Jamaica is having a big debate about whether to teach patois in its schools. A refrain in the articles about the situation in the Jamaican Gleaner say: "The language I speak, I cannot write; the language I write, I cannot speak."
Professor and self-described "public intellectual" Carolyn Cooper has written a series of columns supporting patois—written in patois. In "Dear God, Is Me, Bruce," she writes a prayer from the prime minister, arguing that when Jamaicans talk to their God, they talk in patois. The first paragraph:
NO BOTHER mek mi get ignorant, yaa, Maasa. How yu mean, "Which Bruce?" Is how much 'Bruce' yu know so, a bawl to yu morning, noon an night a beg fi deliverance? Cho, man, no treat mi so bad. Mi cyaan tek di crosses. Tongue cannot tell. Di people dem all bout dis a wash dem mout pon mi. Yu no see di joke dem pon di Internet? Dem have one wid Hitler a gwaan like seh im a mi. Wat a liberty! Yu fi hear di breed a ting dem im a seh bout Tivoli. Mi shame so til. An yu a go tun pon mi to?
And that pissed some people off. Here's a letter to the Gleaner (which, by the way, is an awesome name for a newspaper):
Talk about blinded by self-importance! The 'Great Ideator' has now enlisted none other than the GREAT CREATOR on her side!! 'Even God speaks patois' thunders the headline, but what follows is nothing short of shameful! Apart from being most irreverent, it is a sloppy piece of journalism. Her attempts to write in her favourite second language did little more than confirm the fact that Patois is no more than broken, misspelt English, despite her attempts to use a 'K' where most writers of Patois would use a 'C', in a futile attempt to camouflage its origins. What I cannot understand is what would drive someone to such extremes for such an unworthy quest. Such zeal correctly applied could accomplish a great good.
I am, etc.,
Carlton A. Reynolds
All of the letters to the Gleaner seem to end with "I am, etc."
In the end, it doesn't really matter whether or not the Jamaican schools teach in patois. The history of language shows that the state cannot control it—in Spain, Franco tried to kill Catalan (jailing people who spoke it, etc.) but he failed. Attempts to save traditional Irish by teaching it in school have had small impact on the day-to-day speech of young people. Irish is fading in the Gaeltacht but a new kind of hybrid Irish—call it Irish patois—is rising in the cities. But traditional Irish speakers and new/urban Irish speakers have trouble understanding each other.
All of which is to say: languages live and die by their own logic. States cannot promote them and states cannot crush them. So teach patois or not, Jamaica: patois will do what patois will do.
And now, please enjoy "Fake Patois" by Das Racist. ("Whatchuknow 'bout Shuan Bridgmohan? Whatchuknow 'bout Shuan Bridgmohan? First Jamaican in the Kentucky Derby, first Jamaican in the Kentucky Derby.")