By Deane Barker

Definition: non-standard speech, such as a regional dialect

It’s French, pronounced “PAT-twah.”

There’s a blurry line between what is a patois and what is an entirely different language. A common example is Jamaican English – is this a regional dialect, or a form of creole?

Also murky is where the line sits between a “accent” and a “dialect” or patois. This page offers one explanation:

An accent refers to how people pronounce words, whereas a dialect is all-encompassing. A dialect includes the pronunciations, grammar and vocabulary that people use within a group.

So, a dialect or patois is more than an accent – it includes a rearrangement or invention of parts of speech that goes beyond pronunciation.

Also on that page is this humorous quote from a Yiddish scholar:

A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.

The implication is that countries define languages – something is a “language” if a government formally says it is.

Why I Looked It Up

I remember when Chet Hanks (son of Tom Hanks) used a Jamaican patois during an interview and caused a uproar about cultural appropriation (also, it was just weird). That was the first time I had heard the term.

Then, in the H.P. Lovecraft short story, The Shadow Over Innsmouth:

[…] they passed on across the moonlit space with varying their course – meanwhile croaking and jabbering in some hateful guttural patois I could not identify.


Added on

From Spycraft for Thriller Writers:

FBI patois includes adding “Bu” as a prefix to common words.

In this case, it refers to a professional dialect, not a regional or ethnic dialect.

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