Researching Patoi for The Goddess Twins

Most of my book was borne from my imagination, conversations I’ve thought of having, or abilities I’ve only dreamed and desired. I have thought about having the ability to read minds for my whole life. As a child, I was sure my mother could read my thoughts; she always knew when I was trying to lie! And the ability to move objects? I have wanted this since childhood, when I first fell in love with The Secret World of Alex Mack. I remember spending time one summer, concentrating and willing myself to move objects around the room without touch. But alas, I do not have these powers.

But the fantasy world of my Caribbean goddesses does have grounding in some factual pieces that I needed to research for the book. My largest investment in research was in the Patoi language, which is the Jamaican dialect that I knew I wanted at the heart of the Gran Gran character. Gratefully, I have some experience with Patoi, as my parents (and I) are Jamaican, and I spent summers as a kid in Jamaica surrounded by my family who live there. I knew that when I fleshed out the scenes where the twins meet their grandmother, I wanted her to be speaking to them in Patoi. I envisioned the Gran Gran character as a combination of aunts and elder cousins I have met in Jamaica who speak heavy Patoi and are not worried about if their meaning comes across, because if you’re paying attention, there’s no way it couldn’t be clear!

patoi proverb
jamaican proverb

I had been gifted a book of Patoi sayings and proverbs from my mother, and this was the first place I started in crafting the dialogue for Gran Gran. After I was able to get a feel for some of the phrasings and sayings that I loved most, I did some online research and listened to youtube videos and storytelling performances by Jamaicans. And finally, for verification that the meanings were valid to the dialogue I wrote, I had my mother read through the sections that I wrote for Gran Gran. She made some final edits to sayings and confirmed my understanding that the scenes flowed, and the conversation could be understood by readers with either or both English and Patoi experience. I’m grateful for the ability to research Patoi to flesh out a character that I knew deserved to have a commanding voice and powerful dialogue that resonated with place and story.


Author: Yodassa Williams

Yodassa Williams is a powerful conjurer of black girl magic (70% Jedi, 30% Sith). A Jamaican American writer, speaker, and award winning performing storyteller, alumna of the VONA/Voices Travel Writing program and creator of the podcast ‘The Black Girl Magic Files’, Yodassa (Yoda) launched ‘Writers Emerging' in 2019, a wilderness writing retreat for women of color and non-binary people of color. In 2020, Yodassa's debut YA Fantasy, The Goddess Twins, will be published by Spark Press. She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and currently resides in the Bay Area.