In reaction to David Starkey’s egregious comments about last month’s rioting in London, Hubert Devonish, professor of linguistics at the University of the West Indies in Mona and Coordinator of the Jamaican Language Unit, wrote an interesting piece, Of riot and Rastamouse, that appeared first as a blog and then as an article in Jamaica’s leading newspaper, the Gleaner.
Rastamouse is a popular British children’s animated cartoon, featuring a cast of problem-solving mice musicians who play reggae and wear appropriate clothing and talk in an appropriately Jamaican way.
If you’ve never seen Rastamouse (perhaps because you’re not an under-10 in the UK), try this sample.
I say the characters “talk in an appropriately Jamaican way”. This covers not only accent (pronunciation) but also elements of Jamaican Creole grammar, e.g. the use of me as a subject pronoun. To a British ear they certainly sound Jamaican. But there are two interesting points to be made:
They don’t have the Multicultural London English we discussed recently. They sound definitely Caribbean.
Prof. Devonish mentions “the heavy anglicisation of the Jamaican Patois spoken by the characters”. So their language is what has been called “London Jamaican”, characteristically spoken by those of Jamaican birth or heritage who have lived for many years, or all their lives, in London.
And yet… It turns out that none of the principal actors who do the voices in the cartoon were born in Jamaica. They are native Londoners. The lead character is played by the voice actor Reggie Yates, who is actually not of Caribbean but of of Ghanaian descent.
And why not? I think his accent, even if it might not convince Jamaicans, is entirely appropriate for this cartoon mouse.