This article is about the general term. For the Jamaican creole language, see Jamaican Patois.
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Patois (/ˈpætwɑː/, pl. same or /ˈpætwɑːz/)[1] is speech or language that is considered nonstandard, although the term is not formally defined in linguistics. As such, patois can refer to pidgins, creoles, dialects, or vernaculars, but not commonly to jargon or slang, which are vocabulary-based forms of cant.

Class distinctions are implied in the term, as patois in French refers to a sociolect associated with uneducated rural classes and is contrasted with the dominant prestige language as used in literature and formal settings (the ‘acrolect’).


The term patois comes from Old French, patois “local or regional dialect”[1] (earlier “rough, clumsy, or uncultivated speech”), possibly from the verb patoier, “to treat roughly”, from pate “paw”,[2] from Old Low Franconian *patta paw, “sole of the foot” + -ois, a pejorative suffix. The language sense may have arisen from the notion of a clumsy or rough manner of speaking.


In France and other Francophone countries, patois has been used to describe non-standard French and regional languages such as Picard, Occitan, and Franco-Provençal, since 1643, and Catalan after 1700, when the king Louis XIV banned its use.[3] The word assumes the view of such languages being backward, countrified, and unlettered, thus is considered by speakers of those languages as offensive when used by outsiders. Jean Jaurès said “one names patois the language of a defeated nation”.[4] However, speakers may use the term in a non-derogatory sense 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. It is noted especially in reference to Jamaican Patois from 1934. Jamaican Patois language comprises words of the native languages of the many ethnic and cultural groups within the Caribbean including Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Amerindian, and English along with several African languages. Some islands have creole dialects influenced by their linguistic diversity; French, Spanish, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, German, Dutch, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and others. Patois are also spoken in Costa Rica and Caribbean islands such as Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana in South America.

Often these patois are popularly considered ‘broken English’, or slang, but cases such as Jamaican Patois 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). The French patois 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 rivière (“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. Patois has also been spoken for some Uruguay citizens, generally immigrants located in the south of Uruguay, mainly arriving from Italy and France, coming from the Piedmont [5]

Popular culture

Rob Ford, at the time the mayor of Toronto, Canada, claimed to have spoken patois in an inebriated episode at a fast food restaurant caught on tape and disseminated to the mass public. He later confirmed the language as patois on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.


Dominican, Grenadian, St. Lucian, Trinidadian and Venezuelan speakers of Antillean Creole call the language patois. Patois is spoken fluently in Jamaica, Dominica, Saint Lucia and Belize in the Caribbean. Also named ‘Patuá’ in the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela, and spoken since the eighteenth century by self-colonization of French people (from Corsica) and Caribbean people (from Martinique, Saint Thomas, Trinidad, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic) who moved for cacao production.

Macanese Patois is also known as Patuá, and was originally spoken by the Macanese community of the Portuguese colony of Macau.


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