Extra text: English in Jamaica

jamaica2 The story of how English came to Jamaica is closely connected to one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the British Empire: the slave trade.

The British conquered Jamaica from Spain in 1692 and the island soon became a producer of sugar. Harvesting sugar cane requires a lot of manpower, more than the British could supply themselves. The local population was no use – they had already been wiped out. The solution was found over the ocean in West Africa. For over 200 years thousands of slaves were brought over the Atlantic to toil under the beating sun in Jamaican sugar plantations.

The slaves were taken from different areas and spoke different languages. Slave-traders purposely mixed people with different languages on the ships to lessen the risk of rebellion. The only way to communicate was to use the language of their oppressors, so slaves developed their own form of "pidgin" English. (The word "pidgin" means a simplified language constructed for communication between people with no common language.) Then as the slave population had children, this new pidgin gradually became their mother tongue. Jamaican English was born.

jamaica1 Today Standard English is the official language of the island and in most formal settings – in government administration and schools, for example – while Jamaican English is used in the home and on the street. In the last thirty years Jamaican English has gradually become more acceptable as a written language. This is largely thanks to poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson in the 1970s. Since then Jamaican English has reached a world audience through reggae music, not least the legendary Bob Marley.