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Trick of Tongue

Updated on May 1, 2021

Making the Schools Free

When Michael Manley took the office of Prime Minister of Jamaica in 1973 he implemented a policy of free education up to, and including University.

Jamaica had always been a class society. Education was never cheap. There were very few opportunities for the poor to escape poverty.

By making education free Manley saw a future where it was merit by which one reached the top.

This led to the Great Havendale Hysteria of 1978 when the helper's daughter gained a place at the University of the West Indies,and her employer's son did not.


As a Class society, the poor and rich did not mingle.
The growing middle class fought to be associated with the rich.
Everything was tacitly 'segregated'.

Movie theatres that were attended by the upper classes were barred to the lower.
There wasn't a sign, there didn't need to be. If you weren't well dressed and smelled of money, the Security would not let you in.

There were stores where the poor didn't dare try to shop. One would be accosted by the police if simply seen walking in certain areas.

Although the colour of the employee and employer were the same, the Class difference was never to be breached.

Then Michael made the schools free and rich and poor would be conjoined.

Children were placed in High Schools dependent on grades.

The bright poor child gained entry into 'name brand' High Schools. The dunce rich child would be sent to a nothing school, so the parents would send him/her to a very expensive holding pen.

To attend a Name Brand High School, the rich parents of the dunce child had to pay to get in, and pay a lot.

And as has been proven, the dunce rich child failed at the Name Brand and went back to the specific Private School which has never been free nor offered scholarships.

As barriers were broken and ostentation frowned upon, people strove for the 'roots' look. Everyone dressed down. No one drove expensive cars or wore jewelry.

As bad as it was to have lower class children in prestigious High Schools it reached unbearable when of 44 places at the University of the West Indies to read Law, half of them went to those who were (as the saying goes) born below Crossroads.

Something had to be done.

The Havendale Hysteria

Havendale was a fresh upper middle class community. It was occupied by people who might have come from nowhere but were able to buy prestigious homes when the bottom began to drop out of the housing market.

There were rumours that Manley was 'communist' and would take away homes from those who had more than one. This provoked wild selling and caused prices to plummet so that mansions were being sold in the price range of teachers.

Those that achieved the Havendale home were rabid to defend their status. When it was clear that entry to the best schools was not a matter of cash or class but a matter of merit, these 'hurry come ups' (as they are called in Jamaica) had to Do Something!

Branding on the Tongue

Jamaica was an English colony up until 1962, so was very aware that how one spoke was a key feature in establishing their Class.

The middle class hit upon this fantastic idea;

If the pidgin that was often heard in lower class neighbourhoods was enshrined as a language, and the lower classes encouraged to speak it, they would automatically disqualify themselves from gaining places at the better High Schools and entry into University.

This is because they would fail English Exams!

It was not an instant acceptance. There were some who recognised that if Jamaicans could not speak English they would not be able to advance in business or academia. These people had to be silenced. They had to outshouted, they had to be discredited, and somehow there must be a way to make the population consider the inability to communicate positive, despite the evidence of Haiti.


Haiti has been, is and will be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

The majority of Haitians do not speak any known language. They speak something called Creole which no one is interested in hearing or learning.

Those who can speak French or English are the upper class and those who will be members of the Upper Class.

Although there are often leaders who talk about French they are booed by those who speak Creole, which despite the fact it prevents Haiti from communicating with the world, is held as some kind of amulet.

Being so close to Haiti, and seeing how terribly impoverished it is, one would have assumed that Jamaicans would be the last people in the world to opt out of one of the most popular languages in the world for incoherence.

Yet within less than 20 years the vast population of Jamaican has embraced patwa.

The Plot

The first step was to break away from English examinations.

The point of them was that an 'A' on an English G.C.E. was not just an 'A' in England, but an 'A' in every corner of the world.

To enshrine Patwa, English 'O' Levels had to be abandoned. Hence the introduction of CXCs.

CXCs are locally set examinations. You can use them for toilet paper.

They are NOT recognised anywhere outside of the Caribbean.

It was hoped that by dumbing down the exams the pass rate would remain the same and the public continue to believe that there was no detriment in promoting patois.

After a few years the pass rate, even at a locally set CXC English exam, plunged.

The inability of Jamaicans to communicate became so gross many companies would import workers from other nations who spoke a language, i.e. Spanish, which was communicatable.

There was an attempt to hire interpreters who were supposed to be able to translate patwa into English and English into patwa.

Linguists recognise that a pidgin can not be directly translated as it is 'non-standard' the word for this item in Westmoreland will not be the same in Kingston; and there are no words for various terms.

This means that the kind of confusion spoken by those who lived in one part of Jamaica did not match that spoken by those who lived in another part of Jamaica.

Many terms were unique and there was no certain way to translate vital instructions from English into Patwa.

The situation became so devastating that 40 thousand jobs which were slated for Jamaica in a call centre had to be moved to Trinidad and Barbados as there were not 40 thousand Jamaicans who could speak English.

These facts were quietly buried because the need to create and maintain a large peasantry was the most important facet.

Further, if one does not have the words to describe their world they can not control it.

Just as in 1984 words were removed from the dictionary so as to dumb down the population and make it virtually impossible to express certain opinions, so too with Patois (Patwa).

How it Played

The Upper Class could insure that their children spoke perfect English. They spoke it, they hired helpers who spoke it, and would hire private tutors if required.

Voting out Michael Manley in 1980 meant the 'free education' program would be scraped. This made it easy for the Rich to send their children to prestigious High Schools which were no longer free.

This meant that the bright poor child could not afford the fees. The not so bright rich child would take their place.

Today, to enter University is so expensive few can afford it. This did not create an outcry as so many children, being untaught English, did not have the qualifications to enter University any way.

It was not simply a case of raising the fees beyond the pocket of the poor and lower
middle class, it was a case of ensuring that the children of the poor and lower
middle class would fail the exams and not have the entry requirements.

Those who applied would then only be from the class of those who could
afford to pay the fees.

Patwa Fi Wi Langwij

Those who can not speak Englsh can never gain any but the most menial jobs. Secretary and clerk are reserved for those members of the lower middle class who have fought to speak English despite the blandishments to be as incoherent as possible.

Most employers adopt the "Call For Interview" policy. The applicant who betrays their 'Brand', i.e. "Mia call bout di job.." or "Mi wan fe intaview..." are disconnected, told to call back. Those who speak properly are given a date to attend and fill out a form which contains a short essay.

As over 80% can not pass the 'phone/form' interview it is virtually certain no member of the lower or lower middle class will gain an interview.

The Rich "own" the better prep schools. Their children are the ones who can score High enough to enter the better High Schools, and of course, University. .

Although an obvious form of Apartheid, those who are the victims are totally sold on
Patwa fi wi langwij, (Patois is our language).

Despite the fact it has proven detrimental in every aspect of life, from being
unable to fill out a form to give cogent answers in a police interrogation, there
seems to be no way to convince the population of Jamaica that being unable
to speak English is a handicap.

Miz Lou

The photograph above is Miz Lou, she was a comedian who got the laughs by playing the role of the loud mouthed patwa speaking market woman. People laughed at her. They assumed she was her role.

Living in Canada, people thought she was stupid because her brand of humour wasn't the kind in which you think she is playing the fool, you believe she is the fool.

Without intending to, just trying to be funny, Miz Lou did a great deal to encourage the speaking of patwa, although, in real life, she could and did speak perfect English.

A major hypocrite is an English professor Carolyn Cooper. She advocates that you and your children speak Patwa.

When she's at her uptown functions she speaks the Queen's English, but on the radio, in the newspaper, when she's talking to the average person, she is completely incoherence.

This kind of deception has gone a far way.

Those students who graduated Law School when Michael Manley was Prime Minister are now senior counsel.

No one knows they were born in the ghetto, no one knows that many never qualified for entry into High School.

No one knows that these people sat 'O' Levels and 'A' levels which they paid for out of their pockets. No one knows that they used these qualifications to enter Teacher's College, and become teachers.

No one knows that when Michael made the University free these people were able to apply and ranked in the top 44 so entered University.

Entered, qualified, were called to the Bar and moved up the ranks. Many became judges.

Now, the only persons coming into the legal profession are those who have, or can borrow, one million dollars. Their attitude towards the poor, that is those in the dock, is very similar to the Boer and the Bantu.

Whatever Jamaica could have been, it is not.

And all because of the 'trick of tongue' where the poor are taught to talk themselves out of opportunity.


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