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Global Patwa

Raciolinguistic appropriations of Jamaican language features in British, German and Indian Reggae Cultures

To confront racism and improve race-relations in contemporary multicultural societies, there is an urgent need for empirical research that critically investigates the role of language in the construction of race. Focusing on the case of Global Patwa (i.e., linguistic appropriations of Jamaican Englishes by non-Jamaican reggae performers), this research projects develops the emerging field of raciolinguistics (the co-construction of language and race) and provides novel and nuanced understandings of the continued effects of colonialism and emerging south-south relationships across the postcolony. This project takes a comparative view and study how and why Global Patwa performances are differently evaluated in Germany, in the UK and in India; three national contexts that have different histories of postcolonial Caribbean and Black migration and that are differently positioned in the colonial matrix of power. The findings raise critical awareness of race and racism and inform about the implications of using racially marked language in global spaces.

Global Patwa is a performative type of musical speech or singing that can be heard around the world whenever reggae is played and celebrated. In performances, speaker-singers borrow, appropriate and approximate linguistic features of Jamaican Patwa (or Jamaican Creole) and blend them with local styles of speaking and local linguistic meanings. But more than simply a name for a specific linguistic style, Global Patwa is also a dynamic of social evaluation: its performance in a specific local context always ensues language ideological evaluations and gendered raciolinguistic negotiations by audiences and other performers, both real and imagined ones. When non-Jamaican, and non-Black, artists and fans perform Global Patwa, they are to a greater or lesser extent subjected to social monitoring and evaluation, and even policing, by all kinds of audiences. In other words, performances of Global Patwa across the world are subject to diverse metapragmatic forces that regiment who can appropriate which elements of Jamaican Patwa for what kinds of linguistic, social and musical purposes. 

While Jamaican Patwa (also called Jamaican Creole) has a particular racialised history in Jamaica, Global Patwa can create new types of racialisations wherever it is taken up, as demonstrated in sociolinguistic research conducted in Nigeria (Gaudio 2011), Vanuatu (Levisen 2016) or on the internet (Moll 2015). In my research I propose to take a comparative view and study the differences and similarities between the raciolinguistic negotiation of Global Patwa in India, in Germany and in the UK; three national contexts with different but related colonial histories and experiences with Black migration. I ask if and how reggae artists and audiences in the UK, Germany and India produce, perceive and negotiate the use of Global Patwa differently and what such difference means for constructions of race and language in contemporary postcolonial spaces. The analysis, ultimately, aims to shed light on some of the raciolinguistic effects of British colonialism which produced Blackness as a racial category, established English as a world language, and linked the two in the ideology of the “Blackness of ‘broken English’” (Gaudio 2011). The research can thus inform current discussions on cultural appropriation, postracialism and Britain’s imperial legacy and it can help to formulate a political project that subverts the fixity of the categories of race and language and opposes contemporary forms of racism and other socio-political processes of marginalisation. 

Gaudio, Rudolf (2011) The blackness of “Broken English.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 21(2): 230-246.
Moll, Andrea (2015) Jamaican Creole goes Web: Sociolinguistic Styling and Authenticity in a Digital ‘Yaad’. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Levisen, Carsten (2016) The social and sonic semantics of reggae: Language ideology and emergent socialities in postcolonial Vanuatu. Language and Communication 52: 102-116.

By comparing Indian, German and British reggae artists' Global Patwa performances, the research aims to understand how raciolinguistic negotiations unfold across contemporary postcolonial spaces. To investigate these aims, the research responds to three questions.

  1. Which features of Jamaican Patwa enter Global Patwa and for what communicative purposes?
  2. How is the appropriateness of using Global Patwa negotiated differently in reggae performances in the UK and in India, as well as in interviews with reggae artists and audiences in the three national contexts?
  3. What can these negotiations of using Global Patwa in the UK, Germany and in India tell us about global racial and postcolonial relationships?


This project is funded by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust under award number: SRG23\231090