Tag Archives: origins of Jamaican slang

A Reply to Jah

I have had a brief message from someone using the username Jah in relation to my piece on Irish and Jamaican Slang:

Hi, I am doing research for my dissertation and came across this article. While somewhat insightful, it comes across as very harsh and angry- almost disgusted at the idea that there could be Irish influences on Jamaica (whose second largest ethnic group is Irish). Either way I would love to have a chat regarding your thoughts on the connection between the two- not merely linguistically and some of your research sources. Thanks!

While I am very busy, I will give you a few minutes of my valuable time to explain my position and correct a couple of wrong assumptions in your message. Firstly, if there is any disgust in my piece (and there probably is), it was directed at the late Daniel Cassidy and his flagrant lying. However, I think we can reasonably assume that Daniel Cassidy knew as much about Jamaica as he did about Ireland, so any argument on these matters should simply ignore Cassidy and look at other sources.

Secondly, you are wrong to think that I find the idea of links between Irish culture and Jamaican culture annoying or unlikely or unacceptable.. We know that there was a lot of emigration from Ireland to that part of the world, as you say, and in theory, I have nothing against the idea that there might be an influence. What I’m saying is that there is simply no evidence in terms of vocabulary, grammatical structures or indeed, anything else!

One thing that really does disgust me (because I hate people like Cassidy and his supporters) is lazy and irrational thinking. As I said in my piece, I have looked for evidence of Irish influence on Jamaican English and I didn’t find any. Many words have been suggested, like ganzi, or banikleva (various spellings). Take those two examples. Geansaí is the Irish for a jumper but this is because it’s a recent borrowing of a dialect version of Guernsey and this is also the origin of the Jamaican term. Banikleva does come from bainne clábair but this was English of Irish origin rather than Irish – it was found all over the English-speaking world (as bonnyclabber) in the eighteenth century with the meaning of curdled milk. Which is why, when people say, ‘there are loads of examples’, it doesn’t impress me, because it there are, I want to know what they are and whether they really are examples of Irish influence.

As I said, even in Montserrat, which has a very strong Irish influence, there is relatively little trace of the Irish language in Montserrat versions of English. The article I gave a link to quotes the word mensha as meaning a young female goat, which is clearly the Irish word minseach, meaning a nanny-goat. This in itself is a fascinating survival and it hints at the linguistic riches that a researcher might have found in Montserrat a hundred years ago. However, the researchers weren’t there and neither is the evidence. Not for Montserrat, not for Jamaica, not for Barbados or anywhere in the Caribbean.

So, my question to you is, what are you going to write in your dissertation? How can you write about a phenomenon that simply doesn’t exist?