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Patois is any language that is considered nonstandard, although the term is not formally defined in linguistics. It can refer to pidgins, creoles, dialects, and other forms of native or local speech, but not commonly to jargon or slang, which are vocabulary-based forms of cant. Class distinctions are embedded in the term, drawn between those who speak patois and those who speak the standard or dominant language used in literature and public speaking—the "acrolect" in professional jargon.


The term patois comes from French, but beyond that its origin is uncertain. One derivation is from Old French patoier meaning "to handle clumsily, to paw". The language sense may therefore arise from the notion of a clumsy manner of speaking. Alternatively it may derive from Latin patria (homeland) referring to the localised spread of the language variety.


In France and other Francophone countries, patois has been used to describe non-Parisian French and so-called regional languages such as Breton, Occitan, and Franco-Provençal, since 1643. The word assumes the view of such languages as being backward, countrified, and unlettered, thus is considered by speakers of those languages as offensive when used by outsiders, although speakers may use the term to refer familiarly to their own language (See also: Languages of France.)

Many of the vernacular forms of English spoken in the Caribbean are also referred to as patois (occasionally spelled in this context patwah). It is noted especially in reference to Jamaican Creole from 1934. Jamaican Patois language is comprised words of the native languages of the many races within the Carribean including Swahili, Hindi, Portuguese, Chinese, Amerindian, and English. Often these patois are popularly considered "bastardizations" of English, "broken English", or slang, but cases such as Jamaican are classified with more correctness as a creole language; in fact, in the Francophone Caribbean the analogous term for local variants of French is créole. (See also: Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole.) Patois is also spoken in the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica.

The French patoix of the Lesser Antilles are dialects of French which contain some Caribe and African words. Such dialects often contain folk-etymological derivatives of French words, for example lavier ("river, stream") which is a syncopated variant of the standard French phrase la riviére ("the river") but has been identified by folk etymology with laver, "to wash"; therefore lavier is interpreted to mean "a place to wash" (since such streams are often used for washing laundry).

Other examples of patois include Trasianka, Sheng, and Tsotsitaal.

Use in Journalism

A good example of the use of 'patois' was in an opinion piece entitled 'Sarah's Pompom Palaver' written by Maureen Dowd, in the New York Times on October 4, 2008 . Dowd describes a burgeoning dialect-of-sorts that came about, most prominently, in the 2000s. It is a new 'patois' of American English and has become associated mostly with conservative, U.S. Republican Party politicians. The new patois is characterized by a certain syntactic simplicity compared to modern American English and it has the tone of what has been described as 'folksiness' and 'sing-songiness', with, deliberately, very little undergirding seriousness.

The speaker of this American 'patois' tends to avoids complicated words and their prose is often unapologetically flawed, in both grammar and syntax. The speaker is not concerned, and is sometimes even proud or brash, about the dialect's colloquial nature and weaknesses. The patois could be described as a sort of 'Baroque, frontier' English-dialect; it is sometime used strategically, by the speaker, to elicit the support and empathy of those who live in smaller U.S. towns and rural areas as opposed to the larger U.S. cities.

The dialect itself hearkens back, with emotional and linguistic nostalgia, to the culture of the American Old West in the 19th Century. The speaker of this patois is unabashed about using iconography and imagery from this era. They may empahsize the ideas of preserving 'freedom' at all costs, and, of being wholesome and pious and to committed to an organized religion or church.

This particular 'patois' was exemplified in the expressions and vernacular of President George W. Bush, and, more recently, by that of 2008 Republican Party Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin.


Also named "Patuá" in the Paria peninsula of Venezuela, spoken since the 18th century by self colonization of French people (from Corse island) and Caribbean people (from Martinique, Saint Thomas, Trinidad, Guadaloupe, Haiti) who moved for cacao production.


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