jamaican has given birth to a new variety referred to as London Jamaican (Sebba 1993; Menz 2004), which is a variety spoken largely by second and third generation immigrants. In Costa Rica, Jamaican has another daughter language, Limonense (called Mekatelyu by its speakers).

2. Sociohistorical background

The island of Jamaica was taken from the Spanish in 1655 by an army raised in Britain’s eastern Caribbean colonies. The army had set out to take the Spanish side of the island of Hispaniola (modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic), but when that mission failed the commanding officers, Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables, decided to try their luck at Jamaica. Those Spaniards who survived the attack eventually fled to Cuba, but their African slaves escaped into the mountains and formed the first bands of maroons. During the second half of the seventeenth century the European population was made up of soldiers, merchants, and colonists from the eastern Caribbean, Ireland, England, and Scotland, who responded to several deliberate attempts by the British Crown to populate the island. The earliest Africans imported to Jamaica during the British occupation came via their colonies in the eastern Caribbean (St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados) and South America (Suriname), and it is likely that these Africans were already familiar with some sort of English-based interlanguage (Farquharson 2011). Up to about the 1670s Africans imported from other colonies in the Caribbean would have constituted a sizeable proportion of the enslaved population. However, within the final quarter of the seventeenth century these early arrivals were outnumbered by direct imports from the African continent.

Table 1. Enslaved Africans embarked for Jamaica, 1655–1700 (Eltis et. al. 1999)



per cent

Africa Unspecified



Bight of Benin



West-Central Africa



Bight of Biafra



Gold Coast






Sierra Leone



Southeast Africa



Windward Coast





Table 1 gives us an idea of the demographic composition of Jamaica’s slave population in the second half of the seventeenth century, using embarkation figures as an indication of the existing trend at that time. Africa Unspecified refers to cases where we have evidence for shipment but no knowledge about the region or port of embarkation. Based on the trend suggested by Table 1, Africans from the Bight of Benin, West-Central Africa, and the Bight of Biafra would have been numerically dominant. This means that ethnolinguistic groups such as Gbe, Yoruba, Igbo, Duala, Efik, Ibibio, Koongo, and Mbundu were more than likely strongly represented among the enslaved. The few lexical items of African extraction which were recorded in the seventeenth century are from several of these languages (Farquharson 2008: 157). In the eighteenth century the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) became one of the top three suppliers of enslaved Africans to Jamaican plantations. Akan, which is spoken on the Gold Coast, is the chief African contributor to the lexicon of Jamaican.2 On the side of the lexifier, it appears that Jamaican owes much of its vocabulary to Southwestern dialects of English and Scottish English.

     While we can set no fixed date for the formation of Jamaican, it is believed (cf. Kouwenberg 2009; Farquharson 2011) that the late seventeenth century was crucial in the development of the language. While there are brief eighteenth century comments about the speech of imported Africans and black and white creoles, none provides sufficient evidence for a full-blown language. However, based on reports by Europeans about the language used by (white and black) creoles and enslaved Africans in the eighteenth century, it appears that Jamaican was already in place by the middle of the eighteenth century (see Farquharson 2011: 32–33). Given attitudes to the linguistic varieties used by Africans in that period we can deduce from the writing of Edward Long (1774) that labels such as “broken English” and “bad English” are references to Jamaican:

The Africans speak their respective dialects, with some mixture of broken English. The language of the Creoles is bad English, larded with the Guiney dialect, owing to their adopting the African words, in order to make themselves understood by the imported slaves; which they find much easier than teaching these strangers to learn English (Long 1774: 426).

The extract above also corroborates the sociohistorical and sociolinguistic facts by suggesting a multilingual situation in which Africans regularly codeswitch and creoles borrow lexical items from them. Long’s eighteenth-century work also provides evidence for morphological reduplication, the use of the English oblique pronoun me as subject, and the use of adjectives as predicates in the absence of a copula (Long 1774: 427).

     Emancipation (1834/1838) would have allowed for stabilization of the language since the importation of enslaved Africans dwindled until it ceased altogether. With the cessation of new imports, African languages continued to yield to the local creole language. Rapid urbanization of the twentieth century and the rural to urban migration which fed it led to dialect levelling in many areas. However, distinct dialect boundaries are still strong and are still observable today mainly through lexical differences.

3. Sociolinguistic situation

The language situation in Jamaica has been described as a creole continuum (cf. DeCamp 1971) with a variety of English at one end which is mutually intelligible with metropolitan varieties of English, and at the other end a variety which is historically related to English but differs from it in several marked ways. If we collapse both the basilectal and mesolectal ranges of the continuum, then Jamaican is spoken by over 80% of the population. Many Jamaicans are bilingual in Jamaican and Jamaican English. A recent language competence survey conducted by the Jamaican Language Unit reveals 46.4% bilingualism as well as 17.1% and 36.5% English and Jamaican monolingualism, respectively.

     With regard to mesolectal varieties, much of the current research focuses on varieties created by (near-) basilectal speakers approximating the acrolect, but not a lot has been said about the varieties created by native acrolectal speakers (few though they be) who learn the Creole in their teenage years and beyond. The second phenomenon is at least hinted at by DeCamp (1971: 350). We now have an established tradition of writing poetry in Jamaican (e.g. Louise Bennett and Joan Andrea Hutchinson), but it is mostly used for comic verse, and even when the theme is tragic, the tone tends to lean towards comedy. The language has been used in novels and short stories at least since the nineteenth century to mark characters and help create setting (Lalla & D’Costa 1990:140–1), but not many works employ the Creole for narration. Jamaican is now the default language of the annual national pantomime. Outside of a few columnists who regularly use Jamaican proverbs or lexical items in their columns, the op-ed pages of the national newspapers (Jamaica Gleaner, Jamaica Observer) remain in English. However, Jamaican is the default language of the editorial cartoons which appear on those pages.

     English is no longer the only language associated with upward social mobility, although the association is still quite strong. However, power and authority continue to be strongly linked to English, chiefly because many of the factors of production are still owned/managed by monolingual English speakers, or English-dominant speakers.

4. Phonology

The most recent descriptions of the phonology of Jamaican (Harry 2006: 127) describe it as having 12 oral vowel phonemes: 5 short vowels, 3 long vowels, and 4 diphthongs. The 3 long vowels are lengthened versions of the 3 short vowels which are articulated at the periphery of the vowel space, hence /iː/, /aː/, and /uː/. The 4 diphthongs are /ɪɛ/, /aɪ/, /oʊ/, /ʊo/, which are phonemically represented by Harry as /ia/, /ai/, /au/, /ua/ (Harry 2006: 128).

Table 2. Monophthongal vowels
front back
close ɪ iː ʊ uː
close-mid o
open-mid ɛ
open a aː

In addition to the set of oral vowels, Jamaican also possesses a set of nasal vowels, [ĩ], [ɛ̃], [ã], [õ]. Historically, these were oral vowels in the environment of nasal consonants; however, synchronically they have come to signal a contrast in meaning with the corresponding form containing the oral vowel plus nasal consonant sequence. Devonish & Harry (2004: 261) recognize most of them as mere “nasal allophones of the vowel phonemes”, and they only accord /ã/ phonemic status. The examples in (1) provide evidence for the phonemic status of the nasal vowels.3

(1)           i      [ɪ]     ‘the’                    ihn      [ĩ]      ‘(s)he’

            de    [dɛ]  ‘locative copula’ dehn    [dɛ̃]  ‘they’

            pa   [pa]  ‘father’               pahn   [pã]  ‘on’

            ko   [ko]  ‘giddy up!’         kohn   [kõ]  ‘cousin’

            su   [sʊ]   ‘here, take it!’    suhn   [sʊ̃]   ‘soon’

(2)           wan/wahn      [wã]    ‘indef.article’                         [wãn]    ‘one’

            som/sohn        [sõ]      ‘an unspecified set’              [sõm]    ‘some’

            im/ihn             [ĩ]        ‘(s)he, his/her’                       [ĩm]       ‘(s)he, him/her(s), his’

            dem/dehn        [dɛ̃]     ‘they, their’                            [dɛ̃m]    ‘they, them, their’

            wen/wehn       [wɛ̃]    ‘anterior marker’                  [wɛ̃n]    ‘when’

            pen/pehn        [pɛ̃]     ‘to suffer’                               [pɛ̃n]     ‘pen’

            pan/pahn        [pã]     ‘on’                                         [pãn]     ‘pan’

    Word stress is sensitive to syllable weight, the latter being determined by long vowels, diphthongs, and coda consonants (Gooden 2007).

     The most recent works (Devonish & Harry 2004: 272; Harry 2006: 125) describe Jamaican as having 21 consonant phonemes (Table 3). The voiced palatal nasal [ɲ] occurs in a handful of lexical items (African- and Spanish-derived), e.g. nyapa ‘something extra’ (< Spanish ñapa ‘gift of little value which the seller gives to the buyer’), nyam ‘to eat’ (< one or more Senegambian languages, e.g. Fula nyaama ‘eat’). Historically, the Jamaican consonantal system did not contain the voiced palato-alveolar fricative [ʒ], however, some modern lects (under the influence of English) use it as a variant of the voiced postalveolar affricate [dʒ], e.g. [vɪdʒan] ~ [vɪʒan] ‘vision’. At the phonemic level, Jamaican contains no consonant that is not also a part of the phonemic inventory of English. However, Devonish & Harry (2004) show that the same does not obtain at the phonetic level. They report that the voiced stops /b/, /d/, and /g/ are realized as the implosives /ɓ/, /ɗ/, and /ɠ/ respectively when they occur as the onsets of prominent syllables, especially in word-initial position. Jamaican is a non-rhotic variety, which sets it off from Jamaican English, which is rhotic or contains at least r-colouring.4

Table 3. Consonants






































l, ɹ


As early as the 1950s, Frederic Cassidy had developed a phonemic writing system for Jamaican (cf. Cassidy 1961), which is being used by linguists and a few other academics but not by the general population. The orthographic system has recently been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit (JLU) at the University of the West Indies (Mona) and is now referred to as the Cassidy-JLU System.

5. Noun phrase

In addition to its head, the noun phrase (NP) in Jamaican can maximally contain a plural marker to the right of the noun, one or more adjectives directly before the noun, a numeral or quantifier preceding the adjective(s), and the definite article at the left edge of the phrase (3). 

(3)           di       tuu    ogli    man  dem   

            det    num   adj    n       pl  

            ‘the two ugly men’

Generic nouns are unmarked, e.g.:

(4)           Rat    nyam   chiiz.

            rat     eat       cheese

            ‘Rats eat cheese.’

Natural gender is regularly indicated by compounding the gender-denoting words man ‘man’ and uman ‘woman’ to nouns which refer to humans (e.g. (u)man-dakta ‘(fe)male doctor’), fauna (e.g. man-foul ‘rooster’, uman-foul ‘hen’), and flora (e.g. man-papaa ‘a papaya tree that [probably flowers but] does not bear fruit’, uman-papaa ‘a papaya tree that bears fruit’). Nominal plurality may be achieved by using various quantifiers (e.g. numerals) in front of the noun, but there is a designated plural marker dem, which is placed after the noun. Note, however, that the plural marker is also associated with definiteness, as it is only used in noun phrases containing the definite article. The definite article (d)i, is distinct from the demonstrative. It also possesses an indefinite article wahn, which is etymologically related to the numeral wan ‘one’, but differs from it in that the article contains a nasal vowel whereas the numeral has a nasal consonant in its coda.

Table 4. Personal pronouns and adnominal possessives



pronominal possessives

adnominal possessives

reflexive pronouns





































As shown in Table 4 the pronominal system of Jamaican makes a two-way distinction involving person and number. In basilectal Jamaican, the default lect of the database, pronouns show neither case nor gender distinctions. Some (mesolectal) varieties contain a case contrast in the first person singular. The form A (< English I) is used in subject position only, while mi is used in object position and also as possessive. In the third person singular some lects contain a gender distinction and/or a case distinction. To indicate gender differences, these lects employ shi in subject position and ar in object position to identify feminine entities, and im in both subject and object positions to designate masculine entities. As with several other Atlantic English-lexifier Creoles, one of the prominent features of the pronominal paradigm is the presence of a non-English-derived pronoun in the 2nd person plural, unu (< Igbo unù ‘2nd person plural’). Pronominal possessives are morphologically complex forms created by prefixing the preposition fi ‘for’ to the personal pronouns, e.g. fi-yu ‘yours’, fi-dem ‘theirs’.

     As shown in Table 4, reflexive pronouns are derived by affixing the reflexive morpheme -self to the personal pronouns, with no change for number (e.g. yuself ‘yourself’, demself ‘themselves’). In some varieties of Jamaican the first person singular reflexive pronoun can be used in subject position for emphatic purposes (5).

(5)           Miself           de             ya      de        chai  mek        likl    oslinz.

            1sg.refl      loc.cop   here  prog   try    make     little

            ‘I (myself) am here trying to make ends meet.’

         Nominal possession is regularly expressed by the juxtaposition of the possessor and the possessed, in that order (6). Adnominal possessives, which are all homophonous with the corresponding personal pronouns, precede the noun (7).

(6)           Di      nieba-dem         ous      wash   we     ina  di       laas   flod.  

            det    neighbour-pl   house  wash   away       in      det   last     flood.

            ‘The neighbours’ house got washed away in the last flood.’

(7)           Yu       buk     de             pan     im      tiebl.

            2sg      book   loc.cop   on       3sg    table

            ‘Your book is on her table.’

In constructions involving pronoun conjunction, Jamaican prefers a pronoun + conjunction + noun sequence. While this appears to be the more natural order, the alternative is not ungrammatical.

(8)           Mi       an     Mieri     go     daans       yeside              nait.

            1sg      conj Mary     go     dance       yesterday       night

            ‘Mary and I went to a party last night.’

(9)           Mieri     an       mi        go     daans    yeside            nait.

            Mary     conj    1sg      go     dance    yesterday     night

            ‘Mary and I went to a party last night.’

    The adnominal and pronominal demonstratives are complex lexemes which show a two-way contrast for distance; proximal dis-ya ‘this’, distal dat-de ‘that’, and a two-way contrast for number, singular dis-ya and dat-de vs. plural dem-ya ‘these’ and dem-de ‘those’. In some varieties the simplex forms dis and dat/da(a) are used instead of the complex ones, while some varieties exhibit variation between the simplex and complex forms. Adnominal demonstratives are special because they have both conjoint and disjoint forms. The conjoint forms are used before the nouns they modify (e.g. dis-ya bwai ‘this boy’), while for the disjoint forms the noun interrupts the first and second element (e.g. dis bwai ya ‘this boy’).5 The demonstratives can also be inflected for number by replacing the first element with the pluralizing particle dem (dem-de bwai ‘those boys’). The forms inflected for plural also exhibit the conjoint/disjoint behaviour (e.g. dem bwai ya ‘these boys’). The use of the pronominal demonstratives is illustrated in (10).

(10)        Dem-de           nofi               miks-op      wid        dem-ya

            pl-dem.dist    neg.mod       mix-up       with      pl-dem.prox

    ‘Those should not be mixed with these.’

     The indefinite pronoun smadi (< English somebody) is used in affirmative sentences for human reference (11), while nobadi (< English nobody) is used in negated sentences (12), in questions, and with unspecified reference in affirmative contexts. The non-human indefinite pronoun sitn and notn are used in affirmative and negated contexts, respectively (13). The latter can co-occur with the negative particle no in the same clause without altering the negative polarity of the clause (13).

(11)        Smadi         tel        mi        se           a       yu     dwiit.

            somebody  tell       1sg      comp     foc   2sg

            ‘Somebody told me that you were the one who did it.’

(12)        Nobadi  no     tel    mi     se        a        yu     dwiit.

            nobody neg   tell  1sg   comp   foc   2sg

            ‘Nobody told me that you were the one who did it.’

(13)        Ef   notn         no        apm       dat     miin    se           sitn             no     rait.

            if     nothing   neg      happen dem   mean  comp     something neg   right

            ‘If nothing happens that means that something isn’t right.’

    Cardinal (wan, tuu, ch(r)ii, fuo(r), faiv, siks, sebm, iet, nain, ten) and ordinal numerals (fos, sekan, tod, fuot, fif, siks, sebm, iet, naint, tent) precede the noun and are all English-derived.

6. Verb phrase

Table 5. Tense-Aspect-Mood markers                                        







ago, goo























proximate future

Time reference (tense) in Jamaican is sensitive to the lexical aspect of the predicate. For the purpose of tense assignment, the language divides predicates on the basis of whether they are active or stative. Active predicates have a simple past (or a present habitual) reading when they occur without an overt tense marker (14), while stative predicates have a present tense reading in the absence of a tense marker (15). When predicates denoting activities co-occur with the preverbal anterior marker wehn, the event receives a past-before-past reading (16), while those denoting states receive a simple past reading when they are used with the anterior marker.6 It is worth pointing out here that lexical items in Jamaican that are etymologically derived from English adjectives pattern with (stative) verbs in several respects. However, they still exhibit the prototypical characteristic of adjectives by participating in adnominal modification.

(14)    Jan   daans.

         John dance

    ‘John danced/dances.’

(15)    Jan      sik.

         John   sick

    ‘John is sick.’

(16)    Jan   wehn  daans.

         John ant   dance

    ‘John had danced.’

As shown in example (14) above, an active verb without any preverbal marker is ambiguous between a simple past tense and a habitual reading. Jamaican does not usually mark present habitual aspect overtly, but Christie (1986: 185) has reported the use of the progressive marker for habitual in a few varieties of the language (17). The marker de/(d)a combines with active predicates to produce progressive aspect (18). Only a small number of stative predicates can combine with the progressive marker to indicate a continuous state (19). When de is combined with some stative predicates it produces an inchoative reading (21).7 The anterior and progressive markers may be combined with an active predicate to produce a progressive in the past (= past imperfective), as in ex. (20). As expected, only those stative predicates which can occur with the progressive can enter into this construction (cf. 20).

(17)        wan   plies  we        dem   a       plie    haki       mach

            indf  place where  3pl   hab   play  hockey  match

            ‘a place where they play hockey matches’ (Christie 1986: 185)

(18)        Piita     de        sing   di         sang.

            Peter   prog   sing   det      song

            ‘Peter is singing the song.’

(19)        Im     aid    we     frahn  yaad  wen     im     de      bad.

            3sg    hide  away from   yard when   3sg   prog bad

            ‘She hides away from home when she is being rude.’

(20)        Im     wehn            de      plie    di         mout-aagan.

            3sg    ant   prog   play  det   mouth-organ

            ‘He was playing the harmonica.’

(21)        Di      fuud    de        kuol.

            det    food    prog   cold

            ‘The food is getting cold.‘

Jamaican has a number of preverbal modal markers: mos ‘ought to (have)’, mait(a) ‘may, might’, kuda ‘could’, shuda ‘should’, wuda ‘would’, hafi ‘have to’, mos ‘must’, mosa ‘might’, kyahn ‘can’, fi ‘ought’. Since the work of Bailey (1966: 44–46) on the subject of modals, Durrleman (2000, 2008) has brought us a far way in understanding the behaviour of modal particles in Jamaican. However, I believe we still do not have the full picture.

     Jamaican can allow double and triple modals. In sequences with three modal particles Durrleman (2000: 206) has worked out the order in (24).

(22)    Jan   mos   nuo.

         John mod  know

    ‘John ought to know.’

(23)    John   mos   kuk.

         John   mod  cook

    ‘John ought to have cooked.’8

(24)   [Mod1 kuda/wuda/shuda/mosa/maita ] > [Mod2 mos] > [Mod3 haffi, kyan] …

Jamaican allows several pre-verbal markers belonging to different grammatical categories to co-occur. When this happens the order of the elements attested so far is mood > tense > aspect (i.e. MTA).

7. Simple sentences

The canonical word order of Jamaican at clause level is Subject – Verb – Object. The language contains three voice distinctions: active, passive, and middle. The active sentence in (25) below also illustrates the canonical SVO word order. Some researchers have analyzed Jamaican as not having a passive construction, but this view has been challenged by LaCharité & Wellington (1999), who argue that while the passive is phonetically empty it is syntactically active. The language exhibits a preference for active constructions with an impersonal subject (26), but the language contains a regular get-passive construction (27), and also a regular middle construction (28). (On the get-passive cf. Bailey 1966: 81).

(25)        Di        bucha      kil     di         kou.

            det      butcher   kill    det      cow

            ‘The butcher killed the cow.’

(26)        Dem  kil   di      kou.

            3pl    kill  det   cow

            ‘The cow was killed.’

(27)        Op  tu    nou   dem   no     nuo     ou     di      fuud  get  kuk.

            up   to    now  3pl    neg   know  how  det   food  get  cook

            ‘Even now they still don’t know how the food was cooked.’

(28)        Di      chrii  kot  an   wi   no     nuo           a      huu     kot    i.

            det    tree   cut  and 1pl neg   know        foc  who cut   3sg.

            The tree was cut but we don’t know by whom.’

     The imperative can be recognized because of its special syntax (29). A pronominal subject cannot be overt when the command is directed at a second person singular addressee (30). However, when the addressee is plural the presence of the second person plural pronoun unu is optional (31). An exhortative construction (32) is also found which involves mek + pronoun + neg + verb (see Huber, Ghanaian Pidgin English).

(29)    Kyar  di      fuud go   gi      Jan!

         carry det   food  go   give   John

    ‘Carry the food to John!’

Carry the food to John!

(32)    Mek     yu    no    tel    di      chuut?

         make   2sg  neg  tell  det   truth

    ‘Tell the truth! Won’t you?’

     In double object constructions the benefactor precedes the theme argument, regardless of whether the direct object is a pronominal element or a full NP (33). Quite a few ditransitive verbs occur regularly in serial constructions (34). In these instances, the direct object (theme) occurs first.

(33)        Jan   gi      Mieri/im     di      bag    a     manggo.

            John give   Mary/3sg   det   bag   of    mango.

            ‘John gave Mary the bag of mangoes.’

(34)        Jan   sen      mechiz        go        gi         Mieri.

            John send    message     go        give     Mary

            ‘John sent a message to Mary.’

8. Complex sentences

The word a(h)n is used for both noun phrase and verb phrase/clause conjunction (35). In narrative speech, multiple clauses occurring in a sequence do not need the conjunction (36).

(35)        Di    fat  uman    an      di     pikni-dem  nyam  di      kiek   ahn    chuo   we     di      baks.

            det  fat  woman conj  det  child-pl    eat      det   cake  conj   throw away det   box

            ‘The fat woman and the children ate the cake and threw the box away.’

(36)        Im     tek     up   di     fuon,   kaal    di      man, kos      im    aaf,  ahn    eng   op.

            3sg    take  up  det  phone call     det   man  curse  3sg  off    conj  hang up

            ‘She picked up the phone and called the man, cursed him, and hung up.’

The word se is a multifunctional item in Jamaican. As a main verb se takes an NP complement, but it can be used as a quotative marker introducing direct speech (37). As an extension of this latter usage, se also acts as a finite complementizer, used after verba dicendi (e.g. chat ‘to chat’, taak ‘to talk’, baal out ‘to shout’, etc.) to introduce indirect-speech constructions (38). Its use as a finite complementizer also extends to verbs of cognition (e.g. nuo ‘to know’, tingk ‘to think’, uop ‘to hope’, biliiv ‘to believe’, etc.) (39). This multifunctional item has an additional use which has been overlooked in the literature. It occurs in sentence-final position in a special (direct or indirect) interrogative construction which indicates the speaker’s lack of confidence/faith in the addressee’s ability to execute the activity of the verb (40).

(37)        Jan   se        “Kaal  di      dakta.”

            John quot   call      det   doctor

            ‘John said “Call the doctor!”’

(38)        Jan   de        chat   se        a       mi   (wehn)         tiif     di    bag.

            John prog   chat  comp   foc   1sg (and)  steal  det    bag

            ‘John is saying that it was I who (had) stole(n) the bag.’

(39)        Jan   nuo     se         a       yu.

            John know  comp   foc   2sg

            ‘John knows that it’s you.’

(40)        Mi    no    nuo     we     yu    de       kuk   se.

            1sg   neg  know  what 2sg  prog  cook say  

            ‘I don’t know if you can call what you’re doing cooking.

The word mek (< English make), in addition to its use as a main verb, can also be used as a causative complementizer introducing a tensed clause (41).

(41)        A       chuu     Jan      lef        i      ous      opm  mek     dem     (wehn)   tiif     di       tingz-dem.

            foc   through            John   leave           det   house  open   caus       3pl   ant    steal    det

            ‘It is because John left the house open why they (had) stole(n) the things.

According to Veenstra (1990: 32), serial verb constructions (SVC) are associated with the meanings: direction/location (go, gaan, kom), argument (giv, tek, se), aspect (gaan, go, don). In SVCs with go and kom, these verbs combine with verbs of locomotion, occur in V2 position, and indicate movement away from and towards the speaker, respectively (42). The verb gaan can occur as either the initial or non-initial verb in an SVC. In both positions it has a directional reading (pace Veenstra 1990: 35), but only in non-initial position does it have a completive reading. SVCs involving the verb tek (< take) variously have the following readings: instrumental (43), theme (44), comitative (45), and manner (46) (these examples are from from Veenstra 1990: 37).

(42)        Im     kyar  di       yam     go/kom

            3sg    carry          det      yam go/come

            ‘He carried the yam(s)/ he brought the yam(s).’

(43)        Mi     tek     stik    pik    mango. 

            1sg    take  stick  pick  mango

            ‘I pick mangoes with a stick.’

(44)        Dem  tek     guot  put    pon   di       BarBQ

            3pl    take  goat  put   on     the    BarBQ

            ‘They put goat (meat) on the BarBQ.’

(45)        Di      bwai  tek     di      gyal   gaan a       muuvi.

            det    boy   take  det   girl    gone  loc   movie

            ‘The boy has gone to the movies with the girl.’

(46)        Wi   tek     taim     dwiit.

            1pl take  time

            ‘We do it carefully.’

The verb gi(v) (< give) is used as the non-initial member in serial constructions. When gi co-occurs with a chain such as sen … go (send go) it introduces a beneficiary argument (47), i.e. the person may or may not have received the thing which was sent. When gi is used with a verb such as bai ‘buy’ it introduces a recipient (48). Hence, (48) would be ungrammatical if Susan did not actually receive the book (49). Some SVCs can have up to five verbs in the chain (50). This phenomenon appears to be more common with verbs of locomotion and directional verbs.

(47)        Juoziv    sen    di       buk   go     gi       Suuzan.

            Joseph  send det    book go     give   Susan

            ‘Joseph sent the book to/for Susan.’

(48)        Juoziv bai    buk   gi      Suuzan.

            Joseph         buy   book give  Susan

            ‘Joseph bought the book for (and gave it to) Susan.’

(49)        *Juoziv  bai    buk   gi      Suuzan bot    im     no     giit           tu      ar.

            Joseph  buy   book give   Susan    but   3sg   neg   give.3sg   to      3sg.fem

            ‘Joseph bought the book for Susan but did not give it to her.’

(50)        Piita,    ron   kom     go   kyar  di       bag gi      yu      mada.

            Peter   run   come   go   carry          det bag   give   2sg mother

             ‘Peter, come and carry this bag to your mother quickly.’

9. Interrogative and focus constructions

Declarative sentences (51) are converted into yes-no questions, not morphologically or syntactically, but prosodically by the use of rising intonation (52). Wh-questions such as (53) can be formed using the question words wa/we ‘what, wich-paat ~ we(-paat) ‘where, uu ‘who’, wa-mek ‘why’, and wen ~ wa-taim ‘when’, fuu (< fi-uu [for + who]) ‘whose’. In both main (53) and embedded (54) clauses the question word may be preceded by the focus marker a.

(51)        Stiesi   gaan a        skuul.

            Stacy   gone loc   school

            ‘Stacy has gone to school.

(52)        Stiesi   gaan  a    skuul?

            Stacy  gone  to   school

            ‘Has Stacy gone to school.

(53)        A       wen     yu      de        go   pahn   liif?

            foc   when  2sg    prog   go   on        leave

            ‘When (is it that you) are going on leave?

(54)        Jan   aks mi     a        wen     mi      de      go   pahn liif.

            John ask 1sg   foc   when  1sg    prog go   on     leave

            ‘John asked me when I was going on leave.’ [i.e. to remind him]

As we saw in example (53) Jamaican has a designated focus marker a which is placed at the left edge/periphery of the clause (main or embedded). The focused element is placed right after the marker. The focusing of objects and adjuncts involves movement (56), while the focusing of predicates involves movement and copying (57). NPs and PPs are focused but there appears to be a strong dispreference for focusing VPs. Hence, for most complex predicates (e.g. verb-particle collocations), the verb is focused but a copy is left in situ with the other components of the collocation.

(55)        Piita     biit    op   di      man  kaaz       im     iizi     a     beks.

            Peter   beat  up   det   man  because 3sg   easy  of    vex

            ‘Peter beat up the man because he [Peter] is irritable.’

(56)        A       di      man     Piita    biit    op   kaaz         im      iizi     a     beks.

            foc   det   man    Peter   beat  up   because   3sg    easy  of    vex

            ‘Peter beat up THE MAN because he [Peter] is irritable.’

(57)        A       biit    Piita  biit    op   di      man  kaaz      im      iizi     a     beks.

            foc   beat  Peter beat  up  det   man  because 3sg    easy  of    vex

            ‘Peter BEAT UP the man because he [Peter] is irritable.’

     In predicate cleft constructions, the fronted verb can co-occur with markers for mood (58) and negation (59), but only the in situ verb may take tense and aspect markers. Another interesting feature of the fronted verb is that it appears to have nominal properties since it can be used adjacent to the definite article di (60).

(58)        A       uda   rait      dehn rait      i.

            foc   mod  write   3pl   write   3sg

            ‘They would have WRITTEN it.’

(59)        A       no     rait      dehn rait      i.

            foc   neg   write   3pl   write   3sg

            ‘They did not WRITE it.’

(60)        A       di      fait    im     fait    mek     im     taiyad.

            foc   det   fight  3sg   fight make   3sg   tired.     

            ‘Fighting is what caused him to be tired.’

10. Conclusion

The only book-length grammar of Jamaican that we have is Bailey’s (1966) 158-page work. While quite a bit has been done in articles and chapters, all of this work needs to be brought together and verified. We still need an up-to-date reference grammar of Jamaican. On the lexical side, the Jamaican Lexicography Project (Jamlex)9 has begun work on the Jamaican National Dictionary (JND) and a Dictionary of Africanisms in Jamaican (DAJ) which will substantially update the work recorded in Cassidy and Le Page’s (1967) Dictionary of Jamaican English and Allsopp’s (1996) Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage.