patois (language)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

The speech patterns and syntax of Jamaican Patois can be heard in the songs of reggae musician Bob Marley (1945-1981), who grew up in Trench Town, a poor neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica. (Paul Natkin/Getty Images)


(1) Patois is an informal term for a regional dialect, one that's often regarded as having a low status in relation to a standard variety of a language. Plural, patois

The term patois is used to refer to many of the vernacular forms of English spoken in the Caribbean. The best known of these forms is Jamaican Creole (also known as Jamaican Patois). 

(2) Patois may also refer to the slang or jargon of a particular social group—a sociolect or social dialect.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From French, "local speech," "rough speech," 

Examples and Observations

  • "[T]he term dialect is sometimes used only if there is a strong tradition of writing in the local variety. Old English and to a lesser extent Middle English had dialects in this sense. In the absence of such a tradition of writing the term patois may be used to describe the variety. However, many linguists writing in English tend to use dialect to describe both situations and rarely, if at all, use patois as a scientific term. You are likely to encounter it only as a kind of anachronism, as in its use by Jamaicans, who often refer to the variety of English spoken on the island as a 'patois.'"
    (Ronald Wardhaugh, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 4th ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2002)

  • The Mainstreaming of Jamaican Patois 
    - "[Benjamin] Zephaniah . . .  focused on the rise of Jamaican patois as the current slang of choice for young people. Slang has long irked those excluded by it, but the programme suggested that concerns about slang now are driven by the fact that 'what is perceived to be black slang is being spoken by white and middle-class children.'"
    (Elisabeth Mahoney, "Mind Your Slanguage." The Guardian, December 9, 2009)

    - "Patois, as well as its hybridized diasporic slang, is a language used by fluent, native-speaking migrants, second and third-generation Jamaicans, along with non-Jamaicans across the US, Canada, the UK—even Japan. But its cultural prevalence can’t solely be attributed to migration: dancehall and reggae, musical genres thick with patois, have had a presence in the mainstream since as early as the ’70s, and continue, in waves, to engage the pop charts. In the last year alone, Jamaican musicians like Sean Paul, Spice, Popcaan, and Mavado have worked on high profile collaborations with pop artists.

    "Part of understanding Jamaican patois absorption into mass culture involves understanding its synthesis; and scholarship suggests it might not have even originated in Jamaica. Hubert Devonish is a linguistics professor at the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica. He told me that while no one can be sure, some linguists believe patois began as an Afro-English language, either in Saint Kitts or Barbados, the first permanent British colonies that were founded in 1624 and 1627, respectively. A true hybrid language was formed as a result of European and West African contact due to the transatlantic slave trade. 'The critical thing about these creole languages is that they tend to borrow most of the vocabulary from the European language,' he said, 'but that the pronunciation patterns and grammatical structures are West African.'"
    (Eternity Martis, "How the Language of Jamaica Became Mainstream." The Fader, August/September, 2016)

  • Gumbo Patois
    "A patois is the spoken dialect of a region, which often differs fundamentally from the official, written, or literary language. Patois results from the mixing of two or more cultures and languages. Gumbo patois is spoken by black and Creole people in Louisiana, Bourbon, Mauritius, and the French West Indies."
    (M.J. Strong, "Gumbo." African American Folklore: An Encyclopedia for Students, ed. by Anand Prahlad. ABC-CLIO, 2016)

  • Raymond Chandler's Patois
    "Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of bar-room vernacular, that is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive."
    (Raymond Chandler, letter to Edward Weeks, Jan. 18, 1947. Quoted by F. MacShane in Life of Raymond Chandler, 1976)
  • Jamaican Patois in an American Movie
    Clara Mayfield: Ah, der be da tarment of me existence. Dey call him Devid.

    David Hart: Chow Bobo. Me not da tarment of her existence. In dis house, de tarment is everywhere and de Ja-MEEEE-can woman tarment me fa certain as much as me tarment her.
    Blanche Loudon: Where him learn patois?
    Clara Mayfield: Only one place I can think of.
    Blanche Loudon: Dahn talk dat way. Anly looooow class people talk dat way.
    Clara Mayfield: Child, dan't encourage him.
    (Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris, and Hattie Winston in Clara's Heart, 1988)


    Pronunciation: PAHT-wa