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A Comparative Look at Jamaican Creole and Guyanese Creole Grammars

Shivana Mohammed


Dr. Ian Robertson



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The creoles of the Caribbean may be said to resemble themselves, more than they resemble their

main lexifying languages; so belonging to a family of languages different from that of their

Superstrate lexifier. This premise is that which the comparisons of Guyanese and Jamaican

English Creole in this paper are built.

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“The Jamaican Language situation ...consists of two varieties, One is Jamaican Creole(JamC)

popularly labelled ‘patwa’ and the other Jamaican English (JamE)...with JamC being the Low

variety and JamC being the high variety.” (Hubert Devonish, 2008) They further define the

Jamaican Creole variety as that which is greatly influenced by the ‘output of speakers of West

African languages modifying the phonological shape of words coming into their speech varieties

of 17th Century British English.” (Hubert Devonish, 2008) Allsopp sheds light however on the

term Creolese, used in Guyana to represent the Guyanese English Creole. Allsopp notes that the

term British Guiana Creole “parallels Jamaica Creole” (Allsopp, 1975)

Frederick Cassidy declares the Creoles spoken in Jamaican and Guyana, the offspring of

“one or more European languages coming in contact with one or more African Languages. The

Creoles of Guyana and Jamaica are blends of an English Superstrate language and many African

Languages. Cassidy states,

“The African element could have come (as the

known source of the slave population makes clear)
from the languages of an enormous area extending
from Senegal southward to Angola, though the
heavy early settlement was from the Gold Coast-
Nigeria region.2 From the Twi and related
languages, specifically, come the largest share of the
easily identifiable African loanwords.” (Cassidy F.
G., 1966)

Jamaican Creole (JamC) or Jamaican Patwa is an English lexified creole, is the result of

a language contact situation which forced the interaction between the speakers of West African

Languages and the speakers of a socially superior European Language, namely English. Alleyne

declares JamC to be “the result of language contact between the Africans and the English

speakers, due to Creolisation under conditions of slavery.”

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The formation of Jamaican polyglossia began in 1509 when the Spanish first settled

Jamaica bringing approximately 1000 African slaves to the island by the year 1601. Peter L.

Patrick notes that “these slaves were brought from both Africa and other Caribbean colonies,

chiefly Suriname and Barbados....” (Holm & Patrick, Comparative Creole Syntax, 2001) The

close proximity of Suriname to Guyana allows room for one to speculate the possibility of slaves

being transported to Jamaica from Guyana also.

One major discrepancy arises when Holm notes that the country was first colonised

between 1600 and 1625 by the Spanish, whose rule was then confined to the Greater Antilles.

However, in 1655 the British decided to launch an attack on the Spanish colony, there “the 1500

Spaniards could mount little resistance...” (Holm) Patrick notes that by this time there were

approximately 1500 Africans on the island. Outnumbered by some 9000 British troops, the

Spanish fled the island leaving a mere 300 Africans who retreated into the mountains.

In 1656 settlers came from Nevis and under the protection of British troops began

farming, thus by 1658 further immigration of Irish, Scottish and British whites to the now sugar

producing territory brought the Jamaican English speaking population up to over 4,500. (Holm)

However by 1703 the European population on the islanded numbered well over 8,000 speakers

and 10,000 speakers by 1739. In this year, those Africans which fled to the mountains when the

British had arrived “became the core of the Jamaica maroons, who eventually defeated the

English Army and established autonomous settlements by treaty in 1739.

By 1755 there was the emergence of a Jamaican Creole which stood alongside a “Maroon

Sprit Language” what Bilby refers to as Chromanti; the result of “maintained knowledge of the

Twi, an ancestral Akan Language.” (Holm & Patrick, Comparative Creole Syntax, 2001)

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The table below formulated by Peter L. Patrick is used to show the ratio of African Speakers to

English Speakers

Europeans Africans Ratio

1658 7,000 1,500 5:1

1677 9,000 9,000 1:1

1703 8,000 45,000 1:5

1739 10,000 99,000 1:10

For Guyana the shift to the Guyanese Creole began in 1581 when it was settled by the

Dutch using African Slave Labour until finally taken by the English in 1803. There was hardly

any antagonism from the Dutch whom realised the English to be particularly productive in the

way of agriculture,

“so a certain Dutch commander Gravesande, following a

pattern set in other Dutch controlled territories in the area, not

only encouraged the English planters to stay but invited more

from Barbados in 1743, his terms were good and those who

came did so with their entire households including bond-

servants and slaves...By 1803 however the territory relinquished

complete control to the British. (Allsopp, 1975)

Allsopp further notes that British control of the area was the marked factor in the abolition of

slavery in that territory in 1834, “this was followed by the refusal of the Africans to return to

work, even though work was now paid, on the sugar plantations. The authorities therefore

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resorted to organised immigration of East Indian Labor to facilitate their labour shortage.”

(Allsopp, 1975) He comments that the influx of East Indians was regular and steady between the

years 1845 and 1917, “in such large numbers that they formed their own communities”, yet like

the Africans they suffered the attrition of their Hindustani dialect. English by 1875 was the

language of the entire territory; the language of education and media.

The emphasis on instruction in English in the 19th century makes it apparent why one

would find a Creolese sample of the Hans Christian Anderson European Tale- Hansel and Grettel

on the South American mainland.

The indefinite article in the Jamaican English Creole and the Guyanese English Creole

are both identified as ‘wan’ or ‘a”. Patrick states “the basilectal indefinite article is wan. It also

refers to the numeral ‘one’, but its article function is distinct from its numeral function.” (Holm

& Patrick, Comparative Creole Syntax, 2001) He further notes that generic nouns albeit singular

or plural cannot be preceded by the article ‘wan’. Allsopp adds to this however suggesting that

the Jamaican Creole possesses also the indefinite articles /a/, /sʌm/ and /eni/.

dɪs a wan ma:n an wan ledi (GC)

wan witʃ bʌrd pa:s an i it a bred (GC)

bot yu gaan get tuu out a ruod (JC)

yu mrk a big diil out a it(JC)

Allsopp (1975) states “the definite article in Jamaican Creole English is /dɪ/, it “generally

appears with semantically definite nouns...” (Holm & Patrick, Comparative Creole Syntax, 2001)

Some instances of this are seen below. Devonish highlights the Guyanese pre-nominal marker

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‘di’ which acts in the same way the Jamaican Creole ‘di’ does, it functions as the definite article

before specific nouns. See items# However it must be added that “a” is also found to act as a

definite article in Guyanese creole,# though Kline refers to it as an equative linking non

referential with respect to items such as #

An no kluoz pon di lain di mi (JC)

Di pikno dem duon iivn hav notn fi wier (JC)

Yu eva tornin down di blaastid myuuzik (JC)

Dis a wan ma:n and wan: ledi.(GC)

Dem ma:mi gʌ a hʌus(GC)

An wen i run go opn a dor(GC)

An dεm tεk a:l a swi:ti an ting (GC)

The there are also instances in the Creole where the definite article remains unmarked, as seen in

the following instances.

Si olidie a kom (JC)

Luk wa taim yu kom uom laas nait (JC)

The Jamaican Creole noun is often unmarked for the plural; rather it is preceded by a

quantifier. Beryl Bailey lists the possible quantifiers that may be found in Jamaican Creole

Discourse. These she categorises as the definite “indicating how many by count” e.g. “wan”,

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“tuu”, “trii”, “iet”. The indefinite quantifiers “indicating amount” (Bailey, 1966) are “somoch’.

‘tumoch’, ‘haaf’, ‘nof’, ‘aal’ and ‘kwaata’. These quantifiers all fall in a pre-nominal position.

Yu fi memba se mi hav tuu pikni out de (JC)

Holm and Patrick add to this discussion that “the basilectal plural marker in JamC is post-

nominal dem “they, them, their” ... this form tends to strongly occur in the phrase containing the

definite article di” (Holm & Patrick, Comparative Creole Syntax, 2001) One may note that in

the Guyanese Creole there is limited co-occurrence of the definite article with the plural

marker ‘dem’.

Di pikni dem duon iivn hav notn fi wier (JC)

An when mi go oout wid mi fren dem (JC)

The same form also serves as the plural demonstrative. This is seen below,

Dem no hav shuuz pon dem fut (JC)

sʌ wen i ka:l dεm (GC)

sʌ wails dem a gʌ (GC)

Like its Jamaican counterpart the Guyanese Creole also includes pre-nominal and post-nominal

markers to indicate the plural of the noun. Devonish lists the pre-nominal markers found in

Guyanese Creole as ‘di’, ‘wan’, and numeral quatifiers.

Bailey describes the pro-nominal system in Jamaican Creole; its constitutes the following


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• Mi, ‘I’ (speaker refers to himself);

Mi, mi a luk wok an mi go out?de

• Wi, ‘we’ (the speaker refers to a group including himself)

• Yu, ‘you’ (the speaker refers to interlocutor)

how yu wash kluoz

• Unu, ‘you’ (pl.) (the speaker refers to group which includes interlocutor (s) and excludes


• Im, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’ (speaker refers to single person or thing other than the interlocutors);

Yuan im bai fone kyaad roun ier

• i, ‘it’ (speaker refers to single animal or thing); (Bailey, 1966)

im nyam it out

• dem, ‘they’ (speaker refers to a 3rd group excluding himself and the interlocutor)

Allsopp quotes the pro-nominal system of Guyanese English as cited by a previous study as

comprising the following elements; these will be represented in the same form that Bailey uses;

• mi, ‘I’ (speaker refers to himself);

• yu, ‘you’ (the speaker refers to interlocutor)

• i, shi ‘he, she’ (speaker refers to single person or thing other than the interlocutors);

an i lεf dεm

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an wε:n i ta:k se

• i, am (speaker refers to single animal or thing)

an i dʌn

The Indefinite Pronouns according to Bailey are found in three distinct categories, these are

the human, the non-human, and their negatives. The animate-human Jamaican indefinite being

smadi ‘someone’; the non-human inanimate pronoun somting ‘something’; the negative nobadi

‘nobody’, notn ‘nothing’ and the neutral non ‘none’.

Bailey further describes the interrogative pronouns of Jamaican Creole, these she states are

“pronouns which substitute for noun phrases in questions.” She categorises these as the human

animate (who and whom); the non-human inanimate (what) and the neutral (which). These

pronouns are both found in Jamaican and Guyanese Creoles, despite different orthographic


The Jamaican Creole interrogatives are

• huu ‘who’, ‘whom’;

• huufa ‘whose’;

• wa, we ‘what’;

we yu a go out de go du?

We yu a gwaan wid

We yu a taak bou yua di eldes

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So wa diffrense it mek...

• wichwan, ‘who’, ‘which’. (Bailey, 1966)

It should also be noted that we, wa are used to represent ‘why’ as well; however wai is also

found to represent ‘why’.

Yow we yu no jos guwe

Wa kain a kaal kaal yua kaal kaal im

We yua laaf fa

So mi si wai yua laaf

All languages across the world represent Tense, Mood and Aspect in one way or the

other. He lauds Bickerton who described the Creole TMA system as “marking three main

categories – anterior tense, Irrealis mood, and non-punctual aspect- each having a principal

preverbal marker, which must combine in the order T-M-A.” (Patrick, 2008) With respect to the

Jamaican TMA system Peter L. Patrick states “Jam C combines invariant pre-verbal particles

with unmarked verb stems to express these grammatical categories...” (Patrick, 2008)

Peter A. Roberts discusses the meaning of Tense as used by most creolists, his definition

of tense shall guide the discussions herein, he says,

“Tense in the strict linguistic sense refers to the time of

speech. There are three tenses; past tense refers to time

before the time of speech, future tense to time after the

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time of speech, and present tense to the time of

speech.” (Roberts, 2007)

This explanation by Roberts is perhaps one of the simplest to be found in any exploration of

Creole Syntax.

Roberts states “Aspect as a specific linguistic term, refers to the nature of the action of

the verb.” (Roberts, 2007) There are three aspects which will be discussed with reference to the

Guyanese Creole and the Jamaican Creole seen here, these are the Continuous, also known as the

durative or progressive, and then there is the Perfect, Perfective or Completive aspect and finally

the Habitual or Iterative aspect.

Bickerton argues, “States, habitual situations and progressive events can all be described

as having non-punctual aspect.” (Bickerton, 1975 qtd Patrick, 2008) Furthermore, he views the

Guyanese aspectual system as being dependent on the division of predicates into two systems;

Stative and Non-Stative. He states “verb stativity is said to crucially affect the occurrence and

interpretation of markers of past-reference: bare non-stative verbs receive a default past-

reference reading, while stative are non-past unless preceded by a tense-marker. As a result of

these features Bickerton states that these grammars “bear no relation to English.” (Bickerton,

1975 qtd Patrick, 2008)

Gibson explores the nature of the Stative and non-Stative verb, he says “Stative verbs refer to

states; non-stative verbs refer to 'events' or 'dynamic situations'. Examples of stative verbs [ in

Guyanese English Creole] are noo 'know', waant 'want', gat 'have'. Examples of non-stative verbs

[in GEC] are waak 'walk', get 'get', guh ‘go’, chro ‘throw’, mek 'make'. Adjectives are also

included in the class of stative verbs.” (Gibson, 1988)

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Bickerton proposes that the habitual and progressive meanings are held semantically by one

aspect marker ‘a’; a form which Bickerton declares only occurs before non-stative verbs and in

those instances represents both the continuative and iterative. He says “One of the strongest rules

in basilectal Guyanese Creole is that which restricts the use of ‘a’ to non-stative verbs. .... One

seldom if ever encounters sentences such as *mi a no, *dem a waan, 'I am knowing', 'they are

wanting'.’’(Bickerton, 1975 qtd (Gibson, 1988)

1. ᴡaɪ˪ s dɛ m a gʌh ɪn dɪ faɾɛs

2. dɛm a tʃro wa:n, wa:n

3. an waɪʟs dɛm a gʌ

4. dɛm a tʃro pis- pis

5. dɛm a faʟa dɪs bʌrd a gʌ

6. an dɛm a gʌ nau

7. dɛm a wa:k ɪn d faɾɛs a gʌ wɛ.

In glosses 1-7, from Guyanese Creole English, the ‘a’ marks the past continuative of the non-

stative verbs ‘gʌ’, ‘tʃro’ , ‘faʟa’ and ‘wa:k’ respectively, in accordance with Bickertons’

arguments the continuative marker for the non-punctual aspect appears before the non-stative

verb in the above instances.

Gibson, however, suggests that these are represented by separate morphemes, he includes that

the Guyanese English Creole generally uses temporal adverbs to distinguish the continuative

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from the iterative form. Such as ‘de’ which is generally manifested as ‘a de’ however this is not

evident in the above glosses.

Gibson quotes Bailey (1966) who posits “only a progressive category for Jamaican Creole

realised in the forms a/da/de”, while according to Patrick the habitual aspect remains unmarked.

Alleyne adds to this, however, adding a habitual category which he agrees is unmarked “but is

recognised by its accompanied adverbials such as ‘always’, ‘usually; and ‘sometime’.” Gibson

however notes that “unlike Guyanese where the habitual is referred to with present or past

meaning” (Gibson, 1988), for Jamaican it is always past.

8. Bot, everidie mi a go OUT

9. mi, mi a luk wok an mi go out? De

10. an a luk likle work

11. evridie yu a go out de

12. wey yu a go out de go du?

13. Aarit (.) si dat a di neks ting

14. Mi glad a yuu bring it op

One may observe that in the Jamaican Creole the preverbal aspect marker also occurs before the

non-stative verb; its also almost always marks the past progressive from. Even when the sense is

habitual, such as #1 and #11 this remains un-marked. What both systems definitely share is the

use of the aspect marker ‘a’ to denote the iterative function for non-stative verbs.

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Both the Jamaican and the Guyanese Creoles express the Irrealis mood; Subjunctive,

Imperative and Conditional. Peter L. Patrick declares “JamC lacks the primary auxiliary verbs

present in most English dialects: forms of be, do, have (though it possesses main-verb

counterparts of do and have.” However, the unknown author of ‘Anti-Prototypical Creoles’

declares “in Jamaican Creole the Irrealis mood markers [wi, mos(-a/-i), mait(-a), mie, kya(a)n,

kud(-a), wud(-a), shud(-a), hafi, fi] may well be interpreted as future tense markers” (Unknown)

He also comments that “These particles may only be treated as a class for two reasons. First, the

markers do not generally occur as main verbs but as auxiliary verbs...” (Unknown) These

Patrick refers to as in variant particles used to mark modality in the creole.

Yu kaan afuord di tuu ina hous

The shared Tense Mood and Aspectual features of Creole languages such as Jamaican Creole

and Guyanese Creole have been used to fuel arguments for mono-genetic and Universalist


“The simplest and most common structure in JamC sees a single, invariant negator no

(reducible to /na/) before the verb.” The reduced form is also present as /na:/. The tense neutral

“duont” is also present, this is more stative occurring in the aspectual sentence, as seen in #

an no kluoz no de pon di lain fi mi

an notn naa gwaan *the negative marker no is here reduced to na: before the verb

an non no de pon it fi mi

yu no lef no

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di pikni dem duon iivn hav notn fi wier

dem no hav no shuuz pon dem fut

bot a no mi faalt

bot yu no IIZI

Comparisons of Guaynese and Jamaican Creole reveal the syntactic and lexical similarities of the

two Creole languages, with respect to their Noun Phrases and Verb Phrase formations.

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