Book Review: Jabari: Authentic Jamaican Dictionary Of The Jamic Language

Jabari: Authentic Jamaican Dictionary Of The Jamic Language, by Ras Dennis Jabari Reynolds

It is obvious that the author of this dictionary wants the Jamaican dialect to be considered a full-blown language. The fact that this book, published fourteen years ago, is the first known dictionary of this dialect signifies that it is by no means an easy thing for a vernacular like Jamic to be treated seriously as a language. There is a certain degree of ambivalence that many people are likely to feel about this sort of effort. On the one hand, a great many people believe that what is holding Caribbean blacks part of independent nations back from success is a lack of pride in their own ways, which would include languages like this one and various other dialects to be found within the region. Others, though, will look at a book like this and see that Jamaican language has a lot of rough edges and some aspects of the language that people might not be very proud of being widely known, including the extreme nature of the back talking and derogatory ways to refer to other people that this book casually brings to light. The fact that this language is not so different from much of the AAVE that is labeled as ebonics in America is worthy of some thought and reflection as well.

As far as dictionaries go, this book is a short one. It begins with an introduction, a list of editorial staff, a dedication (labelled as an idecation in accordance with Jamic linguistic principles), as well as acknowledgements and a preface. There is a guide to the dictionary that includes main entries, variants, and help in pronunciation. There is then a larger pronunciation key that includes parts of speech, usage labels, definitions, and cross references. The entries themselves take up a bit less than 150 pages. The words are defined in alphabetical order, with the word in bold, a pronunciation in transliterated English (a guide is included on the bottom right of many pages), along with the part of speech and the author’s definitions. A large amount of the words were comprehensible to me as being very similar to African American Vernacular, which signifies at least some degree of similarity in the linguistic approaches of the descendants of slaves in Jamaica and the United States, perhaps due to the prestige value of Jamaica as an exemplar of black culture in the development of rap. After these entries there is a short amount of information that the author shares about Jamaica itself.

By and large this is an interesting book. As someone who tends to enjoy reading dictionaries more than most people [1], I found a certain degree of enjoyment in reading this one. Admittedly, there was much here that I found to be deeply crude towards women and disrespectful towards others. Yet at the same time there were certain aspects of the language, especially the way it sought to express a degree of power to reframe the way that certain things are thought of. If I am by no means particularly sympathetic to rastafarianism, in which I would definitely disagree with the author of this dictionary, I still think that speaking truth to power and seeking to use the power of language to shape our lives for the better is something worth appreciating. Whether or not this book aids in that is an open question, as there are parts of this book and its certain unseemly focus on various aspects of life–the sexual language of this dictionary far outweighs the subject matter of other areas, and that is probably not for the best in an area where there is a struggle with fidelity and illegitimacy. If languages reflect on the mentality of their speakers, Jamic suggests a moral reformation of the Jamaican people would be highly desirable.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Book Review: Jabari: Authentic Jamaican Dictionary Of The Jamic Language

  1. I am happy to see that you reviewed this book. I know Dennis Reynolds and I had the opportunity to interact with him almost on a daily basis. He spent a lot of hours writing this book because he thought it was long overdue. I have to give him much credit for the circumstances under which he penned this book. Thank you again…Dennis De Rose @ Moneysaver Editing

    • You’re welcome. That’s great that you were able to interact with the author and that you give him credit for the circumstances of writing this book. I have to admit the book quite surprised me as well.

  2. I know Dennis and I have to give him credit knowing the conditions under which he wrote this book.

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