— [http://goo.gl/MX0wLM] Bennett humorously deprovincializes Jamaican Creole, recontextualizing it globally as but one of multitude of dialects spawned by a world-circulating language.

:: RT: Through her protest narrative, the author, being a pioneer in the field, had to endure numerous criticisms. Only a person with a high level of pride and self-belief in the Jamaican culture and its population could have withstood the negativity of the time | #LouiseBennett #BansAkillin #Jamaica #English #Patois #Jamaican #StudyNotes #UniversityStudies


Out of many, one language. Each of us is a dialectal speaker. Evidently, the English language through its many interactions with other languages and people have evolved and changed over the years (Svartvik & Leech, 2006, p. 13; Backus, 1999, pp. 11-22). Language is, undeniably, an important cultural banner to people and for many years has been used to give many nations and individuals a unique identity. “Bans a Killin” is a satirical poem written in Jamaican creole or ‘patois’ (‘patwa’) by Louise Bennett — a Jamaican poet and social activist . In this poem the poet defends having chosen to write in Jamaican creole. It was written in 1944, during Jamaica’s de-colonization, as a rebuttal to constant verbal assaults from several critics, represented by a fictional Mr. Charlie (Walker, 2005, p. 71).

He denigrated the local Jamaican English by voicing the ideology of the colonial elite: “creole talk […], both in pronunciation and in diction, [was] anything but elegant” (Cassidy, 2007, p. 22). Miss Bennett wrote the poem at a time when she aimed to define what it meant to be Jamaican and from the tone of the poem wanted the people of Jamaica to see themselves in a positive self-light. It emphasized the importance of patois language in molding the cultural background of the Jamaican nation and the identity of its people. A common national identity was about to be forged.


Jamaica was a conglomeration of several peoples and cultures brought together in the Caribbean Island by the end of slavery, in 1834-1838 (Cassidy, 2007, pp. 16-18; Gardner, 1873, pp. 211-317). The ensuing mix of “cultures and languages accounts for the rich” background of “traditions” and “life” in Jamaica (Svartvik & Leech, 2006, p. 175). But of critical value to our narrative, are the various dialects the English language became after these interactions with the islands in the Caribbean including Jamaica. This combination of languages or dialects with the exclusive nature of the associations between them (the dialects, and other colonial languages and English) gave rise to mixed languages that became known as Creole or pidgin, or for linguists as ‘creolized’ English (Cassidy, 2007, pp. 1-3; Svartvik and Leech, 2006, p. 176; Patrick, 2007, p. 1). And none stranger than in the formation of English and local native tongues that gave rise to Jamaican patois, where we put our focus.

At Independence from colonial rule, in 1962, Jamaica as a nation was at the crossroads in terms of its cultural identity, social status, and language (Branca, 2007, pp. 2-4). Jamaican patois that is birthed out of a rich African legacy was spoken widely in the island both during decolonization and at independence by the locals. In contrast, Standard English was spoken by the euro-centered ruling minority, and anything that alluded to the local Jamaican English dialect was deemed to be categorized as that of half-civilized people: be it skin color, language and even music. It is against this backdrop that some thought Jamaican English was of a lower standing, offensive, their pronunciation was abominable, it was a villainous patois, “an indolent drawling out of their words, that [was] very tiresome if not disgusting” (Cassidy, 2007, p. 22; Branca, 2007, p. 4). It was snobbism in language at its peak.


In “Bans a Killin,” a man —Mr. Charlie, is planning on killing all dialects, focusing on patois’ inappropriateness in society. Thomas Russell, however, described the Jamaican folk speech with honest observation and without the attitude of superiority or scorn (1868, B, Introduction & p. 22). The poem, without losing its political and rebellious character, was used both to entertain and educate this nascent democracy on the importance of embracing the patois heritage that was part and parcel of the Jamaican social and moral fabric (Walker, 2005, pp. 68, 73). Bennett, disguised in laughter, fervently reminds the ruling class power that ‘patwa’ is not merely chaotic or corrupted English but a creation of immense vitality and humor, and most importantly, its role as “a defence against the assimilationist encroachment of the dominant society” (Wong, 1986, p. 113).

Bans a’ Killin’ by Louise Bennett, in patois (Bennett, 1993, selected 4-5) / [Standard] English translation: Bands of Killing (Madeira, 2015, translation for the purpose of ESL)

So yuh a de man me hear bout!
Ah yuh dem seh dah teck
Whole heap a English oat seh dat
yuh gwine kill dialec!

So, you are the man I hear about!
They tell that you have taken
a lot of English oaths that say
you will kill dialects!

Certain forms of spoken English are more stigmatized than others. In short, during decolonization, Bennett wanted to defend and nurture Jamaican dialect as the single most significant form of cultural and political identity of the Jamaican people (Branca, 2007, p. 5; Walker, 2005, p. 68).

Meck me get it straight, mas Charlie,
For me no quite understand –
Yuh gwine kill all English dialec
Or just Jamaica one?

Let me understand it properly, Mr. Charlie,
because I don’t completely understand it –
Are you going to kill all English dialects
or just the Jamaican one?

Ef yuh dah-equal up wid English
Language, den wha meck
Yuh gwine go feel inferior, when
It come to dialec?

If you meet the English language
standards in all respects,
why would you feel inferior
regarding this business of dialects?

It was of paramount importance for Louise Bennett to observe that English, about 500 CE, was only “a collection of dialects spoken by marauding Germanic tribes who settled in the part of the British Isles nearest the European continent” (Svartvik & Leech, 2006, p. 7).

Ef yuh cyaan sing 'Linstead Market'
An 'Wata Come A Me Y'Eye’
Yuh wi haffi tap sing 'Auld Lang Syne’
An ‘Comin' Thro' the Rye '.

If you can’t sing ‘Linstead Market’
and ‘Wata Come A Me Y'Eye’
you have to stop singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’
as well as ‘Comin' Thro' the Rye.’

The poem challenges Mr. Charlie on his views of an immutable language that does not fit reality. As corroborated by Albert Baugh (2002, pp. 175-178) and Celia Millward, some decades later, “[d]iversity among the regional dialects of England, particularly in pronunciation, is greater than in any other part of the world where English is spoken as a native language ([1989, 1996,] 2012, p. 367).

Dah language weh yuh proud o’,
Weh yuh honour an respect –
Po’ Mas Charlie! Yuh no know sey
Dat it spring from dialec!

That language that you are so proud of,
which you honor and respect—
Poor Mr. Charlie! Don’t you know
that it stemmed from dialects!

Bennett’s persona informs Jamaicans and her public in general on the Middle English period when the language went through a cultural and literary renaissance. Fourteenth-century English was spoken (and written) by common people in a variety of dialects and the aristocrats used French. Edward III ordered that English should be used in the law courts and Parliament, ‘because the French tongue [was] much unknown’ (Svartvik & Leech, 2006, pp. 41, 60-62). Bennett’s persuasive argument is that patois should be acknowledged without embarrassment as a regional dialect.

Dat dem start fi try tun language
From de fourteen century –
Five hundred years gawn an dem got
More dialec dan we!

They have tried to turn it into a language
from the fourteenth century—
Five hundred years have passed and now
they have more dialects than we do!

It places ‘proper’ English under the microscope by contending that it is built on a foundation of a variety of dialects such as those in Cockney and in Lancashire.

Yuh wi haffi kill de Lancashire,
De Yorkshire, de Cockney,
De broad Scotch and de Irish brogue
Before yuh start kill me!

You would have to kill the Lanky dialect,
the Tyke dialect, the Cockney,
the braid Scots and the strong Irish accent
before you begin to kill me!

By the time of Shakespeare's writings (1592-1616), the language had become clearly recognizable as Modern English, and even though, pronunciation was beginning to be standardized, spelling was not codified in the English language, and people more or less spelled words in the way that seemed most logical there and then. Shakespeare grew up in a world of dialects; he even spelt his name in at least six different ways (Svartvik & Leech, 2006, p. 60). The Creole-activist Jamaican, Louise Bennett, propagated the view that killing all countless variations in English meant killing the very soul of the English language.

Yuh wi haffi get de Oxford Book
A English Verse, an tear
Out Chaucer, Burns, Lady Grizelle
An plenty a Shakespeare!

You would have to get the anthology
of English poetry and tear
out Chaucer, Burns, Lady Grizelle
and a lot of Shakespeare!

Furthermore, the poem points out that the neo-colonial status quo proclivity to disparage Jamaican patois is in itself self-defeating (Walker, 2005, p. 71; Ramazani, 2009, p. 394).

When yuh done kill 'wit' an 'humour',
When yuh kill 'variety',
Yuh wi haffi fine a way fi kill

When you have finished killing ‘wit’ and ‘humor,’
when you have killed ‘variety,’
you will have to find a way to kill

Uniquely, the narrative added an aspect of comic relief to the otherwise serious issue being tackled. Its witty yet confrontational view attacked the blatant ignorance of the defenders of English ‘exclusiveness’ or snobbery.

An mine how yuh dah read dem English
Book deh pony uh shelf,
For ef yuh drop a ‘h’ yuh mighta
Haffi kill yuhself!

And how are you going to read those English
books that are there upon your shelf,
because if you drop an ‘h’ you might
have to kill your own self!

The poem posits the centrality of language in arousing passion in the hearts of people that would be impossible with ‘proper’ English language as this was associated with servitude (Branca, 2007, pp. 7-8). A way of restoring or regaining an ethnic or national identity is by rejecting the language of the colonizer. In Jamaica, the imperial language had “[displaced] the native language, by installing itself as a ‘standard’” against patois which was constituted as ‘impurity’ (Ashcroft, 1995, p. 261).

The poem was also very familiar with the 1960’s radio deejays, who played it frequently. It is this influence that has ascribed the notion that this poem and especially its style played an essential role in the spread and growth of the reggae music genre that came to the fore during this era: "[i]t is difficult to say whether [Bob] Marley's lyrics would have been very different without the existence of Louise Bennett. Bob Marley, however, constantly sampled Jamaican folklore in his compositions, folklore harvested and promoted by Louise Bennett" (Walker, 2005, pp. 68, 73-78).

“Bans a Killin” was considered the most militant and political of all of Louise Bennett’s poetic narratives (Walker, 2005, p. 71). The poem was regarded as having played a significant role in the Jamaican nation's liberation from neo-colonial intellectual slavery. It helped carve out of the amorphous mass that is Jamaican culture, an art form and identity that was appreciated and acceptable by Jamaican people of all creeds. It is noteworthy that patois was a tool of great importance to the Jamaican nation after many years of colonial rule, and this mirrored in both the language and customs of the Jamaican people. The appearance of written language was a factor that trigged “the change in language consciousness [which gave] rise to the notion that [patois] language [existed]” (Cooper, 2004, p. 280).


Writing in patois was moving away from colonial standards that disrespected an entire cultural reality. “Bans a Killin” was a trendsetter in setting the pulse of a newly democratic Jamaica cultural, social and political identity, which standard English, being the language of the ‘downpressor’ [expressed as “oppressor” in standard English], would have not achieved. The combination of oral and written language produced strong feelings of emotional identification during decolonization and postcolonial Jamaicans. Louise Bennett is undisputedly the major proponent of Jamaican cultural heritage. There have been arguments on whether this close contact between English and the local native dialects should be considered English or not due to the assortment of dialects of English that have stemmed out of it.

Jamaican creole is a language-rule system –English-lexified Creole, used by Jamaican people and it varies in some way from an ideal language standard –Standard English. “The ideal standard is rarely used except in formal writing, and the concept of a standard spoken language is practically a myth” (Owen 2012, p. 28). By championing the language and culture of her people, Louise Bennett awakened in the Jamaican people an awareness of the importance of Jamaican Patois not as an inferior language of the masses but as a language that is an important facet of the Jamaican cultural fabric. “Out of many, one people.”

Essay by Benjamin Madeira - Bans a Killin — Louise Bennett - Official Website - BenjaminMadeira


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---. “Bans a Killin.” Selected 4-5.

• [5] Branca, Nicole (2007). “Language, gender and identity in the works of Louise Bennett and Michelle Cliff.” Honors Projects Overview.

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Previously published: Kingston, Jamaica: Macmillan/Sangsters Bookstores, 1982.

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• [10] Holm, John (2004). An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles. University of Coimbra, Portugal. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58460-4

• [11] Madeira, Benjamin (2015). Translation of 'Bans a killin' from Jamaican Patois to Standard English for the purpose of teaching ESL/EFL. Web. BenjaminMadeira.com - http://www.benjaminmadeira.com/2015/03/bans-killin.html

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• [14] Patrick, Peter L. (2007). “Jamaican Patwa (Creole English).” Creolica. University of Essex.

• [15] Ramazani, Jahan (2006). "A Transnational Poetics," in "American Literary History". Advance Access publication. Oxford University Press. pp 332-359. doi:10.1093/alh/ajj020

• [16] Russell, Thomas (1868). The Etymology of Jamaica Grammar. M. Decordova, Macdougall.

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• [18] Walker, Klive (2005). Dubwise: Reasoning from the reggae underground. Toronto: Insomniac Press.

• [19] Wong, Ansel. 1986. “Creole as a language of power and solidarity,” in: Sutcliffe, David & Ansel Wong (eds.). The Language of the Black Experience. Cultural expression through word and sound in the Caribbean and Black Britain. Basil Blackwell. Oxford. pp 109-122.


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