Jamaica, the largest English-speaking Island of the Caribbean, has a population of 2.7 million inhabitants. Standard Jamaican English (English) is the official language, i.e. the language used is schools, parliament and the media. Jamaican Creole (JC), an English-based creole, descended from language contact between Africans and Europeans during and after slavery (Roberts 2007), is the national language, and is spoken by the majority of the population. It is, for the most part, the ambient language used in the home and is the first language of most Jamaicans. Children acquire JC through parent, sibling and extended family interaction while


English appears to be primarily acquired from school interactions in the classroom (Carpenter, 2009).

The Jamaican language situation is generally described as a Creole Continuum (Decamp 1971) with speakers varying across the continuum from basilect to acrolect. At the basilectal extreme, also referred to as the ‘deep creole’, speakers’ production manifests most substratum influence (i.e. influence from West African languages as transmitted during slavery). This variety is farthest from the ‘local standard’ and is generally associated with a rural setting.

Speakers at the other extreme (acrolectal end) are envisioned to speak the ‘local standard’, which is the prestigious variety, containing the most ‘superstrate’ (British English) influences.

Situated in between the two extremes are the mesolectal varieties, which unequivocally share attributes of both extremes in varying degrees. Speakers of opposite extremes may be mutually unintelligible; however this is very rare as most people can adjust their variety upward or downward on the continuum (Durrleman-Tame, 2008). Speakers of the basilectal extreme are unintelligible to other Caribbean or foreign speakers of English (Lacoste, 2012).

The distinction between mesolect and basilect is not clear-cut as due to the relatively fluid social structure, rural varieties are becoming more and more subjected to urban influence, yielding more overlap between the two varieties (Winford, 1993). There are however, speakers who command only one of the distinct varieties (monolinguals) and others who command both varieties from either ends of the continuum (bilinguals). The Language Competence Survey of Jamaica (2007) reports that 46.4% of its sample demonstrated bilingualism; however only 17.1% were monolingual English speakers and 36.5% were monolingual JC speakers.


The examples in (13) illustrate some possible variations in morphosyntax found across the continuum (ranging from the basilectal extreme (a) to the acrolectal extreme (g)) for a single statement.

1) a. Im wehn de nyam im fuud.

3SG PAST PROG eat 3SG food b. Im behn a nyam im fuud.

3SG PAST PROG eat 3SG food c. Im did a nyam im fuud.

3SG PAST PROG eat 3SG food d. Im did a iit im fuud.

3SG PAST PROG eat 3SG food e. Im woz iitin im fuud.

3SG PAST eat~PROG 3SG food

f. Hii woz iitin im fuud.

3SG.NOM PAST eat~PROG 3SG.ACC food g. Hii woz iiting his fuud.


‘He was eating his food.’

In this work, we concentrate primarily on the variety found at the basilectal extreme of the continuum, which we have been referring to as JC. The choice for this selection is based on the fact that it is the variety with the least influence from Standard English, and therefore offering most syntactic novelty (in line with Durrleman-Tame 2008 and Bailey 1966).

3 Throughout this dissertation, examples which are not attributed a source are drawn from my native speaker’s competence. Note that I use the JLU modified Cassidy-LePage orthography (see section 4.4) for my own JC data, however where data is drawn from other sources, I use the spelling representations of those sources.


However, based on the continuum situation and the fact that English is the official language, it is challenging to find speakers of only the basilect, having absolutely no access to the acrolect or mesolectal varieties. Jamaicans, including those located at the basilectal end of the continuum, would therefore exhibit some knowledge of English from early childhood, since English is the variety used in education and the media (Lacoste, 2012). Due to the distinctive social/communicative roles that the varieties fulfill, the Jamaican speech community has been characterized as being diglossic (McCain, 1996). In the diglossic situations however, all speakers possess some degree of competence in both the high and low varieties, and can switch between varieties based on the situation of discourse.

During the course of the data collection phase some of the informants started to attend school.

It is therefore imperative to provide a sketch of the situation governing language use in early childhood education. Children entering the school system in Jamaica would be predominantly JC speakers, but due to the continuum situation there may also be a mixture with both JC and English. As a result, The Language Education Policy (LEP) was developed in 2001 to simultaneously promote oral use of JC in schools while facilitating the development of skills in English (LEP, 2001). The Ministry of Education has adopted an approach in which teachers

“promote basic communication through the oral use of the home language in the early years (e.g. Kindergarten to Grade 3) while facilitating the development of literacy in English”

(Bryan, 2001:23 in Lewis, 2010:13). This may include the teacher’s giving directions or explaining a task in JC. Additionally, many teachers, especially at the kindergarten level, are not fluent in English themselves. According to Bryan (2004), students and teachers may think they are using English, when often they are not. So while the LEP upholds that English should be used in the classroom, in reality, this is not necessarily the case. This may be due to the lexical similarity found across the varieties along the continuum, and speakers not directing


attention to the grammatical distinctions between the two languages in operation. For example JC is characterized by a cluster of grammatical properties which makes it quite distinct from English, such as serial verb constructions, double negation, lack of subject-auxiliary inversion, lack of case morphology or gender distinction on pronouns, etc. These features are typically found in Atlantic Creoles (Patrick 2004) and will be examined in the subsequent section.

Dans le document The acquisition of Jamaican Creole: The emergence and transformation of early syntactic systems (Page 33-37)