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This article is about the general term. For the Jamaican creole language, see Jamaican Patois.

Patois (/ˈpætwɑː/, pl. same or /ˈpætwɑːz/)[1] 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, i.e., 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[citation needed] (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 races 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.

Popular culture[edit]

The former mayor of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Rob Ford, claimed to have spoken patois in one of his inebriated episodes at a fast food restaurant caught on tape and disseminated to the mass public. He 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 Dominica and Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. Also named "Patuá" in the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela, and spoken since the 18th 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.

The Macanese language, or Macau Creole, is also called Patuá, and was spoken by the Macanese community of the Portuguese colony of Macau.