The legitimacy of patois is a constant debate in Jamaica. The country’s educational institutions, including the University of the West Indies, have invested plenty of money in researching and documenting the language (some people even wonder whether it is a language) and the government struggles to provide accessible services (including education) because of the unofficial yet overwhelming presence of patois.
This existential issue has now extended to Toronto, where 170,000 Jamaicans live. A recent National Post story indicates that there is a shortage of patois interpreters and this is having real consequences in terms of the justice system. In other words, there are not enough people to translate what Jamaicans are saying when they are engaged in criminal trials. Here is the judge speaking about a particular case involving two Jamaican men accused of smuggling drugs:
In his decision, Justice Conlan expressed hope that unofficially accredited interpreters could be brought in for future proceedings and regretted that “the pace of change appears to be moving at the speed of molasses.”
“Perhaps we can look forward to some speedier progress in the days ahead, otherwise, justice will be sacrificed,” he wrote.
Meanwhile the accused are free, but they can’t work or leave Canada.
Here in Jamaica, the University of the West Indies has invested millions of JA dollars in researching patois and some scholars even recently completed a patois bible. However, all official activities are conducted in standard English, including instruction at schools. This makes for a difficult situation for most children, who learn in English but live life using patois.
Check out a couple of good articles by Dionne Jackson Miller here and the University of the West Indies’ professor Dr. Carolyn Cooper here. And let’s hope that even as the debate continues to rage, Canada’s justice system will find some more patois speakers to aid in carrying out justice.