Today in non-Chinese Language Politics

Exhibit A:

Geoffrey K. Pullum, Language Log: “David Starkey on rioting and Jamaican language

A week after the riots that sprang up across a large part of England, pundits are struggling to find smart and profound things to say. One of the least successful has been David Starkey, a historian and veteran broadcaster. Speaking about the results of immigration into Britain since the sixties, he explained on the BBC 2 TV program Newsnight (video clip and story here):

The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion, and black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that has been intruded in England, and that is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.

So it wasn’t not mindless, ignorant, immoral lust for consumer goods that was behind the copycat violence of the August riots across England; it’s language what done it! That damned Jamaican patois is responsible! What a moron. My latent prejudices are whispering to me (I will try to resist) that white historians must have an innate intelligence deficit.

Jamaican Creole (JC), also known as Jamaican patois, is a language very closely related to English but not mutually intelligible with it. In structure, syntactic as well as morphological and phonological, it is distinct from English in numerous ways. Sometimes it seems grammatically simpler than English: it’s comparable with Chinese in lack of inflection, and people usually think learning 200 irregularly inflected verbs (that’s roughly how many English has) is a mark of complexity. Sometimes it’s definitely neater: JC has one personal pronoun for each person/number combination, including a number distinction in the 2nd person (ju is singular, unu is plural). But sometimes the grammar seems more complex: there are three different counterparts of be restricted to distinct constructions — the locative verb defor phrases denoting locations (“He is in the garden” = im de ina di yaad), the auxiliary a for progressive aspect (“He is running” = im a ron), and zero copula for predication (“He is crazy” = im kriezi).

(do read the whole thing; it’s a great post.)

Exhibit B:

The defining academic work on the subject, to the best of my knowledge, remains Culture, 1984:

Cockney have name like Terry, Arthur and Del-boy
We have name like Winston, Lloyd and Leroy
We bawl out YOW! While cockneys say OI!
What cockney call a Jacks we call a Blue Bwoy
Say cockney have mates while we have spar
Cockney live in a brum while we live in a yard
Say we nyam while cockney get capture
Cockney say guv’nor. We say Big Bout ya
In a de Cockney Translation!
In a de Cockney Translation!

3 thoughts on “Today in non-Chinese Language Politics

  1. The (wonderful) game GTAIV was notable for several linguistic reasons, not least of which is that it has two major characters that speak un-subtitled Jamaican patois! Lots of fun trying to figure out what is being said! Like many creoles, it sounds to the “origin language” speaker like one *should* be able to understand if only one listens carefully…

  2. Forwarding the first of them to a primary school classmate of mine, technically a JC speaker, who is in China for work about a week from now and will presumably have no problems communicating.

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