The Rastafarian Language



Standard Jamaican English (SJE) is the official language in Jamaica, and Jamaican

Creole (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 and

the forces of oppression still existent in the current political establishment. They use

the language to “confront life”.
Dread Talk: The Rastafarians' Linguistic Response

to Societal Oppression Carol Anne Manget-Johnson


“Language and culture are inseparable, and that the loss of the former results

in the loss of the other” (Ngugi wa Thiong, a Gikuyu writer from Kenya)


The 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 existence.



The Rastafari movement vocabulary, or Iyaric, is part of an intentionally created dialect of English.

Iyaric (“I” + “Amharic”)
Amharic is the language of Ethiopia - the land of HIM Haile Selassie I

Livalect (“live” + “dialect”)

Iyaric, 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 ones.

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 words

  • 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: mysticism.
  • 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 Rastafarian staple.
  • 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 "Israelites".
  • 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.

 Other Rastafari words

  • 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.
  • Babylon 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 Selassie I.
  • 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 invention.
  • Overstanding (also "innerstanding") replaces "understanding", referring to enlightenment that raises one's consciousness.
  • 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.
  • Zion 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

Co-authored 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 positive beliefs.

 Basic Rastafarian Words

Pronunciation of words in Rastafarian. Rastafarian survives as a spoken language, so pronunciation is very important when trying to speak Rastafarian.

    1. In Rastafarian, you do not pronounce “h” in English words. So “thanks” becomes “tanks”, “three” becomes “tree”, etc.
    2. 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.

1.      “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.

2.      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.

3.      “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”

 “hello”, “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”.

    1. To say “hello”, use: “Wa gwaan” or “Yes I”.
    2. To say “goodbye”, use: “Me a go”, or “Lickle bit”.
    3. To say “thank you”, use: “Give thanks” or “Praise Jah”.


“Babylon”, “politricks” and “irie”. These are keywords in the Rastafarian, as they refer to important concepts in Rastafarian culture.

    1. “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.
    2. For example: “Babylon deh cum, yuh hav nutten pan yuh?” In English, this translates to: “The police are coming, do you have anything on you?”
    3. “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”.
    4. “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”.
    5. For 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.”


    1. A 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”.
    2. Rastas refer to adult males as “bredren”. Female adults are called “sistren”.
    3. A 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 girlfriend.”




Positive words over negative words.
Rastas replace words that have negative terms like “down” or “under” with “up” or “out”. For example:




    1. Rastas will say “downpression” instead of “oppression”. This is because “op” is Rastafarian for “up”, so “downpression” indicates something is holding someone down.
    2. Rastas will say “overstanding” or “innerstanding” instead of “understanding”.
    3. Rastas will say “outernational” instead of “international”. This indicates the Rasta’s feeling that the rest of the world lies outside their realm or world.[13]




Swear words in Rastafarian. There some unique sounding swear words in Rastafarian. They usually refer to bodily harm or bodily functions.

    1. “Fiyah bun” is an expression used to strongly denounce someone or something.
    2. For example: “Fiyah bun babylon kaaz dem eva deh taament people.” This translates to: “I denounce the police because they are always tormenting poor people.”[14]
    3. “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.
    4. For 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.”
    5. “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.[16]




“Brother, what’s going on?”.  “Bredren, wa gwaan?” “

    1. The 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?”

 respond with: “Mi baan inna Kingston”,

which translates to: “I was born in Kingston.”