Update: For more on Jamaican patwa, check out our fun video posts. Hear school kid lingo in our Patwa Quiz, compare native and non-native speakers in A Special Message in Patwa, and hear about Jamaica by Jamaicans
.Most people (at least, many Americans) associate Jamaica with this quintessential phrase: “Yah, man.” I’m not sure why, but the phrase is widely recognized by foreigners, whether they’ve travelled to Jamaica or have hardly even glanced at a brochure. Some Jamaicans may claim that it’s really not used that much, and some outsiders may be curious if it’s an authentic part of Jamaican daily life. There are some phrases that you certainly hear more in tourist areas, like “No problem, man” and “Irie” but the phrase “Yah, man” is pretty much widespread.
Some things you may not have known about this phrase is that it is used regardless of gender. It can be said to a man, woman, adult, or a child. Also, in my experience, it usually takes on a connotation that says “yes, of course” or “don’t be silly, yes.” It’s as if the person can’t believe you would need to ask the question you just asked and now feels they have to emphatically convince you of the answer. Example:
Me: Are you sure this jerk chicken doesn’t have pepper in it?
Jamaican: Yah, man! You’ll love it.
Another related phrase that is pretty common is: “No, sir!” or phonetically spelled: “No, sah!” This is used when whatever you said is beyond belief, disgusting, or the person emphatically refuses you. I’ve often heard it used in jest more so than in serious conversation. And again, it is said to both male and female alike. Jedd especially enjoys eliciting this response from people with his playful sense of humor, so I’ll use him in the example:
Jedd (jokingly to a student): Don’t you want to try this disgusting food that’s been sitting out all day?
Student: No, sah!
One final phrase that is extremely common is the word, “alright” or “aright.” Although we have the same word in the U.S., it takes on even more dimensions here in Jamaica. Sometimes it seems as though it can be used in any given situation. Often it is a substitute for “thank you” or “you’re welcome.” It’s a good one to use when someone says something blasphemous to you or when you get unwanted attention from the opposite sex and you don’t know what else to say. It’s used to ask how someone is doing: “y’aright?” Sometimes people even say “aright” or “yes” instead of hello.
So that’s some basic phraseology for you. If you’re interested in more Jamaican talk, a.k.a. patois (patwa), I recommend looking up the Jamaican Sinting channel on youtube.