Introduction to Jamaican Patwa in Toronto

January 30, 2023
by Shamara Peart

This is the first instalment in our series: Jamaican Patwa Meets Toronto English

Toronto is known for its unique slang, but the catchy words and expressions that characterize it are the result of decades of immigration. I grew up in Rexdale, a neighbourhood in the northwestern region of Toronto where food, music, and phrases from different cultures are regularly shared. Lately, I’ve noticed that Jamaican culture and language have had a particularly strong influence on Toronto’s lingo. Partially, this is because of the large number of Canadians with Jamaican heritage (including me)! In this series for the Strathy Blog, I will unpack the history of the Jamaican Patwa language and share some of the words and phrases that I’ve grown up with. In doing so, I hope to pay respect to one of the many immigrant communities that infuse Toronto’s diverse, bustling culture.

Jamaica’s national language goes by a few names, ‘Jamaican Creole’, ‘Jamaican Patois’ or ‘Jamaican Patwa’. I prefer to use the term ‘Jamaican Patwa’ or simply ‘Patwa’, which is how the language is typically referred to by speakers. Most people in Jamaica speak Patwa as their native language, so there are a number of different varieties and dialects. In government and education a more standardized variety of English gets used. There seems to be a sliding scale between Jamaican Patwa and Standard English, where speakers use the best variety suited to the occasion and context. Today, many dialects of Patwa and are kept alive by Jamaican communities all over the world. Who knows? By the end of this series, maybe you’ll be motivated to do some research about a new culture and language.

Stay tuned for my upcoming piece on the history of Jamaican Patwa!