The Bible Society of the West Indies and Wycliffe Bible Translators have sparked a national controversy by beginning to translate the Bible into patois, Jamaica's Creole language.

While English is Jamaica's official language, most Jamaicans speak patois. But it does not yet have a standard writing system. Those opposed to the translation project have argued in the country's newspapers and other media outlets that formalizing a written standard for patois would undercut efforts to promote Standard English.

Even Jamaican prime minister Bruce Golding joined the fray, saying in a June high-school graduation address that the $1 million, 12-year translation project "signifies an admission to failure" to properly learn and teach English.

Other critics have argued that as an obscure vernacular dialect, patois is incapable of communicating the deeper truths of Scripture. Many linguistic scholars, however, say patois, or Jamaican Creole, is an autonomous language rather than an English dialect.

Gerry Seale, general secretary of the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean, said a Standard English version of the Bible will stay popular in the country. But "so many Jamaicans speak patois rather than Standard English that this has a chance of communicating with their hearts in a much greater way than Standard English [does]," he said. Jamaica Association of Evangelicals president Peter Garth says the organization supports the project largely because of the positive response the Jesus film received when it was released in patois. "We know that there are some problems in terms of the spelling and so forth, but what we do know is that it will attract a lot more readers," he said.

Bertram Gayle, a member of Wycliffe Bible Translators Caribbean ...

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