My mother tongue dances

I was raised in Trinidad where language lives a wild, musical, contangarous life. “Back home” we use pronouns irregularly (she hand vs. her hand) and often shortened words/ phrases beyond recognition (inno vs. you know). Also the word “thing” can be suffixed to any simple adjective or noun to identify something we can’t be bothered with naming. Not to mention the ways we describe things in a very localized and interesting way. The official language is English (Britain was the last to colonize Trinidad before Independence in August 1962) but we still maintain this dear creole cuz fuck the British and their pretentious English grammar. There’s so much dynamics in the way we speak, so much history, that we shouldn’t water it down.

I moved to the United States when I was sixteen, as an impressionable teen I tried to adapt to the colloquial language of my classmates. If people weren’t making fun of how I talked they were gawking at me, imagining some exotic fantasy. I started talking “American” although people would still tell me 2 sentences into a conversation, “Hey! Is that an accent I hear? Where are you from?”. The most embarrassing was, “Can you speak slower, I can’t understand what you’re saying”, “Your accent is so strong when did you move here” or my most hated, “Do y’all speak English where you come from?”.

I worried about keeping a job when people couldn’t understand me. I worried that I’d love someone who couldn’t fully understand my uninhibited tongue. Could their words limbo with mine?limbo

Fast forward to today when my accent has wowed every employer that’s taken me on and gotten me out of a ticket with police. I’ve learned to let people hear me and appreciate the beauty of my native words. Beyond any privileges my different-ness has allowed I love my country, my people, and my language. It’s a real intimate thing that sixteen-year-old me couldn’t appreciate. But I’m glad I do now.

I think about all the yanky-doodle things I hear on a regular basis in America and how Uzo Aduba wanted to change her name to make it more palatable to white people.

I can’t say how many times I was saying something and stopped short to change the words in my head so I’ll be better understood. But I’ve learned over the years that if you give people a chance they can learn to understand you. They have to. I have to make them. People of the global south have compromised so much throughout our history that its almost second nature. We bend backwards to speak in a way white people (mostly) can understand while compromising what we REALLY want to convey. My full flavoured language has a body that cannot be diluted thin enough for white anybodies to digest. And I will not force it to. I also will not stop using flavoured/ coloured/ favourite/ amoung or any other British words cuz it’s “the oppressors language and that’s cultural appropriation”. Fuck that. I’ll use oxford commas as I please because my language isn’t for “correct” spelling/ grammar, its a historical record and we’ve more than paid for the rights.


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