You are on page 1of 11

Topic: Discuss possible relationships between language and the

Jamaican society. Present clear examples to support your view.

b.) How do these relationships connect to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis?

Name: Saneka Setram

Date:March,16, 2009.

I n the field of Sociolinguistics, the relationship between language

and society has long been a subject of interest to sociolinguists and

scholars( Marshall McLuhan ,1962). Professors such as Connie Elbe of the

University of North Carolina explains how the field of Sociolinguistics

analyze the many ways in which language and society intertwine. According

to Rose and Rose (1990),language is an established system of communication

which enables people of similar culture to exchange information and ideas.

Additionally, language also preserves the society’s cultural heritage by

enabling people to transmit knowledge to others across time and distance.

Society is the “ web of relationship and interactions among human beings”

when a group of people stick together bearing in mind some common

definite objectives of their survival(Microsoft Encyclopedia Deluxe,

2003). Over a period of several years, sociolinguists have studied the

possible relationships between language and society in societies such as

India. However, it is important for sociolinguists to include Caribbean

societies such as the Jamaican society which uses the Standard Jamaican

English and Jamaica Creole (language)” in reflecting on personal, social

and cultural realities and values via several relationships with society” (

Extract from the Language and Society Course Outline) . Hence, the need

to discuss the possible relationships between language and the Jamaican

society and show how these relationships connect to the Sapir- Whorf


Firstly, the Jamaican society influences or determines the

language (linguistic phenomenon) used in that society. Based on the

definition of society stated in the aforementioned, it is evident that this

hypothesis proposed by several scholars cannot be discarded as

nonsense. The Jamaican society dictates where and when the Standard

Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole are used as the mediums to

communicate. If it is a formal setting (associated with official

occasions in the Jamaica society-church) then the Standard Jamaican

English is to be utilized. On the other hand, if it is an informal

setting (associated with casual or unofficial events in the Jamaican society-

speaking with friends) then the Jamaican Creole is used. At the Mico

University the linguistic behaviour of it, is realistically pictured because

the University (part of the Jamaican society) insists that Standard

Jamaican English must be utilized because the university is a formal setting

and a place where persons are trained to be teachers and to model the

Standard Jamaican English. The history of the Jamaican people is rich

because of the different ethnic groups; these groups came about as a

result of Spain invading Jamaica in the late 1490’s and defeating the

Arawaks. But the Spanish society did not stop at conquering Jamaica, it

dictated that Spanish was to be the language of the island. When

Britain fought and defeated Spain in 1655 the British society dictated

that English was to be the language used in Jamaica. The African slaves

were utilized as a workforce on the Jamaican plantations by both European

powers; unable to communicate effectively with each other they created

Pidgin and out of this emerged the Creole; it was their society which

influenced the linguistic phenonmenon created. These brief insights into

the history of Jamaica helps to cement the argument of society (Jamaican)

influencing the language(Standard Jamaican and Jamaican Creole).

Secondly, both the Standard Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole

(language) influence or determine the Jamaican society. This rings true

because these Jamaican languages shape the Jamaican society.

If there was no words such as” government” or “hospital” in Standard

Jamaican English “the common semantic and pragmatic entity of both

would be duly absent”( Ronald Wardhaugh ( 1986) Introduction to

Sociolinguistics). Words such as “daggering, rompin or hot gyal” determine

the hardcore Dancehall persons found in the Jamaican society. Additionally,

words and phrases such as “hot , hype or cool and yuh look wicked or yuh a

occur, respectively, determine the younger generation of the Jamaican

society. In addition,The Standard Jamaican English is idolized by upper-

class Jamaicans because of the prestige associated with it-the prestige of

the Standard Jamaican English is influencing some persons in the Jamaican

society to speak it, so they will be viewed in a particular way . Recently, the

Jamaica Broad Casting Commission banned songs with sexual connation,

beeping or promoting violence such as” Rompin Shop”, by Vybz Kartel and

Spice or ”Smaddy a guh Breathe ”, by Vybz Kartel . Reason being, it was

suggested by several commentators that these songs via the language

utilized (Jamaican Creole) influence some persons in the Jamaican society

toward violence ( rape, abuse or murder) thus contributing to the high

crime rate-the Jamaican Creole is influencing the Jamaican society.

Throughout the years various artists such as Bounti Killa ( I are

the one), Elephant Man (Mucho Gracias) , Spice (Scorn Dem) or D’Angel (An

Suh) create slangs which influence the Jamaican society to perceive them in

certain lights whether as a good or bad individual. Professionals such as

educators -teachers and lecturers in the Jamaican society use jargons

(language) such as literacy or numeracy to set themselves apart in the

Jamaican society. In essence ,because of these professionals’ and others

like them, use of certain linguistic features of the Standard Jamaican

English, the Jamaican society regard them as better educated and in a

higher stratum than other persons in the Jamaican society.

Thirdly, the relationship between the Standard Jamaican English

and Jamaican Creole and the Jamaican society is bi-directional. This

hypothesis is proposing that both the language and the Jamaican society(

social phenomenon) influence linguistic behaviour. Language evolution

supports this hypothesis and thus plays a part in this discussion. Several

centuries ago the English Language evolved in three various stages: Old to

Middle to Modern English and within these periods semantic changes- word

being changed from its original meaning, occurred. When the meaning of a

word changes society changes their usage of the word to suit the context.

Years ago , the word “dagger” was and still is in some parts of the world

associated with the meaning of being “ a small knife-life weapon.” However,

for the Jamaican Creole speakers the word “dagger” as “a socially

semantic value”(Microsoft Encyclopedia Deluxe,2003) in the Jamaican

society which would not be the case in other societies, “as

it is a linguistic identity of a specific socio-cultural act” (Microsoft

Encyclopedia,2003) (sex) derived from the context( knowning about sex) of

the Jamaican Creole speakers. This is showing that the Jamaican Creole

(language) and the Jamaican society are both influencing the usage of this

word because members of the Jamaican society changed the meaning of the

word (language) based on the experiences of persons in the the Jamaican

society. Language variation plays an important part in further corroborating

this argument. Language variation is the difference in language according

to regional or social class or group in which it is used ; the sociolect in

language variation represents language of the group while the indolect

represents the individual language. In the Jamaican society, persons from

St. Elizabeth speak differently from those in Kingston because the dialects

differ in pronunciation. This is showing that the language and the Jamaican

society is bi-directional because the language tells where a person is from

and the Jamaican society determines the type of language being spoken.

Fourthly, this argument being presented is derived from the

linguist Noam Chomsky’s theory of Universal Grammar in that there is no

relationship between language and the Jamaican society. He is well known


stating that humans are born with a Language Acquisition Device (LAD)

otherwise known as the little black box. This linguist proposed that language

is an innate system of expression completely free from the influence of

either social or any other external linguistic factors. In the Jamaican

classrooms teachers who practice the traditional teaching methodologies

confirm Chomsky’s theory of Universal Grammar. These teachers

demonstrate this by teaching the language- rules of grammar in a vacuum as

in a verb is an action word or a noun is the name of a person, place or thing

instead of showing that language derives its content through other


Throughout this discussion it is evident that the Sapir- Whorf

hypothesis (SHW) also known as the “ linguistic relativity hypothesis”

must be included in it because it relates to language. The Sapir –Whorf

hypothesis puts forward the argument that language influences or even

determines the way people think or view the world. This hypothesis holds

two views:1. The Firmer View- that language functions as a ‘prison.’Once

people learn a language they are irrevocably affected by it. 2. The Softer

View- that language shapes how people think and experience their world, but

this is not permanent. Therefore, it is apparent that the Sapir-

Whorf hypothesis supports the second possible relationship between

language and the Jamaican society in that language influences the Jamaican

society because language influences the way the world is perceived by


It is always important to discuss the possible relationships between

language and the Jamaican society. Based on the aforementioned, four

possible relationships are suggested. In presenting clear examples in the

Jamaican society it as become apparent that in the Jamaican society the

various arguments presented can be supported and that the Sapir- Whorf

hypothesis supports the second possible relationship .The possible

relationships between Language and the Jamaican society will always be

discussed by linguists and sociolinguists.


1.Wardhaugh, R. (1992). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics.

Cambridge, MA:Blackwell

2. Relationship Hypothesis. (2007). Language and Society. Retrieved

March10, 2009 from


3. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.(2003). Retreived March10, 2009 from