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There is a word, rather a phrase, used in Jamaica to delineate, isolate, and alienate those who have left not just the mother land but also the mother tongue. It is speaky-spokey.

Speaky-spokey is about using the English language in its proper form and all the betrayal that it denotes and all the superiority it connotes. It’s about being taken to task for using all the letters of the word and for conjugating properly. It’s about turning your back on…roots and heritage and lilt and music of the words of your people.

It’s about adoption. You take that baby language into your nursery mouth and cradle it and nurse it and rock it until it becomes a part of you. You bring it back to your island and show it to your people and hope they approve. They peek inside the blankets at your bundle of joy as you hold your breath and they coo, speaky-spokey.

Your heart drops. Your jaw drops. Your tongue drops. Your words drop. You try to clip the words along the perforations. You try to use the wrong tense at the right time. You put a bow on the present and try to look past it, into the future. Speaky-spokey is just what others do when they come back, not you. You are not affected, not infected. You are pure.

Adjusting your words comes quicker. Adjusting your ears; that’s harder. Cat cone ears twist this way and that but catching those fast pitched words is still hard. Nod and smile or scrunch your face up and look far away and pretend you were just lost in thought. Doesn’t matter. No comprehend for you.

It’s a child’s taunt with an adult haunt. It’s a schoolyard bully still crushing you in the workplace fully. Laughable with tears in your eyes. Cry-able with laughs on your lips.

Once you speak-the-spokey, you are the outsider.


Maxine Kollar is a wife and a mother of three. Her works have appeared in Mamalode, Gambling the Aisle, Clever Mag, Route 7 Review and elsewhere.

© 2016, Maxine Kollar

2 comments on “Speaky-Spokey, by Maxine Kollar

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