Yes. It is unbelievable, but there are still persons residing in Jamaica who speak Jamiekan fluently and deny that the country has an indigenous language. The linguists have said so and the Dictionary of Jamaican English edited by Cassidy and LePage (1980) is one of the seminal documents to have inscribed this into linguistic annals.
The politics of language in Jamaica, which has a national policy acknowledging the existence of Standard English and Jamiekan, revolves simultaneously around national superiority, and an inferiority that has its genesis in plantation society historically, which many argue persists rabidly in postcolonial Jamaica.
The European ideals of speech patterns, language, fashion sense, hairstyles, body shape and size, music / entertainment choice, and moral ethic, albeit evolving, still haunt us and have been maintained in fundamental ways by the established Church in particular and, yes, an inherited legal system with its dated laws.
With this as a background then, let me get to the point of this post. I happened upon a language episode on one of my favourite social media platforms – Twitter – after recent travels. It came to my attention from @jtfarquharson’s announcement of Piers Morgan’s bomb, including criticism from non-Jamaicans regarding his use of Jamiekan. Of course this brought memories flooding back. Was I having a deja vu experience of the VW Ad with Dave who encouraged Julie to ‘turn di frown di odda way aroun'” in his true ‘Jamaica no problem!’ smile campaign encouraging a state of happiness even in times of stress? The ‘Get in, Get Happy’ 2013 Superbowl AD sparked controversy which surrounded the fact that Dave, a white male from Minnesota, was the central figure speaking in Jamiekan. Why wasn’t it a JAMAICAN after all??
The argument is that the culture became ‘a punch line’ and it was thought to be offensive. A similar thing occurred with the Saturn AD but that was a horse of a slightly different colour with obvious ‘seditious’ possibilities even in the context of increased appeal for Jamaica on the heels of the ‘Jamaican Olympics’ of 2012 (Jamaican athletes shun brightest in track and field), among other occurrences.
Following the furore caused by, among other things, the persistent politics of PC, Jamaicans like myself revelled in the value added for Jamaica’s country brand index while simultaneously lamenting the inability of bureaucratic structures tasked with promoting Jamaica to take advantage of the moment.
Back to the Piers Morgan episode. In his innocence, and longstanding association with Caribbean and specifically Jamaican cricketers, Morgan, of ‘Piers Morgan Live’ fame, decided to acknowledge and celebrate Jamaica’s win in the Commonwealth Games. This is what happened:
Morgan, an avid sports fan, tweeted the word ‘Boom!’ after the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, powered the Jamaican 4x100m relay team to victory at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on Saturday night. But the exclamation irritated one social media user who asked him: “Why ‘boom’? You’re not Jamaican.” The celebrity journalist then replied – in patois – referencing an old Jamaican proverb: “Mi cum ya fi drink milk, mi no cum yah fi count cow” which means ‘mind your business’. (The Voice)
Well Piers gave it to them, as we would say in Jamaica, unabashedly declaring his ability to tweet Jamiekan and his love for Jamaica and its language, that same language many Jamaicans don’t believe to be a language.
It didn’t end there because the Commonwealth Games led right into Jamaica’s Independence celebrations and Piers struck again.
Happy Independence Day to all my Jamaican friends/followers. And remember: Wanti, wanti, cyan getti, getti, getti nuh want it. #PatoisPiers
I retweeted @jtfarquharson’s tweet in this way on discovering Morgan’s tweet:
@CultureDoctor: DWL. How did I miss this @piersmorgan episode? #Boom — “Mi deh lef. Likkle more.” http://t.co/XZ11EUXy86 via @jtfarquharson
Well, with many primed to identify racisim and other forms of discrimination masked in exploitative schemes over language usage, the tweet took root among the chattarazzi of the UK and among Morgan’s Twitter following spreading soon enough to Jamaicans who supported him with hastags such as ‘#welovePiers’, ‘#patoispiers’ and names such as ‘Gaza Piers’. Here’s one of the tweets:
“So @piersmorgan talking Patois [and] white people gonna throw a fit? #welovePiers #honoraryJamaican #mekdemgwaan.”
I couldn’t help but imagine that accusations of inciting patois riots could have been levied at Piers, bringing back memories of the London Riots and the way Jamiekan was implicated in the dialogues around the organisation and persistence of those unfortunate events.
What is the lesson? Be careful what you tweet. It is twitter, but it’s not just Twitter. Beyond that caution however is the larger lesson of cultural certitude and identity. While Jamaica’s Independence was trending and Morgan was being hailed as ‘Gaza Piers’, many Jamaicans at home and abroad didn’t pause to consider that there is something profound in people wanting to speak their language before learning mainstream languages (Japanese reggae and dancehall enthusiasts are examples), or in people all over the world being able to identify with Jamiekan as a highly expressive happy language from the place with a ‘no problem’ attitude. This is the stuff of which brands are made.
Have you played some Bob Marley music for Jamaica’s Independence Day yet? –> http://t.co/OPG2r8Rm1f http://t.co/IV0iKDpazM
For those who missed the episode, here’s the article which gave me a full understanding of what took place. Let me know what you think. I leave you with an important notation from the linguists. Languages which are not used die.
Social media demands journalist be made an honorary citizen after his old Jamaican proverb goes viral
APT PUPIL: Piers Morgan with his ‘patois teacher’ West Indies batsman, Chris Gayle (pic: Piers Morgan/Twitter)
THE POWER of sport in bringing the unlikeliest of people together is well-documented and now a Twitter exchange during the Commonwealth Games has endeared Piers Morgan to the Jamaican community.
Morgan, an avid sports fan, tweeted the word ‘Boom!’ after the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, powered the Jamaican 4x100m relay team to victory at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on Saturday night.
But the exclamation irritated one social media user who asked him: “Why ‘boom’? You’re not Jamaican.”
The celebrity journalist then replied – in patois – referencing an old Jamacian proverb: “Mi cum ya fi drink milk, mi no cum yah fi count cow” which means ‘mind your business’.
The comeback was retweeted more than 3,000 times, and favourited by nearly one thousand more who labelled the retort ‘the winner of the internet’.
Within hours, the former Mirror editor was trending on Twitter in Jamaica with supporters calling for him to be renamed ‘Gaza Piers’.
However, not everyone was happy with Morgan’s lapse into patois with some people – many of whom were not black or Jamaican – accusing him of being racist.
One user wrote: “People please refrain from bigging up @piersmorgan for tweeting in patios! Any moment now BBC1Xtra’ll be naming him the most powerful Jamaican!”
Others rushed to his defence.
“So many white people are outraged that @piersmorgan is speaking Patois. Apparently, it’s racist. Here is me, with my Jamaican self, laughing,” tweeted one.
Another added: “So @piersmorgan talking Patois [and] white people gonna throw a fit? #welovePiers #honoraryJamaican #mekdemgwaan.”
While PatrioticJam, said: “So @piersmorgantrending in #Jamaica. Power of the #patois”
Revelling in the attention, Morgan then went on to post a picture of himself with West Indies batsman, Chris Gayle, labelled: “My patois teacher…world boss”, before signing off the day with a simple: “mi deh leff. Lickle more.”
It is not the first time Morgan has ingratiated himself with the Jamaican fraternity.
During London 2012, he told his Twitter followers: “I want to be at the Jamaica Olympics after-party”, to which Usain Bolt replied: “I know some people. Your name will be on the list.”
Morgan responded: “Boom!”