By Caribbean News Now contributor
KINGSTON, Jamaica -- The Bible is, for the first time, being translated into Jamaican patois. It's a move welcomed by those Jamaicans want their mother tongue enshrined as the national language -- but opposed by others, who think learning and speaking English should be the priority, the BBC reported.
The sound of patois, developed from English by West African slaves in Jamaica's sugar plantations 400 years ago, has an electrifying effect on those listening.
"It's almost as if you are seeing it," says a woman, referring to the moment when Jesus is tempted by the Devil.
"In the blink of an eye, you get the whole notion. It's as though you are watching a movie… it brings excitement to the word of God."
The Rev Courtney Stewart, General Secretary of the West Indies Bible Society, who has managed the translation project, insisted the new Bible demonstrates the power of patois, and cited a line from Luke as an example.
It's the moment when the Angel Gabriel goes to Mary to tell her she is going to give birth to Jesus.
English versions read along these lines: "And having come in, the angel said to her, 'Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.'"
"Now compare that with our translation of the Bible," said Stewart.
"De angel go to Mary and say to 'er, me have news we going to make you well 'appy. God really, really, bless you and him a walk with you all de time."
Stewart says the project is largely designed to bring scripture alive, but it also has another important function -- to rescue patois from its second-class status in Jamaica and to enshrine it as a national language.
The patois Bible represents a new attempt to standardise the language, with the historically oral tongue written down in a new phonetic form.
For example the passage relating the angel's visit to Mary reads: "Di ienjel go tu Mieri an se tu ar se, 'Mieri, mi av nyuuz we a go mek yu wel api. Gad riili riili bles yu an im a waak wid yu all di taim."
The New Testament has been completed by a team of translators at the Bible Society in Kingston -- working from the original Greek -- who intend to publish it in time for the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's independence from Britain on 6 August next year.
But some traditionalist Christians say the patois Bible dilutes the word of God, and insist that patois is no substitute for English.
Bishop Alvin Bailey, at the Portmore Holiness Church of God near Kingston, argues that patois is too limited a language to represent the nuances of Biblical text, and has to resort to coarse expressions to makes its meaning clear.
"I don't think the patois words can effectively communicate what the English words have communicated," he said.
"Even those (patois) words that we would want to use to fully explain what was in the original, are words that are vulgar."
Many others see the elevation of patois as a backward step for Jamaica, in a globalised world demanding English.
Linguists at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, who have been working on the translation, insist that patois is an authentic language, with its own tenses and consistent grammatical rules.
According to the BBC, a bastion of ‘proper’ English, in Jamaican patois plural nouns are made with the word "dem" ("they" or "them" in English) -- so the plural of "uoli prafit" ("holy prophet") is "uoli prafit dem", and the plural of "enimi" ("enemy") is "enimi dem"
The past tense is marked by the word "did" -- so "he lived" is, in patois, "im did liv"
The future tense can be marked with " a go" or "wi" ("will") -- "Im a go siev" is "He will save", and "Yu wi nuo" is "You will know"
Jos laik ou im did taak chuu im uoli prafit dem -- Just like how he talked through his holy prophets
Im a go siev wi fram wi enimi dem -- He will save us from our enemies
So yu wi nuo se wa yu ier a chuu - So you will know that what you hear is true