A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with someone I work with. I was trying to help her to remember someone and so, I said, “Di wan wid di taal ier.”
As I said this, a woman walked into the office, and felt must have felt it was her civic duty to correct my language. She spoke a single word: “Long.”
The discussion hadn’t been about her, nor was it any of her business.
With a smile, I responded, “A Patwa mi a taak, so a ‘taal’ mi a se.” The disgust at my ‘incorrect’ use of language was written all over her face. I was offended and disgusted myself at her silly prescriptivist ideals, but I chose not to show it.
For those who don’t know, in Jamaican Creole, the word “taal” (“tall”) can be used to refer to the length of someone’s hair. It’s an example of linguistic broadening, a feature of creole language formation in which a word takes on additional meaning. (Funny enough, “lang” [from the English word “long”] can also be used to refer to height! It’s commonly used in the insult, “Yu lang an maaga laik!“)
As I write this, a response in Standard English comes to mind: “Madam, I am capable of using more than one language, including Jamaican Sign Language, Japanese, English, and Jamaican Creole, so I do not need your input in order to form a grammatical sentence, thank you very much.” That would have let her know that my use of language was deliberate, and that I am capable of code switching when I choose to. But it would have probably been fiesti, so perhaps it’s best that I just let it slide.
As Black History Month begins, I cannot ignore how, as a nation, and as black people, we have allowed our the colonial power to convince us that our culture, our skin, our hair, and even our language as black Jamaicans are inferior.
It irritates me to no end.
I am Jamaican. Mi a yaadi. An mi a tel unu se a notn no rang wid ou wi a taak.