“We will not accept false patois”: Jamaican linguist on dialogue in Bob Marley biopic | Bob Marley

Bob Marley

Advisers said they were keen to avoid “another cool running” in the portrayal of Jamaicans in “One Love”.

Fri, 16 February 2024, 12:00 GMT

When the Jamaican linguist Dr. When Joseph Farquharson agreed to work as a consultant on the Bob Marley biography One Love, there was one important motivating factor: the desire to avoid another Cool Running.

The 1993 comedy about the real-life Jamaican Olympic bobsleigh team is a beloved classic in many parts of the English-speaking world, but it has also become a cautionary tale about what happens when Hollywood tries to imitate the Jamaican accent and language. globalize.” .

For Farquharson, who worked as a consultant for One Love dialogue coach Brett Tyne – who in turn advised Kingsley Ben-Adir, who plays Marley – the dialogue in the film had to be authentic and contemporary and not slip into anything other than Jamaican patois.

“We said up front that we wouldn't do it if it was another Cool Runnings event,” said Farquharson, a lecturer in linguistics at the Jamaican language department at the University of the West Indies.

Cool Runnings director Jon Turteltaub said he was under a lot of pressure from Jeffrey Katzenberg, then chairman of Walt Disney Studios, because the American couldn't understand the accents of Leon Robinson, Doug E. Doug, Malik Yoba and Rawle Lewis . “I started to worry that if I couldn't get her to talk like Sebastian the crab did in The Little Mermaid, he would fire me,” he told the Guardian in 2020.

Farquharson said for “One Love,” Paramount – the studio behind it – chose Patois, which combines English and elements from various African languages ​​with later influences from Spanish, Hindi and Chinese, also known as Patwa. “I wasn’t sure how deep they wanted to go,” Farquharson said. “It was still Hollywood and they were making a film for the rest of the world.”

This decision made life difficult for one of the film's stars. Ben-Adir recently told the Observer he might as well have “learned to play a role in French” because of the Jamaican's faking patois. “There’s so much of the English language in there that you think you know it,” he said. “But it’s more confusing and complicated.”

Farquharson said Ben-Adir used the Cassidy-JLU writing system – a phonetic method of rendering patois in written form – to engage with the language. “It made it a lot easier for him to get a lead,” he said.

Proper understanding of patois is becoming increasingly important for Jamaicans as they embrace the language that some have previously argued should be replaced entirely by standardized English. “Attitudes are changing and they have changed significantly over the last 20 to 30 years,” Farquharson said.

He pointed to a 2005 poll that showed 70% of Jamaicans supported bilingual schools that teach in standard English and Patois, a dramatic shift since the 1950s when the language was denigrated.

He said he believes there is a direct connection between these changing attitudes and Hollywood's approach to “One Love.” “Because Jamaicans are more positive about their language, they want their language to be well represented,” he said.

Patois has also become politicized. Jamaica's main opposition party, the People's National Party, has pledged that Patois would be officially recognized as a Jamaican language if it came to power.

At the party's annual conference last year, party president Mark Golding said Jamaica needed to recognize there was a “language problem” in the country rooted in its past as a former colony. “Part of the legacy of our colonial past is the belief that the Jamaican language, created by our own people, is somehow unworthy and should only be spoken by those who cannot do it better,” he said.

Farquharson believes that the importance of language is much more significant and makes Jamaica unique. “Without it we lose our taste, we become like everyone else. All [in the Caribbean] has sand and sun, so what do you offer?” he said. “We're at the point where we say, 'This is who we are.' It’s the same as subtitling a film in another language – give us the same privileges, we won’t accept fake patois.”

This attention to detail means that “One Love” isn't doomed to sit alongside “Cool Runnings” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” in the patois fail club, but manages to achieve the same level of linguistic authenticity like “The Harder They Come” by Perry Henzell from 1972, a gangster classic known for its use of language.

“I would say One Love is even more authentic than The Harder They Come,” said Farquharson, who recalls scenes in the Jimmy Cliff film in which the characters use more English than you would expect from underworld figures. “But here [in One Love]especially when you hear the band members speak, you get an authentic, authentic Jamaican feel – they went to town.”


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