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Making it real: ‘Jamaican’, ‘Jafaican’ and authenticity in the language of British youth

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2013
<mark>Journal</mark>Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Issue number3
Number of pages18
Pages (from-to)255-273
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


From the early days of ‘London Jamaican’ through to recent remarks by the historian David Starkey that rioters in English cities were communicating in ‘wholly false… Jamaican patois’, authenticity and ownership have been problematic for both linguists and users of Creole in Britain. In this paper we review the changing issues connected with authenticity and ethnicity, based on empirical research spanning the period 1981-2011.

Second-generation speakers of Creole in London in the 1980s were conscious that they could not pass for natives when in the Caribbean, but could nevertheless claim to be authentic ‘Black British’ by virtue of commanding both the local British vernacular and a local version of Jamaican Creole (Sebba 1993). By the end of the century, claims of authenticity linked to ethnic identity had been undermined by the emergence of a non-ethnically specific youth variety incorporating Creole grammatical and phonological features, as parodied by the fictitious character Ali G (Sebba 2003, 2007), sometimes called ‘Jafaican’ by the media. In a study of ethnically diverse young people in Manchester, Dray and Sebba (2011) were able to conclude that ‘authenticity’ was indexed by involvement in particular practices involving specific speech styles, some of which were Caribbean or partly Caribbean in origin; at the same time, there was little or no use of the local Creole which had been prevalent in the 1990s and earlier, as multi-ethnic vernaculars have come to predominate among the youth (Cheshire et al. 2011).

We conclude that as ‘Creole’ manifests itself less and less as a linguistic system and more and more as an additional linguistic resource in a complex semiotic system, ‘authenticity’ is achieved through practices rather than inherited ethnicity or native-like use of a specific variety.