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Jah People
Posted: 06 July 2007 12:06 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Got a question about the phrase “Jah People.”

In the song Move, Damien Marley says “Survival of Jah People” and later samples a cut from his father’s song Exodus, which says ‘Exodus: Movement of Jah People.”

Now my question is whether “Jah People” here used is an adjectival phrase, or if Jah is possessive, and could be rendered “Jah‘s People.”

Anyone familiar enough to shed some light here?

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Posted: 06 July 2007 04:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Jah, I think, is short for Jahweh, the unpronounceable name of the Tetragrammaton (the four Hebrew consonants that make up God’s name).  The vowels are guesses.  I don’t think the “Jah” is meant to be possessive.  If we substituted “God” for “Yahweh” it would be “God People.”

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Posted: 06 July 2007 06:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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That’s the train of thought I was on, too—which is true—but Jah, by itself, is the standard in Reggae (and without turning into a discussion of Rastafarian beliefs, seems to have unique use: referring not just to “God” but to one very specific incarnation of God. All I mean to point out is that Jah, in Rastafarian culture is not an alternate, or shortened form of the name of God, it is THE name).

And still, if we substituted God for Jah, we can also get “God’s People” which seems like it would be a little more towards the norm.

I guess the question is more “is it common in Jamaican English to drop the posessive ‘s” vs “is this the common way to form an adjectival phrase of this sort in Jamaican English.” My only source of quasi-reference is Hawaiian pidgin, which is no reference at all!

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Posted: 06 July 2007 12:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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And still, if we substituted God for Jah, we can also get “God’s People” which seems like it would be a little more towards the norm.

Yes, but if you use the parallel of “Jesus People” you could also say “Jesus’ People” but it would mean something entirely different.  Most Christians might be comfortable saying that they are among “Jesus’ People” but most would not say that they belong to the ”Jesus People” movement.

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Posted: 06 July 2007 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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People in Jamaica call their dialect Patois. Not “a” patois, but Patois as if it were a proper name. “We speak Patois.”

And still, if we substituted God for Jah, we can also get “God’s People” which seems like it would be a little more towards the norm.

There is no “translation” for “Jah People.” As you say, Jah isn’t merely “a” name for God, it is a name that encompasses the Rastafarian belief system and “God” is a name used by other belief systems. Rastafarian’s are aware of the name “God” and purposely avoid it. Saying “Jah People” isn’t the same as saying “God’s People.”

I also wouldn’t say the lack of a possessive is *necessarily* dialect. “Jah People” has a different shade of meaning from “Jah’s People” and the difference may very well be intentional. To me, “Jah People” means people who believe in Jah. “Jah’s People” means people owned by Jah, presumably whether or not they believe in Him. As always, YMMV.

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Posted: 07 July 2007 01:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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’Not “a” patois, but Patois...’

Clearly, a Patwa on those who dissent.

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Posted: 07 July 2007 01:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Happydog, are you saying that “Jah” also stands for the belief system itself, as well as the godhead? (unlike “God” or “Allah").

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Posted: 07 July 2007 04:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Dunno what happydog had in mind but this gets to something that bothered me in our discussion of use of “God” to translate “Allah”.  Whether or not there is an entity to act as a referent to the terms and whether or not there are some Arabic speaking Christians who speak of the Christian God as “Allah” using a term other than “God” in normal conversation to a Westerner raises a completely different image in the mind of the hearer.  This is as true for the term “Jah” as it is for the term “Allah”, so, no, Jah People should not be rendered God People in normal use other than an explanatory footnote.

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Posted: 07 July 2007 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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bayard - 07 July 2007 01:29 AM

Happydog, are you saying that “Jah” also stands for the belief system itself, as well as the godhead? (unlike “God” or “Allah").

No. What I’m saying is that the belief system and the name are not separable. You can’t substitute “God” for “Jah” “because they mean the same thing.” Using the name “Jah” implies the belief system associated with that name. And to the people who subscribe to that belief system, the name is important. Whether or not that difference is important to you is a different issue.

Whether or not you believe the entity (and/or the name for the entity) and the belief system are separable depends on your belief system. In the case of the people using the term “Jah People”, the name of the entity is not interchangeable with other names. If you believe that it is, I would submit that is because of your belief system, and whether or not the different names “mean the same thing” isn’t a matter of linguistics, it’s a matter of philosophy.

I have a pet name for my girlfriend. Sometimes I use the pet name and sometimes I use her given name. Both names refer to the same person, but using one isn’t the same as using the other. Using the pet name *implies* different things than using the given name does. Just because they refer to the same person doesn’t mean that both names “mean the same thing.” Names can be more than simple labels. Her pet name and her given name tap into different emotions and if two words make you feel differently, then they don’t mean the same thing, in my view of language (or epistemology). As always, YMMV.

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Posted: 07 July 2007 12:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Dunno what happydog had in mind but this gets to something that bothered me in our discussion of use of “God” to translate “Allah”.  Whether or not there is an entity to act as a referent to the terms and whether or not there are some Arabic speaking Christians who speak of the Christian God as “Allah” using a term other than “God” in normal conversation to a Westerner raises a completely different image in the mind of the hearer.

I don’t understand what you’re saying here, but “whether or not there are some Arabic speaking Christians who speak of the Christian God as ‘Allah’” implies a serious misunderstanding.  All Arabic-speaking Christians refer to God (not “the Christian God") as Allah, because that is the word for God in Arabic.  There is no “Christian God” and “Muslim God”; both religions worship the same entity, whether or not such an entity actually exists.  Whatever image occurs to you when you hear one word or the other is your responsibility, not that of either English or Arabic.  The English translation of Allah is God, end of story.

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Posted: 07 July 2007 06:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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No. What I’m saying is that the belief system and the name are not separable. You can’t substitute “God” for “Jah” “because they mean the same thing.” Using the name “Jah” implies the belief system associated with that name. And to the people who subscribe to that belief system, the name is important. Whether or not that difference is important to you is a different issue.

To a great extent that is, of course, true.  In the Hebrew scriptures, the name for the Hebrew (and thus Christian, and Islamic) God is specific and is often rendered “the LORD your God” (where LORD, in small caps, is the conventional Christian way of rendering the tetragrammaton in English since the days of the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible of 1611).  It is rendered as “I am HaShem thy G-d” by the 1911 Jewish Publication Society translation (HaShem being “the name").  Interesting that Kaplan reverses it, as “I am God your Lord.”

Thus the “Jah” in the Rastafarian religion is, in some sense, related to the God of the Exodus and the Babylonian captivity (the latter seems to be more important for Rastafarians) regardless of what other dimensions they might put on the deity and the story that their deity is the center of.

Another way of saying all this is, like the etymology of all words, the various words for God have stories behind them.  The tetragrammaton is most definitely story bound.  The first of the ten commandments in Exodus 20 is rendered in the AV/KJV, “I [am] the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The name of God is related to the story of which God is believed to be the center.  And this is not unrelated to the Rastafarian story, as I [imperfectly] understand it.

so, the “Jah” of Rastafarianism is a specific God set in a specific, and ongoing narrative.  But it is still God in the larger sense.  It is, so to say, Jah, our God.

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Posted: 08 July 2007 09:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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But if my God is C’thulu, you would not then accept that C’thulu is another name for God.  That is an extreme example, but to grok that Allah of Islam who says you must never touch alcohol and the God of Catholicism who requires that you drink wine at least once a week are exactly the same requires some mental gymnastics for some of us.

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Posted: 08 July 2007 09:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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... to grok that Allah of Islam who says you must never touch alcohol and the God of Catholicism who requires that you drink wine at least once a week are exactly the same requires some mental gymnastics for some of us.

But that problem exists within Christendom where the names of God are identical.  The problem isn’t the name.

Also, FWIW, Catholics don’t require that you drink wine at all.

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Posted: 08 July 2007 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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requires some mental gymnastics for some of us.

Many things in this complicated world require some mental gymnastics.  Some of us are willing to make the effort, others take the easy way out.  (Not directed against anyone here—I think we’re all interested in actually understanding things—just an observation about the world at large.)

To address your particular example: the point is not that any entity called a “god” is the same as every other such entity, but that the god worshipped by Muslims is specifically the god of Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa), and Jesus (Isa).  It says so right in the Koran.  This is not something imposed by rampant political correctness; it is a fact about the religions involved.

[ Edited: 08 July 2007 01:30 PM by languagehat ]
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Posted: 08 July 2007 01:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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languagehat - 07 July 2007 12:50 PM

...Whatever image occurs to you when you hear one word or the other is your responsibility, not that of either English or Arabic.  The English translation of Allah is God, end of story.

I think you’re being a little obtuse here, LH. I would respectfully suggest that whatever image regularly occurs to English speakers upon hearing an English word is part of the meaning of that word. Both God and Allah are well-established English words with well-established differences in connotation, regardless of the theological identity of referent.

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Posted: 08 July 2007 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Meanwhile, on topic, let’s not forget Ben Harper’s song Jah Work, with the same modificational use of Jah. Could it be because the work is not actually Jah’s to do, but needs to be done in his name? Or perhaps Harper is just following the established pattern.

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