In the 1960s Jamaicans spoke a sing song kind of English. But it was English. There were many little ‘sayings’ sprinkled through a conversation, and a few odd usages of ‘me’ instead of ‘I’, but there was no problem in understanding.
Jamaicans who traveled to New York or London or Ontario could understand what they were told, whether by a police man, a street cleaner, a television broadcaster.
In short, Jamaicans spoke and understood English.
There is an English term called ‘Branding on the Tongue’. It is a rather clever phrase. It refers to the fact that England was a fairly homogeneous society and one could only tell class by clothing being worn, and where everyone was in uniform, by the accent.
A member of the Upper Class speaks like a BBC News broadcaster. A member of the lower class, like a Sports Broadcaster, (save Cricket, of course). An English person can tell who you are, where you come from by your speech. This was the key of ‘My Fair Lady’.
Professor Higgins took the most common gal he could find. Taught her to speak properly, put her in good clothing, and everyone treated her as a member of the Upper Class.
This ‘Branding on the Tongue’ is not as popular today as it was in the 1800s, but still exists.
This concept was imported into Jamaica in the 1970s when Michael Manley blurred the class lines, and made University free and the only criterion was merit.
Now Class is something people will fight and die to maintain. Pretentious people need to prove they are ‘better’ by considering other people inferior. The idea that the child of a maid could get into University while the child of her employer did not was so offensive that something had to be done to have the lower class child disqualify themselves.
This was the pushing of a local slangy pidgen called Patois. Now Patois is not a language. It is, as I said a pidgen. A language, such as Spanish or Arabic is complete. There are words for everything. Patois is a mix of mispronounced English words, poor grammar, and confusion, all spoken in a kind of grunt.
It is bad enough that a person can not speak proper English, but the true tragedy is that they can’t understand proper English.
Hence the Upper Class child will not only be able to speak perfectly, but can understand actual English. The lower class child not only can’t speak proper English, he can’t understand it.
Hence if one would say; “Please hand me that folder on the bureau,” the lower class person will respond with a grunted, “whaya aseh?” For not only can’t he enunciated; “What did you say?” he can not understand.
Hence, members of the lower class may have stellar I.Q.s but they can’t speak English, they can’t understand English, so, alas, they fail their exams, which are given in English, so can not apply to University.
Now that University is no longer free, one would have thought that patois would be shelved. No. It has gotten worse.
We have gone to the stage in which ‘translators’ are required when a English speaker attempts to set up a business in Jamaica.
The tragedy is that, like Haiti, Jamaica is walling itself up into the abyss of incomprehensibility. As time passes, Jamaican who speak properly are not understood by the lower class. And as patois infects more people, Jamaica sinks deeper into the 4th World.