Two Faces of White Jamaica: Cassidy v Cargill

I don’t have the time right now to translate this post into Jamaican.  Sorry to disappoint those of you who look forward to reading Jamaican.  But I’ll do it for next week when I’ll be under a little less pressure.

Frederic Cassidy and Morris Cargill were white Jamaicans whose responses to the culture of the black majority reveal radically different mindsets.  Morris Cargill suffered from a terrible superiority complex.  He was an opinionated newspaper columnist and lawyer who had absolutely no respect for local intellectual traditions.

Frederic Cassidy was a gentleman-scholar who contributed in great measure to the academic life of the Caribbean and far beyond.  As a professor of Linguistics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the 1960s, Cassidy led the research project that resulted in the publication of the multi-volume Dictionary of American Regional English.

Perverse Pleasure

Morris Cargill

For more than forty years, Morris Cargill used his column in the colonialist Gleaner to batter black people.  He couldn’t have gotten away with it in the U.S., Britain or any mature democracy.  But this is Jamaica.  Racism is cute.  Cargill took perverse pleasure in preaching the gospel of the natural inferiority of African people to Europeans.

Cargill, ever provoking, once wrote a newspaper column headlined, “Corruption of Language is no Cultural Heritage.”  He seemed to be claiming that African peoples and our languages are sub-human.  And the Caribbean Creoles that developed out of the many African languages brought over in the heads of our ancestors are nothing but monkey talk.

I was so vexed when I read that column, I had to reply: “Cho, Misa Cargill, Rispek Juu!’” I decided to answer Cargill in Jamaican, the very language he was dissing.  And I used the writing system for the language that had been developed by Professor Cassidy.  A horse of a different colour.

A Labour of Love

Frederic Cassidy celebrated the verbal creativity of the black people among whom he grew up. His book, Jamaica Talk:  Three Hundred Years of the English Language in Jamaica, which was jointly published in 1961 by the Institute of Jamaica and Macmillan in London, is a labour of love.

It is true that the subtitle of the book plays down the African elements in our language.  By the way, I prefer the nationalist label ‘Jamaican,’ rather than the academic ‘Creole’ or the much more popular ‘patwa.’    But whatever name you call it, the language clearly has African features, which Cassidy does acknowledge.

In collaboration with the equally distinguished linguist, Robert LePage, Cassidy produced The Dictionary of Jamaican English Published in 1967, the dictionary is still not widely known here.  The prohibitive cost was a factor.

Thankfully, as a result of my initiative, Cambridge University Press sold the paperback rights to the University of the West Indies Press.  The cost of the dictionary has been greatly reduced. Every single Jamaican school can now afford to put The Dictionary of Jamaican English in its library.

Fulling the Space

The day after my response to Cargill’s wicked column was published, I got a whole heap of complaints from plenty people who hadn’t bothered to read the pronunciation guide to the Cassidy writing system that I’d included.  So they were frustrated.  As Cargill himself put it in his off-the-cuff reply, they ‘couldn’t make head or tale of the maze of phonetics.’

But what upset them even more was the fact that their children could read the text so easily.  That’s not hard to understand.  The Cassidy writing system is phonetic and all the children did was to apply commonsense to the strange-looking text.  As Mr. Anthony Sewell, the postman in the neighbourhood where I used to live, put it so brilliantly,  ‘it full the space of our real African language.’

Unmasking Ignorance

One of fascinating features of the Dictionary of Jamaican English is its account of the origin of the words it defines.  Or, as Professor Cassidy himself says, “A word is an encyclopaedia.  It tells you about the people who use it, where they come from and what their lives are like.”

Many of our Jamaican words come straight from West Africa.  Asham.  The original word in Twi, one of the languages of Ghana, is ‘o-siam.’  Look it up in the Dictionary if you don’t know the meaning!  Then you might think that the word ‘mirazmi’ is African.  You’ll discover that it’s actually Latin, ‘marasmus.’  And, would you believe it, the word ‘cashew’ entered the English language via Jamaica.

Professor Hubert Devonish (right), Sir Colvile Young, governor general of Belize (left) and Dr. Marta Dijkhoff, former minister of education in the Netherland Antilles. From the Gleaner website, Ian Allen/Photographer

The historic conference on “Language Policy in the Creole-Speaking Caribbean” that was convened last week by Professor Hubert Devonish, Head of the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona, was a huge success.

The conference brought together, from across the region, ministers of government (present and past), representatives of various educational and cultural institutions, civil society activists and linguists, of course, on a mission to spread the word on the power of our local languages.

Blissful ignorance – of the Morris Cargill variety – often masquerades as fact.  Or playful satire.  Genuine scholarship reveals the true face hidden beneath the grinning mask.

Deaf, Dumb and Blind ‘Justice’ / ‘Jostis’ Def, Dom an Blain

On the eve of the historic University of the West Indies conference on “Language Policy in the Creole-Speaking Caribbean,” I have to tell the story of the upsetting experience I had last year in a Resident Magistrate’s court in Jamaica.  I was there representing myself as the defendant in a case against an unscrupulous supplier of windows who had sued me for refusing to pay for defective windows.

Believe it or not, he had conceded that the windows were substandard.  But he intended to refund my deposit only if I agreed that he could remove the faulty windows within a month or so.  If I did not let him remove the windows within that narrow time frame, I would be forced to purchase them!

Since he had taken almost 5 months to install windows that should have been ready in about 3 weeks, I considered his proposal completely wicked and refused to be pressured into buying sub-standard windows.  I made it quite clear that I needed time to decide on alternative windows and then to have them manufactured.  Refusing to bow to reason, the unconscionable man proceeded to sue me.

I won the case but wasted a lot of time in court.  All the same, I learnt a lot about deaf, dumb and blind ‘justice’ in the Jamaican courts.  One morning, as I waited for my case to be heard, I listened in amazement as the judge explained in quite sophisticated English how she was proposing to handle a dispute about unpaid rent.

The defendant was told that the case was going to be sent to a mediator who would discuss exactly how much rent the defendant would have to pay.  The distressed defendant kept on insisting in Jamaican that she didn’t owe as much rent as the landlord claimed.  The judge continued speaking in English, simply repeating her proposal.  This back-and-forth went on for a good few minutes.

At the risk of being deemed in contempt of court, I jumped up and asked the judge if she would allow me to translate her comments for the defendant.  She agreed.  As soon as the woman understood the proposal, she accepted it.  What angered me was the smug question the judge then asked: “Is that what I should have said?”  To which I disdainfully replied, “Yes, Your Honour.”

Surely, the judge should know that justice cannot be dispensed in a language that the defendant does not understand!  What bothered me is that the judge must have realised that the defendant did not understand her.  But it did not occur to her that she needed to use “that” language, Jamaican.

That same day, the stubborn judge refused to acknowledge the fact that another defendant had not understood her ruling.  In this case, the plaintiff did not appear in court and so the case was dismissed.  But the poor defendant, who did not understand that he was free to go, sat in the court for another hour waiting for the case to be tried.

I was so vexed, I again jumped up and asked the judge why she would not make it clear to the man that he was free to go.  I couldn’t believe it when she said that she had told the man he could go and if he wants to sit there it’s his business!  It clearly didn’t matter to her that the man did not understand.  That was his problem, not hers.  I took it upon myself to tell the man that he’d gotten off.  And he quickly left the court.

Now this is a judge who considered it appropriate to dress me down because, in her opinion, I was not properly dressed for court.  On yet another court appearance, I considered myself dressed to kill in a kris white linen pants suit.  I couldn’t believe it when the judge declared that my pants were mid-calf, and this was not acceptable.

I excused myself and went into the corridor.  I unbuttoned my pants, got them to drop a good few inches and then hobbled back into court like those young men with their pants waist at their knees.  Of course, I had to hobble very carefully because if the pants fell to the floor I would definitely be in contempt of court.

The judge insisted that the extra inches made absolutely no difference.  She pointed to one of the men and informed me that his pants length was the standard:  the hem of my pants had to go right down to the floor.  In complete frustration, I turned to leave the court when a police officer said to me, “Just tell her seh yu sorry!”  I did, with much insincerity.

The Half-Way-Tree courthouse from the website of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust

I couldn’t believe it!  A few inches of cloth was a bigger issue than making sure that the language of the courts is understood by all citizens.  Hopefully, the long-overdue conference on “Language Policy in the Creole-Speaking Caribbean” will eventually result in a law that will protect the language rights of all citizens.  The business of the courts, for example, must be conducted in Jamaican for clients who do not know English.  This is natural justice, plain and simple.

‘Jostis’ Def, Dom an Blain

A tumura di big-taim kanfrans a go staat op a Yuunivorsiti a di Wes Indiis, we dem a go chat bout langgwij palisi fi di konchri dem iina di Kyaribiyan we taak Kriyuol.  Taakin bout dat, mi ha fi tel unu wan stuori bout wapn tu mi iina wan Rezident Majischriet  kuort iina Jamieka laas ier. Mi beks, mi beks, mi beks so til!   Mi dida difen miself iina wan kies gens wan banduulu man we sel winda.  Im suu mi chruu mi tel im se mi naa pie im fi im bad winda dem.

Unu naa biliiv dis:  di man admit se di winda dem no gud.  Bot im no plan fi gi mi bak di moni mi pie dong – if mi no mek im kom tek out di winda dem likl aafta dat.  Bout wan mont im waan gi mi.  If mi no mek im kom kwik-kwik fi tek im spwail winda, im a go mos an boun mi fi pie fi dem!

Wel, sins im did tek aalmuos 5 mont fi put iin di winda dem we im did se uda redi iina 3 wiik, mi nuo se im wikid.  An mi mek op mi main se mi naa mek im presha mi fi bai im buogos winda dem.  Mi tel im se mi ha fi disaid mi main wa kain a ada winda mi waant; an mi ha fi wiet fi huusueva a mek dem tek dem taim.  Di ankanshanebl man naa tink chriet an im rosh go suu mi.

Mi win di kies bot mi wies nof taim a kuort.  Stil far aal, mi laan uol iip bout ‘jostis’ iina Jamieka kourtous. ‘Jostis’ def, dom an blain.  Wan maanin, mi a wiet fi mi kies kaal.  Mi kyaan biliiv it wen mi ier di joj a yuuz som big wod fi eksplien ou shi a do diil wid wan kies we di piipl dem a kwaril bout rent.

Di joj tel di uman we uoa rent se shi a go sen di kies to wan ‘mediator’ fi disaid omoch rent shi fi pie.  Di puor uman kip aan a tel di joj se shi no uoa di uol iip a big moni we di lanlaad se shi uoa.  Di joj shi dis a gwaan brandish di big wod dem; an di uman naa gi op fi ar kies.  Dem gwaan bak an fort kopl minits wel.

Mi no kya if dem se mi ‘in contempt of court.’  Mi jomp op an aks di joj if mi kyan chienj uova we shi a se iina Ingglish tu Jamiekan.  Shi se ‘yes.’  Fram di uman andastan wa di joj a se, shi agrii.  Di ting dat beks mi nou a wen di joj shii wid ar ekschra self a go aks mi, “Is that what I should have said?”  Mi jos kot mi yai aafta ar an se, “Yes, Your Honour.”

Yu a go tel mi se di joj no nuo se nobadi kyaan get no jostis iina kuortous if yu no andastan di langgwij we dem a yuuz gens yu!  Yu nuo we beks mi?  Di joj mos did nuo se di uman neva andastan ar.  Bot it neva kom tu ar se shi ha fi go yuuz ‘that’ langgwij, Jamiekan.

Dat siem die, di haad-iez joj rifuuz fi admit se wan neks difendant neva andastan ar jojment. Ier ou dat wan go!  Di man we a suu neva kom a kuort.  So di joj chruo out di kies.  Di puor difendant neva andastan se im get we.  So im sidong iina kourt fi bout a neks owa a wiet fi di kies chrai.

Mi beks so til.  Mi jomp op agen an aks di joj we mek shi no tel di man im frii fi go.  Mi kudn biliiv it wen shi se sopn laik “I told the man he could go and if he wants to sit there it’s his business!”  It no mata to ar se di man no andastan.  A fi im prablem.  A no fi ar.  Mi mek it mi bizniz fi tel di man, “Yu get we!” An im waak outa kuort kwik-kwik.

Nou, dis a di sed siem joj we wies taim a jres mi dong bikaa shi disaid se mi neva jres prapa fi kom a kuort.  Dis taim, mi nuo mi jres tu pus bak fut iina wan kris wait linin pans suut.  Mi kudn biliiv it wen di joj gi aaf se mi pans jrap a di migl a mi kyaaf an dat kyaan kom a kuortous.

Mi beg ekskyuuz an mi go iina di pasij.  An mi pul mi pans wies an jraa dong di pans kopl inch wel. Den mi shofl bak iina kuort laik dem yong bwai wid dem pans wies dong a dem nii.  Mi ha fi a tek taim shofl kaa if di pans faal a grong a dat taim nuo mi dairekli “in contempt of court.”

Di joj shii naa bak dong.  Shi se di kopl inch naa mek no difrans at aal, at all.   Shi paint pan wan a di man dem, an se fi im pans lent a di standad:  di pans ha fi go rait dong a grong.  Mi beks so til mi staat waak out.  An wan poliis afisa se tu mi, “Jos tel ar se yu sari!”  Mi dwiit, bot mi neva miin it.

Old Spanish Town Courthouse from the website of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust

Mi kudn biliiv it!  Kopl inch a klaat muor important dan mek shuor se evri sitizn andastan di langgwij we a yuuz iina kuortous.  Aal mii uop is dat dis ya kanfrans pan langgwij palisi fi di konchri dem iina di Kyaribiyan we taak Kriyuol – we shulda kip lang-taim abak – a go chienj op tingz.  Mii waan govament paas a laa fi protek di langgwij raits a aal sitizn.  Wen yu  go a kuortous di laaya an di joj dem supuozn fi chat mek yu andastan.  If yu no nuo Ingglish dem fi taak Jamiekan.  Dat a jostis fi chruu, plien an simpl.

Language Rights and Wrongs/ Langgwij Raits an Rangs

The Maroon, Haiti

The Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica is convening an international conference on Language Rights and Policy in the Creole-speaking Caribbean on January 13 and 14.  Here’s the link to the conference website:

For far too long, the Creole mother tongues of the vast majority of Caribbean peoples have been dismissed and devalued by the formal educational institutions in many countries across the region.  An outstanding exception is Haiti where Kreyol is recognised as an official language.

In Jamaica, for example, we desperately maintain the fiction that English is the mother tongue of most citizens.  It is not.  English is a second language that is inefficiently taught in schools and inadequately learnt by many students.

In a newspaper article, “Whose class are you in?”, published in the Jamaica Gleaner on  October 24, 2010, I raise the disturbing question of how children in primary schools are ever going to learn anything at all if teachers try to communicate exclusively in English, a language that most students do not understand.  Here’s the link to that article:

Even at university level in Jamaica, many students need to take remedial classes in English.  Our school system has simply failed students all the way up; and just passed them on.  If we were to take the Creole mother tongue seriously as a language of instruction in schools we would do a much better job of teaching English.  At the very least, students would learn how to distinguish between the two languages.

The Jamaican Language Unit’s historic conference will address the pressing issue of a Charter on Language Rights and Language Policy for the Caribbean region.  As noted in the press release for the conference, the draft charter that will be on the agenda of the two-day meeting was designed by a group of “30 international experts on Caribbean languages and their roles in education, the law and culture.”

The target audience for this far-reaching conference comprises Ministers of Education, Justice and Culture.  The question of language rights is serious business even though many elites across the region think that Creole languages are a big joke.  Language rights are, ultimately, a matter of social justice.

Langgwij Raits an Rangs

Old Bailey, London

Di Jamieka Langgwij Yuunit op a Yuunivorsiti a di Wes Indiiz, Muona, Jamieka a kip op wan outanashanal konfrans pan Janieri 13 an 14 bout Langgwij Raits an Palisi ina di Kyaribiyan konchri dem we piipl taak Kriyuol.  Si di link tu di kanfrans websait ya so:

A lang taim nou dem a dis an luokount di Kriyuol mada tong we muos a di piipl dem ina di Kyaribiyan taak.  Dem naa tek di langgwij dem siiryoz ina skuul ina plenti a di konchri dem aal kraas di riijan.   No Haiti.  Dem av plenti sens.  Fi dem Kreyol langgwij ofishal.

Tek Jamieka far instans.   Wi a fuul op wiself an a gwaan laka se Ingglish a fi wi mada tong.  Notn no go so.  Ingglish a wi sekan langgwij.  An dem naa tiich i gud ina skuul; an plenti a di pikini dem naa kech i gud.

Mi rait wan nyuuspiepa aatikl, “Whose class are you in?”, we Gliina poblish pan Aktuoba 24, 2010.  An mi aks wan siiryos kweschan:  Ou di pikni dem iina praimeri skuul a go laan eniting at aal, at aal if di tiicha dem a taak to dem iina suoso Ingglish?  Wan langgwij we muos a di pikni dem no andastan.  Si di link ya:

Aal a yuunivorsiti ina Jamieka, plenti a di styuudent dem ha fi a tek ekschra lesn fi fiks op dem Ingglish.  Fi wi skuul sistim naa chriit di pikni dem rait.  Dem dis a fiel, aal di wie op.  An di sistim dis a paas dem aan. If wi did av di sens di tek fi wi Kriyuol mada tong siiryos, an yuuz i fi tiich pikni ina skuul, dem wuda laan Ingglish.  If notn els, dem uda nuo di difrans bitwiin di tuu langgwij.

Di Jamieka Langgwij Yuunit big-taim kanfrans a go diil wid siiryos-siiryos bizniz.  Wi ha disaid wa wi a go du bout langgwij raits and palisi fi di Kyaribiyan.  An wi ha fi rait i dong ina wan dakument.  Di aaganaiza dem sen wan leta tu aal a di nyuuzpiepa an riedyo stieshan.  An dem se di dakument we dem a go diskos a di kanfrens staat fi rait op.   A 30 outanashanal aatariti pan Kyaribiyan langgwij – we nuo ou di langgwij dem fi yuuz ina skuul and kuort-ous an ina di kolcha jineral – a dem kom tugeda an rait op di dakument.

An dem waan di Minista dem fi Edikieshan, Jostis an Kolcha fi kom a di kanfrans.  It big an it braad.  Yu si dis langgwij raits bizniz.  A siiryos ting.  Plenti a di tapanaaris dem aal bout gwaan laik se fi wi Kriyuol langgwij dem a wan juok ting.  Hmmm. Ina di lang ron, langgwij raits a diil wid jostis fi puor piipl.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2010. That’s about 4 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 11 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 49 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 6mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was October 24th with 66 views. The most popular post that day was Maasa Gad Taak Patwa?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for, jamaica woman tongue, zahra redwood, yendi phillips, and pic of children doing outdoor play in jamaica.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Maasa Gad Taak Patwa? October 2010


About September 2010


Jacket . . . Or Full Suit? Paternity Testing From a Jamaican Perspective December 2010


2 comments and 1 Like on,


Mi find some a di missing man dem/Finding Elusive Men October 2010