There is a lot of truth to the idea that travelers who want to experience a more positive journey should learn a few phrases of the local language. Saying something as simple as “thank you,” in the native tongue is often appreciated by locals. If you are heading to sunny, beautiful Jamaica, learning a few common Jamaican sayings will help you make new friends and open the door to wonderful experiences.
Though you may not pick up more than a few phrases, it can be a lot of fun to learn a bit about the languages used in Jamaica, their history, and some of the most helpful. Jamaican Patois is a commonly spoken language used by the Jamaican people. It is a lovely blend of the Jamaican language and French.
As The Culture Trip explains, “the Jamaican language is largely a derivative of Spanish, English and African influences on the country through its colonial history. Although the official language of Jamaica is English, many Jamaicans speak Patois in casual everyday conversation.”
Some of the most common Jamaican sayings you may want to learn include:
- Wah gwaan – Meaning something similar to “what’s up” and “how are you?” it is a casual greeting that you will hear almost as soon as you arrive in Jamaica
- Irie – Irie in Jamaica is a commonly used phrase and can mean a few things. Typically, the irie meaning translastes to “everything is fine”. So, if a Jamaican asks you How yuh stay? it would be perfectly acceptable to respond with a mi irie.
- Small up yuhself – There are some Jamaican sayings you may never hear because you may not be in crowds or using public transport. However, one of the most frequently used of the many colorful Jamaican sayings is small up yuhself, which tranlslates loosely to make a bit of room or budge over!
- Weh yuh ah she – Because Patois and many Jamaican words are difficult (at first) for some listeners, it is a good idea to learn this phrase. It translates to “what are you saying,” but can also mean “how are you?” As one writer explained, “example: Weh yuh a seh? Mi deh try call yuh means, ‘How are you doing? I’ve been trying to call you.’”
- Boonoonoonoos – Among the most enjoyable Jamaican compliments to attempt is this phrase, which is an expression of love. It means special person, and you can refer to your best friend, partner, child, or other loved one using that bit of Jamaican slang. It can even apply to an object that is nice, expensive or valuable to you.
- Ya mon – This is one of those iconic Jamaican sayings that most people in the world would recognize. Mon, however, is a very common word in the Jamaican language and is used for speaking with anyone of any gender. While many might believe it sounds like an affirmative reply, it is also similar to “no problem.”
- Inna di morrows – This is a charming way to bid farewell to someone until the next day. It translates to “see you tomorrow” and whenever you are parting ways with friends it is accesptable to toss out a inna di morrows as you wave goodbye.
- Chaka-chaka – This is a phrase commonly used to describe something of poor quality, but should be used carefully as describing a meal or item in a shop as chaka-chaka can be found offensive
And with mention of something you may want to be careful about saying, we should consider whether or not travelers should use a lot of the Jamaican language.
For example, Patois is colorful and heavily accented, as well as full of lots of subtleties. Should you just start using it with Jamaicans upon arrival? The answer is complicated. There are certainly things you don’t want to say or hear said about you – such as yuh a crassis (meaning you “get lost”) ory ave no brothupsy (meaning you are plain rude) – and you don’t want to inadvertently use Jamaican slang incorrectly.
Terms like licky licky and beggy beggy may seem harmless, but are extremely significant to a native speaker. So, it is a good idea to learn phrases for the most basic exchanges – thank you (tank yuh), goodbye (lata or lickkle more), and so on.
As one travel expert said, “Learning a few Jamaican sayings will help you interact with local people and have more positive experiences as you travel…The idea is not to master the local language so you can speak it fluently. The effort you put into respecting the local way of speaking can come across as courteous to the local people you meet and interact with during your trip.”
If you feel a bit self-conscious about the pronunciations and unique grammar of Jamaican Patois, you can always go online and learn how to speak like a Jamaican from free and fee-based language learning resources. As one free guide advises, though, “make sure you’re speaking Jamaican Patois in a way that is respectful of the Jamaican people and their culture.”
Remember too that Jamaican Patois was, initially a spoken language and so it is very phonetic if it is written out. The consonants are different from some English usage, and the Jamaican language has an entirely unique HN sound that means a vowel has to be nasalized.
And it is always a good idea to wait for the other person to offer a greeting as a way of helping you determine if standard English or a bit of Jamaican Patois is called for.
Remember too that the official language of Jamaica (and most other islands, including Barbados, St Barts, and Turks & Caicos, among others) is English, so you won’t have any difficulties speaking with islanders. Whether you opt to stay at one of the beautiful and opulent resorts or book one of the many amazing luxury rentals, it will always pay to learn a bit of Patois and speak with the local Jamaicans in a polite and appropriate way. It can begin a lovely friendship and will certainly enhance your experience.