Centuries ago, some of our ancestors were brought to the Caribbean by European colonizers. They hailed from a multiplicity of language groups. It was evident that they faced a linguistic crisis. How do they communicate with each other? How do they communicate with those who had enslaved them? Very soon, they were granted what I believe was God-given creativity which gave birth to a new language. At first appearance, outwardly, this language resembles English – the language of the oppressors. Most of the vocabulary is based on English. However, the internal structure of the language – that is, the grammar – is based on African languages. This new language came to be known as Patwa, although it is also referred to as Jamaican Creole, and more recently, simply ‘Jamaican’.

I like to tell this story before reading from the Jamaican New Testament wherever I go, to set the atmosphere so that people are more likely to listen with pride than with skepticism at best or disgust at worst. I fully understand the aversion some persons have toward the language. When I was growing up, Patwa was not allowed in our home. In fact, we were fined if we used it! My mom placed a container in the middle of the dining table, and if we spoke anything that was not ‘the Queen’s English’ we had to put money in it. It was considered to be very bad language. Needless to say, English was the first language I acquired. Although Patwa was strongly discouraged at home, I fell in love with it. I grasped every opportunity to read Louise Bennett poems and Anancy stories.

In 1981 I started my training as a teacher of Spanish and English Language. Imagine my joyful surprise in what was perhaps my very first lesson in linguistics, to learn that contrary to all I had been taught previously, Patwa (which I then learned should more correctly be referred to as ‘Jamaican Creole’) is actually a language in its own right! It possesses all the characteristics of language. Given then that arguably, most Jamaican children acquire this language first, we were trained that English should be taught as a second language to most Jamaican children. After so many years of discovering this, it is very frustrating to me that successive Jamaican governments have still not publicly acknowledged our language as a language, and made the necessary changes in our education system to ensure that all our children maximize on their learning potential by learning English as a second language.

My joy was full when in December 2012 the Jamaican New Testament (JNT) was published and launched. Here are three reasons I believe it is important:

  1. God translated Himself from deity to humanity through His Son Jesus Christ, in order to bring us salvation and to communicate to us as human beings. Translation is a significant part of the modus operandi of God.
  2. Language has been used to divide people in Jamaica, putting speakers of one language – English – above speakers of another language – Jamaican (Creole/Patwa). In the kingdom of God, all are on level ground. Having the Bible in Jamaican (Patwa) will help to bring equality to the corporate worship space.
  3. In 2009, I led a Bible study session in an inner city community in Kingston. It was based on the story of the Prodigal Son found in the gospel of Luke. At the time, the JNT was not yet complete, but as a friend of the translators, I had access to select passages as they worked on it. The bible study group read the passage in English together first from the New International Version, and then I read it to them in Patwa. The atmosphere in the room shifted as people started instinctively and animatedly reacting to the story. It was as if they were hearing it for the first time! In the ensuing discussion, one woman made a comment that has changed my life permanently. She said “I don’t think in English. I think in Patwa. Whenever I hear something in English I have to stop and process it. Meanwhile, so many things have passed me by!”

So no – I do not see the Bible in Patwa as being a retrograde step. In fact, I believe it is a bold and necessary step in advancing the Kingdom of God as people are now hearing God speak to them directly in their heart language.


Jo-Ann Goffe


Executive Director, CREW 40:4

Promoting love and unity in Christ through culturally relevant expressions of worship!




  1. Thanks for this! I believe its the main thing holding Jamaica back, the lie that this is an English-speaking country, and the refusal to put Patwa in its rightfully primary place. But Patwa-speakers are the ones responsible for creating what is celebrated today as ‘Brand Jamaica’, yet this is not acknowledged or pondered upon in policy-making.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed Annie Paul. Just attended a symposium put on by some Humanities students at UWI…Applied Linguistics Symposium. Forensic Linguistics: The Role of Language in the Tivoli Enquiry. The findings about the disconnect in the courtroom was appalling. We will host a twitter chat on the subject at the end of April…would love to have you engage us.


      1. And to think that I’m just seeing your response Annie, oh dear. On Monday we’re also hosting a chat with Emprezz talking about another matter, “Youth Empowerment”, would love to have you join us.


  2. I thought this post was worthwhile and quite true. Patwa is our heart language. Many Jamaicans express deep emotions in patwa and also certain ideas that cannot be adequately expressed in English. I am just wondering how easy it is to read the JNT.


    1. Thanks for participating in the discussion Margaret! For those who are pre-literate in Jamaican (Creole)/Patwa, the audio version is available. To answer your ‘wondering’ though, it is actually quite easy to read. I know this because I have taught persons in less than half an hour, and even on the telephone! All one has to do is take off the ‘English’ hat and put on the ‘Patwa’ hat. The list of rules is very short, and there are absolutely no exceptions. Add to that the fact that it is a language we know well, and that makes it one of the easiest languages to learn to read, especially for most Jsmaicans. I have even had a Spanish speaking friend who hardly knows English pick it up and read it almost fluently. The only thing was that he didn’t know the meaning of what he was reading. Jamaicans of course wouldn’t have that problem. The real difficulty is in our minds.


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