Professor Ben Ristow
Foundations of Writing
23 July 2014
I consider my spoken and written English decent. The reason behind this goes back to Jamaica where speaking Standard English is not as common as speaking in our local dialect, patois. As a child, I would write in English at school, watch television where people speak English, read books in English and not once would you hear me speak in English. I can recall one of my teachers in Jamaica asking the class what our official language is and the whole class confidently said, patois. One of the students said, “really, mi neva know dat” (I did not know that) Isn’t that interesting? It took me about 10 years to learn that English was my official language and not patois.
Life in America is different because every day I speak English and my so called, “broken English” has improved. I can enunciate words like the average American but they just roll off my tongue different. Now and then, I catch myself saying, “tree” for three or “bahchoom” for bathroom. The change from Jamaica to New York was smooth for me because even as a foreigner I never felt reclusive from everyone else. I lived in the Bronx my first three years in America on Boston Road where I saw people from different cultures speaking different languages and this made me very confident during my transition phase. I wasn’t shy to speak in public because having an accent is common in New York City with people from all over the world. Like most of southern New York, you will find Africans, Hispanics, Asian, and Caribbean people. We all speak differently and had our unique heritage so I never stood out in the crowd. In the Bronx/Mount Vernon area, there are many different spoken languages and the community as a whole is diverse. Usually I would hear Jamaicans words like “wa gwaan”, “yute”, “breggen”, “pickney”, “gyal”, “jah know” on the street. I came to this country not knowing that a part of my culture was already in New York City. In middle school, I was constantly in a situation where I had to explain to someone where I was from as soon as they heard me speak. As usual, I play basketball at Gun Hill Park in the Bronx and I remember playing a full court game with a few of the guys from my middle school. Usually they speak an endless amount of slang in the “hood” and one of the boys said to me, “You Jamaican?” when I mumbled the word, chu after missing a shot. Chu is a slang word from patois which cannot directly be translated to English and if it could it would probably mean “oh my God”. I remember saying, “yea yute” (yes dude) trying to stir some humor. Maybe it was the curiosity of children when they are growing up but kids in middle school always want to know where someone is from. Their method was always a question that goes like this, “so where are you from again?” or “I like your accent, what are you?”.
Slang was a big thing for me and it was one of the few bumps during my transition phase. These words were exotic to me even though I rarely used them at that time, I loved hearing them. I felt like I was fitting in whenever someone would say a slang word like, “wavy or dope” and I understood the context of how they used it. I probably would not have used these words in front of my family or friends because of my thick Jamaican accent at the time. To this day, I don’t speak slang even though I am surrounded by it. When I hear words like “neck or odee” (doing too much) I understand it but I will never add them to my vocabulary only because it feels unnatural.
Now that my English is decent, my patois has remained perfect, at least that’s what I thought. When I get on the phone to speak with one of my relatives in Jamaica I never start the conversation the way I would with one of my America friends, “hey, how is it