Jamaican English (SJE) is the official language in Jamaica,
(JC), an English lexicon-based Creole, is the everyday
speech the natives use in informal interactions in their
communities. Neither Standard Jamaican English, the
aspiration of the educated upper/middle class, nor Jamaican
Creole (JC), traditionally the speech pattern of the
Jamaican poor (Pollard 4), was adequate to articulate the
Rastafarians‟ resistance to their impoverished
socio-economic condition. The Rastafarians therefore created
Dread Talk, their own language of social protest, to
challenge the existing visages of past colonial repression
forces of oppression still existent in the current political
establishment. They use
language to “confront life”.
Dread Talk: The Rastafarians' Linguistic Response
Societal Oppression Carol Anne Manget-Johnson
“Language and culture are inseparable, and that the loss of
the former results
loss of the other” (Ngugi wa Thiong, a Gikuyu writer from
Slaves who were forced to leave their culture and entering
into the culture of their owner has to rebuild a new culture
to survive. In a sense, the Iyaric is such a conscious
rebuilding process which expresses their utter resistance to
the slavery intow which they were forced into. Initially I
suppose it was a the african way of pronoucing the English
of the Europeans. As the Rasta began to form, it was
intentionally reformed and formed into a language of the
slaves and those who were freed from that horrible world of
movement vocabulary, or Iyaric, is part of an intentionally
created dialect of English.
(“I” + “Amharic”)
Amharic is the language of Ethiopia - the land of HIM Haile
(“live” + “dialect”)
Livalect, Dread-talk or I-talk is a
consciously created dialect of English in use among members
of the Rastafari movement. African languages were lost among
Africans when they were taken into captivity as part of the
slave trade, and adherents of Rastafari teachings believe
that English is an imposed colonial language. Their remedy
for this situation has been the creation of a modified
vocabulary and dialect, reflecting a desire to take language
forward and to confront what they see as the confusion of a
corrupt and decadent society they call Babylon. This is
accomplished by avoiding words and syllables seen as
negative, such as "back", and changing them to positive
Some if not most Rastas
choose not to use certain words in the English language as
they have Babylonian and devil-like connotations. For
example, the word "hello" is not used because it contains
the word "hell" and "lo" referring to "low". Instead words
such as 'Wa Gwaan', 'Yes I' 'Cool Nuh Iyah' are used because
they are words that uplift people. If at a Rastafari church,
they would use their formal church greetings. For instance,
the Rastafari branch known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel
would say, "Greetings in that Most Precious and Divine Name
of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has revealed
Himself through the wonderful personality of H.I.M Emperor
Haile Selassie the 1st of Ethiopia"
Iyaric is sometimes also
referred to as Wordsound — a name derived from the
Rastafari principle of "Word, Sound and Power", which
several scholars have compared to West African concepts
regarding a power or essence being encapsulated within the
pronounced sound of a name or word. Iyaric sometimes also
plays a liturgical role among Rastafari, in addition to
Amharic and Ge'ez.
I replaces "me", which is much more commonly used in
Jamaican English than in the more conventional forms. Me
is felt to turn the person into an object whereas I
emphasises the subjectivity of an individual.
I and I is a complex term, referring to the oneness of
Jah (God) and every human. Rastafarian scholar E. E.
Cashmore: "I and I is an expression to totalize the
concept of oneness, the oneness of two persons. So God
is within all of us and we're one people in fact. I and
I means that God is in all men. The bond of Ras Tafari
is the bond of God, of man. But man itself needs a head
and the head of man is His Imperial Majesty Haile
Selassie I of Ethiopia." The term is often used in place
of "you and I" or "we" among Rastafarians, implying that
both persons are united under the love of Jah. See also:
I-tal food has not touched modern chemicals and is
served without preservatives, condiments or salts.
Alcohol, coffee, milk, and flavoured beverages are
generally viewed as not I-tal. Most Rastas follow the
I-tal proscriptions generally, and some are vegetarians.
Even meat-eating Rastas abstain from eating pork, as
pigs are scavengers of the dead, as are crabs, lobsters,
and shrimp, though other kinds of seafood are a
I man is the inner man within each Rastafari believer.
Irie refers to positive emotions or feelings, or
anything that is good. Specifically it refers to high
emotions and peaceful vibrations.
Ites derived from English "heights", means "joy" and
also the colour "red". It can also be short for
Itesquake replaces "earthquake".
Irator replaces "creator".
Idren or Bredren and Sistren refer to the oneness of
Rastafarians and are used to describe one's peers (male
- "bredren", female - "sistren").
Itinually replaces continually. It has the
everlasting/everliving sense of I existing continuously.
Dreadlocks describes the locks they wear, now
universally called dreadlocks in English. The word is
related to the fear of the Lord, as well as the fear
locksmen inspired in the early stages of the movement.
is an important Rastafarian term, referring to human
government and institutions that are seen as in
rebellion against the rule of JAH (Zion), beginning with
the Tower of Babel. It is further used by some to mean
specifically the white 'polytricksters' that have been
oppressing the black race for centuries through economic
and physical slavery.
Rastafari is defiance of Babylon, sometimes also called
Rome — in part because of the 1935 Italian invasion of
Ethiopia, then ruled by Rastafari's 'Living God,' Haile
Polytricks is a Rasta term replacing English "politics",
because so many politicians, etc. turn out, they say, to
be more like tricksters.
Red literally means stoned, or under the influence of
cannabis due to reddening of the eyes being a side
effect of being under the influence.
Everliving replaces "everlasting", particularly in the
context of Life Everliving. The "last" in "everlasting"
implies an end, while the life the Rastas have will
never end according to them, they being immortalists.
H.I.M. (His Imperial Majesty), pronounced him, and
referring to Haile Selassie I.
Downpression replaces "oppression", because oppression
holds man down instead of keeping him up (pronounced op
in Jamaican patois.) Similarly "downgression" =
"violence" (from aggression).
Livication replaces "dedication", to rid itself of a
connotation of death.
Outvention replaces "invention", because mechanical
devices are seen as outdated, and because it is the
inner experience of being a Rastafarian that is
Overstanding (also "innerstanding") replaces
"understanding", referring to enlightenment that raises
Amagideon is a Rasta theological concept meaning the
general state the entire world is in now, and has been
getting progressively deeper in since 1930, and
especially since 1974. This is a slight mutation of
"Armageddon", a name appearing in Revelation.
refers to either Ethiopia or the whole continent of
Africa, after the Day of Judgement. Know replaces
"believe", as Bob Marley sang. Rastafarians do not
believe Haile Selassie is God and that they the Rastas
are the chosen people. They claim to know these things,
and would never admit to believing them.
Whore of Babylon is the Revelation character sometimes
considered to be Queen Elizabeth II, technically still
the Head of State of Jamaica; and/or the papacy.
.How to Speak Rastafarian English
by wikiHow Staff|Reader-Approved |28 References
Rastafarian English is
a dialect primarily spoken by Jamaican Rastafarians. The
Rastafarian language is much easier to learn than Jamaican
Patois because it is a play on English words, rather than an
entirely separate dialect like Jamaican Patois. The
Rastafarian movement, which began in the 1930s in Jamaica,
is based on positive beliefs like unity, peace, and one
love. So Rastafarian language is a reflection of these
Basic Rastafarian Words
Pronunciation of words in Rastafarian.
Rastafarian survives as a spoken language, so pronunciation
is very important when trying to speak Rastafarian.
Rastafarian, you do not pronounce “h” in English
words. So “thanks” becomes “tanks”, “three” becomes
Similarly, Rastafarians do not pronounce “th” in
English words. So, “the” become “di”, “them” becomes
“dem”, and “that” becomes “dat”.
Use of “I and I”. In Rastafarian, “I and I”, pronounced “eye an’ eye”, is an
important term. It refers to the oneness of Jah (Rastafari
for their “God”, the Ethiopian Emperor Ras Tafari Haile
Selassie I) in every person. “I and I” is a term that
reinforces the Rastafarian belief that Jah exists in all
people, and everyone exists as one people, unified by Jah.
“I and I”
can be used to replace “you and I” in a sentence. Such as,:
“And I going to de concert.” This means you and someone else
are going to a concert.
But it can
also be used when talking about something you are doing
alone, or a shorthand for “me, myself, and I”. Such as: “I
and I going to de concert”. This means you are going to a
concert, on your own.
“I” is also
used as a play on certain English words, such as “I man” for
“inner man”, or a Rastafari believer. Rastas will say
“Inity”, instead of “unity”
“goodbye”, and “thank you”.
Most Rastafarians do not use certain words in the English
language as they have devil-like connotations. For example,
the word “hello” is not used because it contains the word
“hell” and “lo”, referring to “low”.
say “hello”, use: “Wa gwaan” or “Yes I”.
say “goodbye”, use: “Me a go”, or “Lickle bit”.
say “thank you”, use: “Give thanks” or “Praise Jah”.
“politricks” and “irie”.
These are keywords in the Rastafarian, as they refer to
important concepts in Rastafarian culture.
“Babylon” is the Rastafarian word for the police,
who are viewed by Rastafarians as part of a corrupt
government system. “Babylon”, which refers to the
Biblical rebellion against God through the Tower of
Babel, can also be used to describe any person or
organization that oppresses the innocent.
example: “Babylon deh cum, yuh hav nutten pan yuh?”
In English, this translates to: “The police are
coming, do you have anything on you?”
“Politricks” is the Rasta term for “politics”. There
is a general skepticism of authority figures in
Rastafarian, including politicians. So they are seen
as tricksters, or full of “tricks”.
“Irie” is one of the most important terms in
Rastafarian. It embodies the positive outlook of
Rastafarian culture and their belief that “everyting
irie” or “everything is alright”.
example, “Mi nuh have nutten fi complain bout, mi
life irie.” In English, this translates to: “I don’t
have anything to complain about, my life is good.”
“man” and “woman”. Rastafarian centers on the idea of oneness with everyone. So
Rastas refer to people as their “Idren”, a version of the
English word “children.”
boy is called a “bwoy” by a Rasta. A girl is called
a “gal” by a Rasta. If a Rasta is asking another
Rasta about their children, they will refer to the
children as “pickney”, or “gal pickney”.
Rastas refer to adult males as “bredren”. Female
adults are called “sistren”.
Rasta man will refer to their wife or girlfriend as
their “empress” or “queen”. For example: “My cyaah
cum tomorrow, mi a guh spen sum time wid mi
empress.” This translates to: “I can’t come
tomorrow, I’m going to spend time with my
words over negative words.
Rastas replace words that have negative terms like “down” or
“under” with “up” or “out”. For example:
Rastas will say “downpression” instead of
“oppression”. This is because “op” is Rastafarian
for “up”, so “downpression” indicates something is
holding someone down.
Rastas will say “overstanding” or “innerstanding”
instead of “understanding”.
Rastas will say “outernational” instead of
“international”. This indicates the Rasta’s feeling
that the rest of the world lies outside their realm
There some unique sounding swear words in Rastafarian. They
usually refer to bodily harm or bodily functions.
“Fiyah bun” is an expression used to strongly
denounce someone or something.
example: “Fiyah bun babylon kaaz dem eva deh taament
people.” This translates to: “I denounce the police
because they are always tormenting poor people.”
“Bag o wire” is expression that refers to a
“betrayer” or “traitor”. This is a reference to a
close friend of the black political leader Marcus
Garvey, who betrayed him by giving away details of
his escape plan.
example: “Mi nuh truss deh bredren deh kaaz him a
bag o wire.” This translates to: “I don’t trust that
man because he is a traitor.”
“Bumba clot” or “Rass clot” are very strong curse
words in Rastafarian. “Clot” is considered a nasty
sounding word and can be tied to the verb “to
clout”, or “to hit or strike”. It can also refer to
a used tampon, which is where the nasty aspect of
the word comes from.
what’s going on?”.
“Bredren, wa gwaan?” “
other Rasta may respond with: “Bwai, ya done know
seh mi deya gwaan easy." This means: “"I’m here just
taking it easy."
where are you born?.
“A weh ya baan?”
with: “Mi baan inna Kingston”,
translates to: “I was born in Kingston.”