The speech of Jamaican Rastafarians is a variant of Jamaican Creole (JC). JC is an English-based creole that is a product of colonialism. The Spaniards were the first to colonize Jamaica, but had little direct influence upon development of JC. When British colonialists ousted them, the Spaniards’ African slaves escaped into the mountains where they retained much of their African culture and some of their African languages. The British brought more slaves from Africa, but were unable to recapture the escapees, known as Maroons, and so instead maintained a negotiated peace settlement with them. The Maroons reinforced the African influences in JC that the African slaves of the British brought. Maroons also influenced (though not always directly) various Afrocentric political and religious movements, including the Rastafarians. Maroon retention of African culture has generally been seen as positive by these movements despite the Maroons’ agreement with the British to return all newly escaped slaves. Other aspects of the Caribbean milieu (e.g., French, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Hindi and Amerindian languages) have also influenced JC. The most recent language additions to JC are primarily from the Rastafarians (Roberts, 1988: 43), who besides adding a few Amharic words, have made many linguistic innovations.
The language of the Rastafarians is known as Rasta Talk or Dread Talk by non-Rastafarians, and as Iyaric (“I” + “Amharic”) or Livalect (“live” + “dialect”) by Rastafarians. In Jamaica, it exists as one of a number of registers of JC that indicate social standing and/or situation. Rasta Talk was initiated by the sect known as the Youth Black Faith, founded in 1949 (Chevannes, 1978: 173, 189-190). Nearly all Jamaicans speak or at least understand several registers of JC (Roberts, 1988: 82). Rasta Talk is not spoken by non-Rastafarians, but many words from Rasta Talk have entered other registers in JC; this is mainly due to the international popularity of reggae music and its linkage with Rastafarianism. Rastafarians had little or no influence upon JC prior to the 1960s.
Rasta Talk was initially intended to be a secret language to counter societal oppression (Chevannes, 1978: 190). Pollard (1986: 157-158) explains, “It seems that the language was intended to be secret.... [ellipsis hers] This particular intention was, however, short-lived: the language of Rasta soon moved into the youth culture of Jamaica.” JC and other creoles have themselves functioned as languages of secrecy.
The linguistic modifications of Rasta Talk are both numerous and dynamic. Linguistic modification is seen as a necessity by Rastafarians because JC is a product of colonialism and because JC is viewed as an inadequate vehicle for their religion.
Rasta Talk has four types of linguistic innovations: 1) Redefinitions of existing words 2) merging of existing words into new words 3) Substitution of “I” for the initial syllable of words (these are inherently benedictive) 4) Substitution of meaning for existing JC words. (Pollard, 1983: 49; 1986: 161).
Ama, Imani Tafari (1988a). “Shock treatment for Rastafarians in Antigua.” Reggae Report 6(1): 32.
Barrett Sr., Leonard E. (1988).The Rastafarians: Sounds of Cultural Dissonance. Boston: Beacon Press, 2nd edition, 302 pp. This is a well-written history of Rastafarianism in the context of Jamaican history. The first edition appeared in 1968 as The Rastafarians: A Study of Messianic Cultism in Jamaica. In print!
Bishton, Derek (1986). Black Heart Man: A Journey Into Rasta. London: Chatto & Windus, 135 pp. This is a well-illustrated book that focuses on Jamaican and Rastafarian history, Rastafarians in England, and Rastafarians who migrated to Shashamene in Ethiopia. Out of print.
Bones, Jah (1986). “Language and Rastafari.” In: The Language of the Black Experience: Cultural Expression through Word and Sound in the Caribbean and Black Britain. David Sutcliffe & Ansel Wong, eds. New York: Basil Blackwell, pp. 37-51. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Campbell, Horace (1987). Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 236 pages. This is a Marxist historical analysis of Rastafarianism.
Chevannes, Barry (1994). Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 298 pp. This is well-written book presents a history of Rastafarianism.
de Albuquerque, Klaus (1979). “"The future of the Rastafarian movement.” Caribbean Review 8(4): 22-25, 44-46.
de Albuquerque, Klaus (1980). “Rastafarianism and cultural identity in the Caribbean.” Revista/Review Interamericana 10(2): 230-247. This is a sociological analysis of Rastafarianism.
Edward, Prince Emmanuel Charles (n.d.). Black Supremacy in Rightousness [sic] of Salvation Jesus Negus Christ Emmanuel “I” Selassie “I” Jah Rastafari in Royal Majesty Selassie “I” Jahovah Jah Rastafar “I.” Jamaica: Jerusalem School Room of the Ethiopia Africa International Congress. Out of print.
Faristzaddi, Millard [Milhawhdh] (1982). Itations of Jamaica and I Rastafari... the First Itation. Miami, FL: Judah Anbesa. [no pagination] This part one of a beautifully photographed and extensively illustrated trilogy. Poetry and mystical verse are interleaved with photographs. The First Itation contains a 12 glossary of Rasta Talk. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for the First Itation (The Celebration). / Second Itation (The Revelation). / Third Itation (The Liberation)
Jacobs, Virginia Lee (1985). Roots of Rastafari. San Diego, CA: Slawson Communications, 130 pp. This book includes a glossary of religious terms on pp. 117-130. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Johnson-Hill, Jack Anthony (1988). Elements of an Afro-Caribbean Social Ethic: A Disclosure of the World of Rastafari as Liminal Process. Ph.D. Thesis: Vanderbilt University.
Kitzinger, Sheila (1969). “Protest and mysticism: The Rastafari Cult of Jamaica.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 8: 240-262. Kitzinger reports on the belief system of the Rastafarians based on her field research in 1965.
Kitzinger, Sheila (1971). “The Rastafarian brethren of Jamaica.” In: Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean: An Anthropological Reader. Michael M. Horowitz, ed. Garden City, New York: Natural History Press, pp. 580-588. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Littlewood, Roland (1993). Pathology and Identity: The Word of Mother Earth in Trinidad. New York: Cambridge University Press. This book is not about Rastafarians, but is about a similar religious group in Trinidad.
Mason, Clifford (1980). “Waiting on the man.” Geo: A New View of our World 2(9): 124-146.
Mulvaney, Rebekah Michele (1990). Rastafari and Reggae: A Dictionary and Sourcebook. New York: Greenwood Press.
New York City Police Department (1985). “Rasta crime.” Caribbean Review 14(1): 12-15, 39-40. This article is an unauthorized reprint of an NYCPD report on the langauge of the subset of Rastafarians in New York who were involved in criminal activities. A brief glossary is included on pp. 13-14.
Nicholas, Tracy (1979). Rastafari: A Way of Life. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 92 pp. & many photographs.
Owens, Joseph (1976). Dread: The Rastafarians of Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Sangster’s Book Stores, 282 pp. Introduction by Rex Nettleford (pp. vii-xix). This is a compassionate introduction to the Rastafarians. Pages 256-280 are a transcription of Rastafarians reasoning [discussing] the then recently reported death of Haile Selassie. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Velma Pollard has written the most informative and most extensive work on Rasta Talk.
Pollard, Velma (1982). “The social history of Dread Talk.” Caribbean Quarterly 28(4): 17-40. This article gives an extensive glossary of Rasta Talk on pp. 29-36, divided into Pollard’s 4 categories. There is also a discussion of the social context of Rasta Talk.
Pollard, Velma (1983). “The social history of Dread Talk.” In: Studies in Caribbean Language. Lawrence D. Carrington, ed. St. Augustine, Trinidad: Society for Caribbean Linguistics, pp. 46-62. Out of print. Limited copies are available from the Society for Caribbean Linguistics.
Pollard, Velma (1984). “Word sounds: The language of Rastafari in Barbados and St. Lucia.” Jamaica Journal 17(1): 57-62. This article discusses the changes in Rasta Talk on Barbados and St. Lucia to its origin on Jamaica.
Pollard, Velma (1985). “Dread Talk -- the speech of the Rastafarian in Jamaica.” Kingston, Jamaica: Caribbean Quarterly. University of the West Indies, pp. 32-41. This article gives a glossary of Rasta Talk with examples of usage, again divided into Pollard’s 4 categories.
Pollard, Velma (1986). “Innovation in Jamaican Creole: The speech of Rastafari.” In: Varieties of English Around the World: Focus on the Caribbean. Manfred Görlach & John A. Holm, eds., Vol. 8. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, pp. 157-166. In print!
Pollard, Velma (1994). Dread Talk: The Language of Rastafari. 1st edition, Kingston, Jamaica: Canoe Press, 84 pp. Out of print.
Pollard, Velma (2000). Dread Talk: The Language of Rastafari. 2nd edition, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 96 pp. This book presents Pollard’s hard-to-find earlier work (including 1983, 1984, 1985) in one publication. Also included in this second edition is a previously unpublished chapter, “Globalization and the language of Rastafari”, which analyzes the Web-based Dread Talk dictionaries. In print!
Simpson, George Eaton (1955). “The Ras Tafari Movement in Jamaica: A Study of race and class conflict.” Social Forces 34: 167-171. This is the earliest study of Rastafarianism.
Simpson, George Eaton (1980). Religious Cults of the Caribbean: Trinidad, Jamaica and Haiti. Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Institute of Caribbean Studies, University of Puerto Rico, 3rd edition. This book includes a chapter entitled, “The Ras Tafari Movement” on pp. 208-223. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Tafari, I. Jabulani (1985). “The Rastafari -- successors of Marcus Garvey.” Rastafari. Kingston, Jamaica: Caribbean Quarterly, University of the West Indies, pp. 1-12. [This is a book reprint of a volume of the Caribbean Quarterly]
Waters, Anita M. (1985). Race, Class, and Political Symbols: Rastafari and Reggae in Jamaican Politics. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Yawney, Carole D. (1976). “Remnants of all nations: Rastafarian attitudes to race and nationality.” In: Ethnicity in the Americas. Frances Henry, ed. Hague: Mouton, pp. 231-262. Out of print.
Yawney, Carole D. (1979a). Lions in Babylon: The Rastafarians of Jamaica as a Visionary Movement. Ph.D. Thesis: McGill University, 365 pp.
Yawney, Carole D. (1979b). “Dread wasteland: Rastafarian ritual in West Kingston, Jamaica.” Occasional Publications in Anthropology, Ethnology Series. University of North Colorado, no. 33, pp. 154-178.
Yawney, Carole D. (1979c). “Rastafarians in Jamaican perspective.” Rikka 6: 42-56.
Besides being a renowned and seminal reggae musician, the late Peter Tosh was a sharp-tongued wit in a Rasta style. These references give an idea of his verbal style and linguistic creativity.
Ama, Imani Tafari (1988b). “Peter Tosh speaks.” Reggae Report 6(2): 19, 25.
Aylmer, Kevin J. (1992). “In touch with Tosh.” Reggae Report 10(8): 20-23.
Campbell, Nicholas, director (1992). Stepping Razor - Red X (The Peter Tosh Story). Great Britain: SC Entertainment International [film].
Sheridan, Maureen (1987). “Peter Tosh: The last words and violent death of a reggae hero.” Musician 100: 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 40, 121. This is an article on Tosh’s final days.
Tafari, I. Jabulani (1988). “Reggae radix... Peter Tosh.” Reggae Report 6(1): 18-19, 30, 33, 35-36.
Wolynski, Mara; Schine, Cathleen; Mayo, Anna; Moroz, Josh; Trilling, Roger; Weston, Bradford; & Whitcraft, Teri. (1978). “Illegalize It.” The Village Voice 23(42): 28. This is a report of Tosh’s arrest in Kingston following the famous Peace Concert.
Cassidy, Frederic Gomes (1982). Jamaica Talk: Three Hundred Years of the English Language in Jamaica. London: Macmillan Education. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Cassidy, Frederic Gomes & Le Page, Robert Black (2003). Dictionary of Jamaican English. Kingston: University Press of the West Indies, 2nd edition, 500 pp. This is the definitive dictionary of Jamaican English. It shows the basis upon which Rasta Talk is based. In print!
Cooper, Carolyn (1995). Noises in the Blood: Orality, Gender, and the “Vulgar” Body of Jamaican Popular Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 214 pp. This book briefly discusses Rasta Talk in the context of Jamaican speech.). In print!
Hogg, Donald (1960). “The Convince Cult in Jamaica.” Yale University Publications in Anthropology vol. 58, 24 pp. & photos. This monograph describes an indigenous Jamaican religion, the Convince Cult, and some comparison is made to Rastafarianism.
Nettleford, Rex M. (1970).Mirror Mirror: Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: William Collins and Sangster. One of the earliest studies of the Rastafarians. In print!
Sobo, Elisa Janine (1993). One Blood: The Jamaican Body. Albany: State University of New York, 329 pp., illustrated. This book briefly mentions Rastafarianism, but is useful for putting Rastafarian beliefs about the body into context with respect to Jamaica (e.g., there is an extensive discussion on the social aspects of menstruation). In print!
Clarke, Colin G. (1975). Kingston, Jamaica: Urban Development and Social Change, 1692-1962. Berkeley: University of California Press. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Dance, Daryl C. (1985). Folklore from Contemporary Jamaicans. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 229 pp. This is an excellent collection of Jamaican folklore. It contains a chapter of folklore that satirizes Rastafarians (pp. 86-94) and has a few other references to Rastafarians. In print!
Dillard, Joey Lee (1976). “Black names.” In: Contributions to the Sociology of Language, Joshua A. Fishman, ed. No. 13. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton. Out of print.
Lourde, Audre (1990). “Is your hair still political?” Essence 21(5): 40, 110. This article describes the persecution of dreadlocks in the British Virgin Islands.
Luntta, Karl (1996). Jamaica Handbook. Chico, CA: Moon Publishers, 3rd edition. This is an excellent tour guide of Jamaica, perhaps the best tour guide of Jamaica.
Major, Clarence, ed. (1994). Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang. New York: Penguin Books. This is an excellent survey of African-American slang, some of which corresponds with Jamaican English. Out of print:
Search Amazon.com for this book.
Sims Holt, Grace (1972). “‘Inversion’ in Black communication.” In: Rappin’ and Stylin’ Out: Communication in Urban Black America. Thomas Kochman, ed. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp. 152-159. This chapter describes the technique of linguistic inversion, which is used both by African-Americans and by Rastafarians. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Thomas, Polly (2000). The Rough Guide to Jamaica. New York: Rough Guides, 384 pp., illustrated. An excellent tour guide to Jamaica.
Hughes, Geoffrey (1991). Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.
Johnson, Ken (1972). “The vocabulary of race.” In: Rappin’ and Stylin’ Out: Communication in Urban Black America. Thomas Kochman, ed. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp. 140-151. This chapter discusses the negative, neutral and positive racial terms used by African-Americans. This is a useful comparison to racial terms in Rasta Talk. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Legman, Gershon (1964). The Horn Book: Studies in Erotic Folklore and Bibliography. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Levine, Robert M. (1980). Race and Ethnic Relations in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Historical Dictionary and Bibliography. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press. Levine has a dim view of Rastafarianism, but he defines 3 terms used by or about indigenous Jamaican religions: bombo, bongo, and Nya-binghi. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Partridge, Eric (1984). A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: Colloquialisms and Catch-phrases Solecisms and Catachreses Nicknames and Vulgarisms. Paul Beal, ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Partridge, Eric (1989 ). A Dictionary of the Underworld. Hertfordshire, Great Britain: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Fell, G. S. (1989). “Explorations into linguistic practice as a source of religious polarities, or the inevitability of ineffability.” In: Language in Religion. Humphrey Tonkin & Allison Armstrong Keef, eds. New York: University Press of America, pp. 7-15. In print!
Fox, George, Stubs, John, & Furly, Benjamin (1968 ). A Battle-Door for Teachers & Professors to Learn Singular and Plural. Menston, England: The Scolar Press. [pagination irregular] Out of print.
McPherson, E. S. P. (date?). Rastafari and Politics: Sixty Years of a Developing Cultural Ideology: A Sociology of development perspective. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
McPherson, E. S. P. (date?). My Generation Will Make the Change: Proceedings of the Launching of Rastafari and Politics, Sixty Years of a Development Perspective by E.S.P. McPherson Held at the Creative Arts Center, Mona Campus, U.W.I., Kingston, Jamaica on Monday, September 2, 1991. Out of print: Search Amazon.com for this book.
Post, Ken (1970). “The Bible as Ideology: Ethopianism in Jamaica, 1930-38.” In: African Perspectives, Allen, Christopher & Johnson, R. W., eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 185-207. In print!
Rogers, Robert Athtyi; Tafari, Ras Sekou; & Lorne, Miguel (2000). The Holy Piby. Frontline Books/Research Associates, pp 103 pp. Originally published in 1924 by Robert Aththyi Rogers, this book was highly influential upon the development of Rastafarianism.
Sandford, Christine (1999). The Lion of Judah Hath Prevailed. Resarch Associates School Times Pubications, 192 pp.
Scott, Ricardo A. (1996). With Jah Rastafari As My Witness: Traitors in Babylon -- I’ll Never Betray My People. Cornerston Productions. In print!
Sellassie I, Haile (2000). The Third Testament the Ilect Verses of Jah Rastafari. Frontline Distribution & Headstart Publishing, 693 pp. In print!
Shangu, Baku, ed. (1997). Haile Sellassie and the Opening of the Seven Seals. Frontline Distribution International, 110 pp.
Stuart, Jane (1999). I Am a Rastafarian. Religions of the World Series. Rosen Publishing Group/Powerkids Press. For children. In print!