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  • Dread Talk: The language of Rastafari by Velma Pollard
  • Elizabeth Grace Winkler
Dread Talk: The language of Rastafari. 2nd edn. By Velma Pollard. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000. Pp. xv, 117.

In Dread Talk, Velma Pollard elaborates on the history and unique features of Jamaican Dread Talk. Far from being solely a dialect of Jamaican Creole (JC), ‘Dread Talk reflects the speaker’s resistance to perceived oppression (both historical colonial prejudice and current economic disenfranchisement) . . . Here patterns of speech really do reflect patterns of thought’ (xiii). In terms of linguistic features, Dread Talk varies most greatly from JC in its lexicon. However, it is not simply an accidental evolution of the lexicon but a conscious shift in lexical usage to better reflect the speakers’ reality. An example is the use of ‘downpress’ rather than ‘oppress’ (up) because, actually, people are being pushed down. Additionally, she explains the predominant use of ‘ai’ (I) in Dread Talk rather than JC ‘me’. ‘Me’ is viewed as a symbol of racial submissiveness. That this shift to ‘I’ is not just an indicator of decreolization towards a more standard usage is reflected in the reflexive forms generated like ‘Iself’.

In Ch. 2 she traces Rastafarianism from its predominantly lower class roots to the 1970s when a nationwide rise in political consciousness brought it home to the middle classes as well. Dread Talk ‘was ready and in place as a vehicle to convey the urgent message of protest’ (31–2) for all Jamaicans. At present, Dread Talk is no longer solely a language of protest, but of the youth across Jamaica and elsewhere. This has happened because Dread Talk has been separated from ‘the burden’ of its original message for many speakers.

P discusses the spread of Dread Talk to urban areas of the Caribbean and its impact on English creole languages. She argues that these areas were fertile ground for Rastafari because the Black experience in these places was not all that unique nor are the present-day realities: ‘the inhabitants are poor black people occupying underprivileged positions in societies with stark social and economic discrepancies’ (54).

In the book’s new chapter, she shows how dictionaries of Dread Talk (Rasta patois) found on the internet provide more than just simple word lists but important grammatical information as well. They serve not just as sources but as a normative influence in the worldwide spread of Dread Talk. The work [End Page 597] ends with a discussion of the dynamic word formation processes common to Dread Talk.

The text provides a good balance between linguistic description, social history, and current practice and provides many illustrative speech samples. Dread Talk is essentially a reprint of the original 1994 book with the useful inclusion of a bibliography and the additional chapter on the spread of Rasta culture and language worldwide through the internet. Because the remaining chapters have been previously published as articles or conference presentations, there is a good deal of repetition of information that could be edited out of future editions leaving room for more content on the subject about which Pollard clearly has great insight.

Elizabeth Grace Winkler
Columbus State University


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pp. 597-598
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