Jamaican Patwa Vocabulary

March 20, 2023
by: Shamara Peart

Patwa has already left its mark on Western culture and the English language, particularly in populous metropolitan areas. As a Torontonian, I hear Jamaican Patwa being used all the time. In this post, I’d like to share some vocabulary. To start, here are a few phrases that you might hear on the streets of Toronto.

“Weh yuh ah seh?”  ↔  “What are you saying?”

Wah gwan?”  ↔  “What’s going on?/How are you?”

“Ah where ya a go?”  ↔  “Where are you going?”

“Blous(e) and skirt!"  ↔  “Wow!” [an exclamation used to express surprise]

Speech has always acted as a function of locality, and even in Jamaica, where you come from on the island can be identified by your accent. As you learned from my post on the history of Patwa, this rich language is filled with Indigenous, British, Spanish and African influences. Migration has also spread this creolized language across the world. Below is a table with examples from a few of the languages that have contributed significantly to Patwa’s vocabulary (from Jumieka.com).

Linguistic influence word/phrase Patwa English
Twi (Ghana) eniam niam to eat
Camaroonian Creole get bele get beli to become pregnant
Irish English at all, at all

at all, at all

"Mi no laik im at all, at all."

used for emphasis

"I really do not like him at all."

Arawakan languages  cassava cassava cassava (a root vegetable used in many Jamaican dishes)

In addition to the impact from immigration, Patwa has been adopted into our mainstream culture via music. Popular Jamaican musicians whose music you may have heard include: Koffee, Shaggy, Sean Paul and Bob Marley, all of whom use Patwa in their lyrics. Both Patwa and Toronto’s hybridized diaspora slang have gained popularity from musicians' high profile songs. Reggae, rap, and dancehall have all had their turn at showcasing the language. You can read more in this interesting piece from The Fader

I’m going to end with another video from Shan’s Patwa Academy. In the following clip, Shan, a Jamaican immigrant living in Japan, shares 25 ways that you can greet a Jamaican! Her informative series embraces Jamaican culture, all while providing lessons on the language’s use. I encourage you to watch the video and even try practicing the pronunciations at home!