Jamaicans - Orientation

Identification. The name of the island of Jamaica is derived from the Arawak word "Xaymaca," which may have meant "land of springs," "land of wood and water," or "land of cotton."

Location. Jamaica is located in the Greater Antilles group of the West Indies, 144 kilometers south of Cuba and 160 kilometers west of Haiti. It has an area of 11,034 square kilometers and is the third-largest island in the Caribbean. The interior is very hilly and mountainous, with deep valleys and 120 unnavigable rivers, and the coastal plain is flat and narrow. The climate is generally hot and humid (tropical) but cooler and more temperate in the highlands.

Demography. The population was 2,506,701 in July 1992, with an average annual growth rate of 0.09 percent and a density of 228 people per square kilometer. The ethnic composition of Jamaica is 76.3 percent Black, 15.1 percent Afro-European, 3.2 percent White, 3 percent East Indian and Afro-East Indian, 1.2 percent Chinese and Afro-Chinese, and 1.2 percent other. Approximately 22,000 Jamaicans emigrate every year, and roughly a million now live in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.

Linguistic Affiliation. Jamaica is officially English speaking, but it actually has what linguists call a postcreole linguistic continuum. An indigenous language, referred to as "patois" by Jamaicans and "Jamaican Creole" by linguists, evolved from contact between African slaves and English planters. Jamaican speech varies, by class, from Creole to Standard English, with many intermediate grades of variation.

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