The Jamaican Post-Creole Continuum

The Jamaican speech continuum (illustrated here by the example ‘I am eating’) can be displayed as a ladder of lects:

The versions of the acrolect and the basilect differ from each other lexically (eat versus nyam), morphologically (I versus mi) as well as syntactically (progressive formed by a form of ‘be’ plus verb inflection (aspect suffix –ing) versus typical separate aspect marker a).

  • The basilectal Jamaican Creole is likely to be used by rather uneducated low-status speakers.

  • The acrolect is a local Jamaican variety of Standard English spoken by educated Jamaicans with high socio-economic status.

  • Mesolectal Jamaican Creole is spoken by the majority of speakers.

  • The Post-Creole continuum is characterized by an implicational hierarchy. The concept of the implicational hierarchy states that there is no random mixing of the two extreme poles of acrolect and basilect. Instead, only specific linguistic forms will co-occur. That is, when a speaker uses a particular form in his/her speech, it can be assumed that (s)he will use specific other forms as well. Thus, when this speaker uses the pronoun mi for the first person singular, (s)he will also use the uninflected verb indicating progressive aspect by the separate preverbal aspect marker a (/mi a i:t/). When a speaker uses a form of ‘be’ plus –ing suffixed to the verb in order to express present progressive tense, (s)he will also prefer I instead of /mi/ for the first person singular (/a ɪz i:tɪn/, /aɪ m i:tɪn/). Linguistic versions such as I am nyaming, mi am a nyam, or I a eat, however, are unlikely to occur in the Jamaican Creole continuum.

  • In contrast to decreolization – the movement away from creole towards the standard - recreolization can also occur. The term describes the opposite movement of a decreolized creole away from the standard in the direction of becoming more basilectal in character.

  • The linguistic behaviour of young black British-born speakers of Caribbean parentage in Britain, for example, is characterized by the use of a form of (basilectal) Jamaican Creole (also called Patois) in addition to a local variety of British English (e.g. London English in London known as Cockney) and, usually, Standard English.

(Information taken and adapted from Sebba, 1997)