Maasa Gad Taak Patwa?

Photo from DARE website

Last week, I was properly chastised on the blog by Aasia who firmly reminded me that I’d promised to start using the specialist writing system for Jamaican:

“As much as I support promoting Jamaican, I don’t like when it is polluted as you do it sometimes. I know reading and understanding true/Cassidy system Jamaican is difficult but we will get used to it eventually if you use it more often. I thought you said you were going to be using this space for that? To my mind, attempting to write Jamaican with English syntax/lexicon etc is bad English and not Jamaican. And, if we continue to write Jamaican mixed with so many English words (although Jamaican is English-based) we would be playing into the hands of the persons who continue to say Jamaican cannot stand on its own as a language.  Please use the Cassidy system Doc.”

Aasia refers here to the writing system for Jamaican that was developed by the Jamaican-born linguist Frederic Cassidy who enjoyed a distinguished career as a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Professor Cassidy was the founder of DARE, the Dictionary of American Regional English.  Visit the DARE website at

The DARE site informs us that “Although the idea of a dictionary of the dialects of American English had been promoted by the American Dialect Society (ADS) as long ago as 1889, the reality of that project did not begin to take shape until 1962, when Frederic Cassidy . . . was appointed Editor.”

Like a typical Jamaican, Cassidy just took over:  “Late in the 1940s, chafing at the inaction of the ADS, Cassidy had decided to do a pilot survey in Wisconsin to test the feasibility of a nationwide field survey. With graduate student Audrey R. Duckert, he combed the relevant publications and devised a lengthy questionnaire asking about as many topics of daily life as they could think of. Carrying out the survey using mailed packets of questions, Cassidy and Duckert determined that, with some modifications of the questionnaire, it would indeed be possible to undertake a country-wide examination of American English.”

Paperback edition published by the University of the West Indies Press

Cassidy had had lots of experience in the field, particularly from working with Robert LePage on the superb Dictionary of Jamaican English. Using the proper technical terms, he laid out the writing system for Jamaican in the dictionary which was first published in 1967.

Here’s my amateur version of the system.  In the first column is the symbol of the sound; in the second column, I use the Cassidy spelling for Jamaican; and in the third column, I illustrate the pronunciation of the words using English spellings of roughly equivalent sounds.

Vowel Symbols Application English version
i it it
ii iit eat
ie rien rain
e pen pen
a hat hat
aa haat heart
ai hait height
o hot hot
u put put
uu yuut youth
ou hous house
uo duor door

Consonants Application English version
b big big
p pig pig
d dig dig
t tin tin
g go go
gy gyal gal
k kop cup
ky kyap cap
m mii me
n net net
ny nyuu new
ng ring ring
v van van
f fan fan
z zuu zoo
s son son
sh fish fish
j juk jook
ch chap chap
l lik lick
w waata water
r rien rain
y yes yes

So mek wi gu ina it:

Ef Maasa Gad no taak patwa, mi sari fi dem uol iip a piipl iina Jamieka an iina farin wa taak tu im ebri die inna patwa an ekspek im fi ansa dem:  Du Maasa Jiizas!  Memba di pikni dem mi a fait op wid.  No mek dem get iina no chrobl!  Yes, Laad.  Yu si di bad briid man mi de wid?  Du, no bada mek notn bad apn tu im.  Bad az tingz bi, mi uda neva laik si im get wat im dizorv.”

“Laad Gad!  Yu si di uman wa yu gi mi fi liv wid?  Maasa Jiizas, wa mek yu bring dong dat de kraasiz pan mi?  A we mi du?  A no likl chrai mi chrai wid di bad-main uman.  Mi memba dat lang taim abak wen mi a put aagyument tu ar.  Di uman gwaan laik se bota kudn melt iina ar mout.  An nou, yu fi ier fi briid a kos shi dis a kos mi.  Laad, tek di kies an lef di pila.”


6 thoughts on “Maasa Gad Taak Patwa?

  1. Profesa Cooper, mi afi grii wid Aasia. Mi glad fi we yaa du, bot mi fiil laik se ef wi naa rait Patwa laik se a wahn difrant langwij, wi jos a sopuot we evribadi tink aredi—se patwa a brok-op brok-op ingglish.

    Gi dem di Kyasidi!!!

  2. Hello, I’m sorry I cannot use the cassidy system -yet- to write this comment, I am only starting to understand patwa. I’m a French student in Master 2 of English, and I make researches about Jamaican patwa, and the issues it raises in the fiel of the translation (into french). I would like to get in touch with you if you agree.
    Best regards

  3. Pingback: 2010 in review « Jamaica Woman Tongue

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