The Bible in Jamaican patois

Tyler Kenney recently wrote an article for Desiring God Ministries about translation, and in it he linked to a BBC article about a controversy in Jamaica about whether the Bible should be translated into the creole language that many Jamaicans use or whether it should be kept in English. At the heart of the dispute is whether patois is truly a language or just an improper form of English. Here’s an example from Luke (in patois, “Jiizas – di buk we Luuk rait bout im”), with an explanation of the cultural goals as well:

English versions read along these lines: “And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.'”

“Now compare that with our translation of the Bible,” says Mr Stewart.

“De angel go to Mary and say to ‘er, me have news we going to make you well ‘appy. God really, really, bless you and him a walk with you all de time.”

Mr Stewart says the project is largely designed to bring scripture alive, but it also has another important function – to rescue patois from its second-class status in Jamaica and to enshrine it as a national language.

“The language is what defines us as Jamaicans,” insists Courtney Stewart. It is who we are – patois-speakers.”

The patois Bible represents a bold new attempt to standardise the language, with the historically oral tongue written down in a new phonetic form.

For example the passage relating the angel’s visit to Mary reads: “Di ienjel go tu Mieri an se tu ar se, ‘Mieri, mi av nyuuz we a go mek yu wel api. Gad riili riili bles yu an im a waak wid yu all di taim.”

The New Testament has been completed by a team of translators at the Bible Society in Kingston – working from the original Greek – who intend to publish it in time for the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence from Britain on 6 August next year.


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