It Bounces Off Me and Sticks To You

“You speak creole” sounds like a nice, simple, declarative sentence and statement of fact, no? It’s just three words, after all, in the English language, plainly identifying others who speak in what are mixed or hybrid languages.

Simple as that. Right?

But dig just a little and you start to see how ridiculous it is to assume that we can somehow distinguish, in some real or definitive manner, the homogenous from the heterogeneous, the center from the margin. Maybe even us from them…? Or, to press further, that such distinctions, even if necessary for thought and social life, are always rhetorical acts and never just passive descriptions.

For example, consult an etymology source and you might learn….

you (pronoun)
Old English, eow, dative and accusative plural of þu, objective case of ge, “ye,” from West Germanic *iuwiz (see also Old Norse yor, Old Saxon iu, Old Frisian iuwe, Middle Dutch, Dutch u, Old High German iu, iuwih, German euch), thought to be from the Proto-Indo-European: *ju.
speak (verb) 
Old English, specan, variant of sprecan: “to speak, utter words; make a speech, hold a discourse (with others)” ( past tense spræc, past participle sprecen), from Proto-Germanic *sprek-, *spek- (see also Old Saxon sprecan, Old Frisian spreka, Middle Dutch spreken, Old High German sprehhan, German sprechen “to speak,” Old Norse spraki “rumor, report”), believed to be from the Proto-Indo-European root *spreg- (1) “to speak,” perhaps identical with the other PIE root *spreg- and (2) “to strew,” on notion of speech as a “scattering” of words.
creole (noun) 
circa1600, from French créole (17 C.), in turn from Spanish, criollo: “person native to a locality,” and from Portuguese crioulo, diminutive of cria: “person (especially a servant) raised in one’s house,” from criar “to raise or bring up,” and from the Latin creare: “to produce, create.”

“You speak creole” now seems more aptly replaced by “We all speak creole,” suggesting that “creole” is really just a synonym for “language.”

While etymologies may have a speculative element to them, of course, it is evident that “You speak creole” is itself as much a creole as anything coming out of anyone else’s mouth. Old English, French, Germanic, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Latin, and even Proto-Indo-European all weave in and out of those three seemingly simple words — which indicates that claims of mixing, ambiguity, and hybridity tell us far more about the position from which these claim come (and people’s efforts to tame that unruly mob that is their own language, their own history, their own identity) than about the object they’re trying to name. For we’re all mixed up — sure, we normalize one point as the place from which we might make claims about others, but failing to know that all of our claims are tentative and self-implicating might be evidence of a rather sloppy scholar.

Coz I’m rubber and you’re glue…

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