Jamaican Creole or Jamaican Patois refers to many varieties of language spoken in Jamaica. The broadest (or 'basilectal') forms make up a creole which derives most of its vocabulary from English but is not at all comprehensible to speakers of that language unless they have learned the creole. However, many varieties of Jamaican creole include words and structures more similar to English ('mesolectal' varieties), and these merge with standard Jamaican English on a continuum, with the basilectal creole varieties at one end and an 'acrolectal' variety, which is near-indistinguishable from English as spoken elsewhere, at the other end. Jamaican speakers typically command a range of varieties from standard English to creole, and can move along the continuum depending on such factors as formality, familiarity with the listeners and so on. The phenomenon of a creole becoming more like its lexifier is known as decreolisation.
Jamaican Creole is a textbook example of a post-creole continuum, where following the establishment of a creole, the language merges with the original 'lexifier' language that supplied most of the vocabulary. Unlike places such as Haiti, where the local creole and the lexifier (French) were kept separate, Jamaican Creole remained in contact with English and therefore speakers created a continuum of varieties. It is therefore often difficult to determine whether a given sample of speech or writing is an example of Jamaican Creole, Jamaican English, or both. Speakers and linguists may differ in their intuitions about what it creole or 'patois' and what is not.
- Linguists prefer to use the term 'creole'; the use of 'patois' or 'patwa' can be derogatory for some speakers and acceptable to others.