S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership, the following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m John McWhorter, and today I want to tell you a story. It is a great story. It’s a story that I have devoted some of my academic career to unearthing, and it’s about Creole languages. Many Creole languages are spoken in the Caribbean. And so, of course, that brings on our first song. Q This is Lena Horne and believe it or not, Ricardo Montalban of Fantasy Island Fame. And they were in a Broadway show in 1956 and it was called Jamaica. And here they are singing I don’t think I’ll end it all today.
S3: Let’s open with this when I see the world and its wonders, what is there to sing? I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll end it all today. Efficiency and sovereignty have been sailboat’s in debate. I don’t think or no, I don’t think I’ll at all today so many sweet.
S4: So many sweet lips to be kissed, so many sweet dreams.
S2: Anyway, the story that I want to tell involves slavery, but the truth is slavery created endless linguistic victories. If there was anything good that came out of slavery, it’s that a lot of language floured, despite the fact that people were in circumstances where they were suddenly rendered inarticulate because they weren’t being taught the language that they were being dominated in and that they often needed to use to speak to one another. Africa is home to as many as a thousand languages, and slaves were brought from many different places. So as often as not, slaves were on plantations where they could only talk to a few people in a native language. And very quickly, the language that you associated with the place, with your very unfortunate new life was the dominant, usually European language. So you’re talking about linguistic deprivation that was turned into a linguistic victory. And so a linguistic tool that was born of brute necessity amid sociological distance has become the thriving native languages of millions of people all over this world. And what I want to concentrate on is the English based Creoles of this kind. We usually hear them called Petawawa or as Americans, we know about Gullah or you might know people who speak Guyanese. All of these things are based on the same pattern. And in fact, as I will give you the argument for, they can be argued to be the same thing. And so those languages and one’s elsewhere in the world that seem oddly like them. And in fact, once again, are them. Once we learn this really interesting story, where do they come from? Where did all of that start? Well, you know, where it all actually started? It was not Jamaica. It was not Barbados. It was almost certainly along the West African coast itself. And through a series of deductions and from looking at the way all the languages are, you can deduce that the place where these languages would have emerged, where the granddaddy language would have emerged, would not have been the steps of Ukraine, not Proteau Indo-European. These languages would have started on the coast of Ghana, and where they would have started is in slave castles. So what was going on was that along many parts of the West African coast, the European powers established these basically forts where they gathered material for sale elsewhere and where they came to also gather slaves in preparation for transporting them across the sea. So you had many, many of these slave castles, one of them in Ghana, not one of the biggest ones, but one of them. And one of the very first ones was called Cor Mantin. Cor Mantan was founded in sixteen thirty to what you had was Englishmen who were yoked into serving in this tropical location and this tended to be Englishmen of the lower class.
S5: As often you were sent to a place like this because you were desperate or because of some sort of penalty. It was like people who were later sent to Australia. So there, there and then Africans were brought in to do the hardest and nastiest work. And so it would be Africans from the surrounding area. But then they would also, because there were often only so many who would put up with that or who were being forced to do that. They would often bring in Africans from other parts of the West African coast to serve in these castles.
S2: So you have a situation where you’ve got whites who speak English and you’ve got Africans who are living separately and thinking separately, really have no reason to associate with these whites in any real way. The whites have no real interest in the Africans. And sometimes you had Africans speak in completely different languages themselves in these groups. So this is the sort of situation where people make do by creating kind of a makeshift lingo. So if an Englishman wanted to tell an African to do something or an African wanted to tell an Englishman, you know, why he probably did want to do it, you did it in some sort of makeshift language. And as often as not, it would be a makeshift version of the socially dominant language, in this case, English. Here was a place where what was going on at first was not sending slaves overseas. They wanted the slaves to stay there, but the idea was to gather gold. This is why this area of the West African coast is called the Gold Coast and also elephant tusks, unfortunately. But there lots of work to be done. And what would have happened here is that a pigeon in not but a pigeon would have been born right here, some kind of English makeshift language. And people used it a lot. And, you know, if people use a pigeon a lot, then it has a way of kind of gelling, kind of like when you put peach jello in the refrigerator. At first it’s liquid. Go in there a couple hours later and it’s in this in-between state. You don’t want to eat it yet, but still you could mess around with it with your fingers. It’s kind of semi jello that is the equivalent of a pigeon. That would have developed there and almost certainly did. But here’s the thing, here’s where the story begins. At first, the slaves were supposed to be working there, but sometimes they would send slaves overseas to work the newly developing plantation economies, which were all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. So here’s a situation where a language that started in Ghana, where they are dealing with this gold and these elephant tusks and, you know, other goods ends up being used somewhere where nobody had ever heard of it before. And you would never expect that it would be used. And the first place that the English started making into a plantation economy was the island of Barbados. I did work about twenty five years ago, as you all know. I get obsessed with things and I got obsessed with this.
S5: And I dug and I dug in archives in London. And what I found, among other things, was evidence that these castles slaves actually were sometimes transported across the sea to Barbados itself, and they would have taken this makeshift new language with them. You can dig through things that people in these godforsaken castles wrote back to London. It’s interesting, if you look at the documents, one thing you see is lists of people there and there is often a cross next to somebody’s name. And that means that that person died very often. It was a death sentence to come to places like this from England because you just didn’t have the Constitution, you weren’t used to the germs, et cetera. And then you get these notes that describe these miserable places, but they’re also doing business. And so, for example, there’s one note where London has asked people at Cor Mantin, please send 12 of our own blacks, such as can speak English. Now, at the time, they were talking about St. Helena, which is a whole different story.
S2: But still, the idea was, please send some of these people contrary to your usual rule or you end up seeing that the people in London are constantly saying don’t sell the slaves overseas, which of course, directly indicates that that’s what had happened. So we can be quite sure that this is something that happened and started happening pretty early. Next thing you knew, the slaves who did get sent in that way, they certainly would have been taking whatever language they were using to talk to these white people with them, except then there in these new places talking to other white people. And next thing you know, you have the transplantation of this pidgin spoken first, that Cor Mantin Castle that nobody’s ever heard of. And now all of a sudden, it’s across the ocean in the new world being used by people in a new place and then being passed on to new generations. For example, four main places that this would have been taken as first Barbados. Barbados was kind of the foundation colony. And today in Barbados, there’s what we call a patois spoken. That is today’s descendant of what would have been brought from all the way over in Ghana. You had plantations in Barbados, but Barbados godlove it. But it’s about the size of a parking lot. And so after a while, the rapaciousness of capitalism means that you want to have more plantations in Barbados won’t do. And so there were planters who packed up with their slaves and went to other places. One of them was Jamaica. Another one, for the record, was South Carolina. And next thing you know, you have West Indian patois spoken in South Carolina, although we call it Gullah. We don’t call it Petawawa, then Surinam. Surinam is up on the top rim of South America, the very southern Caribbean. And Suriname is a tropical place. It has a rainforest. But on the coast, you could establish plantations. They will tell you about Dutch because that is the formal language of the country. But what they won’t mention at first is that they also speak as a vernacular language, as a lingua franca for everybody insur and they speak something called Sorano. And I’ve talked about that on the show before. But Cronon is this Creole, and it is the purest rendition of how all these languages began. Somebody from Suriname will be surprised that you’ve ever heard of Sorona. So what is this surname? Because we barely hear it in the United States, the number of people in the United States who speak it probably number in about the hundreds and they’re spread all out. So SR1 on what is that? Well, it’s this language where the words are mostly from English, although of course a lot of Dutch has crept in over the centuries. But the grammar, the way the words are put together is partly English, but a lot of it is African. And so it’s this brand new language. It’s a language that did not exist until the late sixteen hundreds. And the way for us to engage it is to see somebody speaking it instead of me just talking about it or faking it. So what we’re going to listen to is this woman who is doing her hair.
S6: And she’s doing it, speaking her native language, which is Sorona, these Noah Odali, Shango, can their four day faith in Asal, this Sábado foresee what Parata really full? Yes.
S2: Niazi So you can hear that this is certainly not English, even though the words are from English. And so at one point she says, listen to her when she talks about this is an old wash and go this Noah old wash and go can they first of all, she says this not this is this is the whole word.
S7: If you asked her how do you say this? And she will say D.C., but you say this because this language has regular contractions, just like we’re more likely to say didn’t than did not. So this was once a pigeon, but it became a Creole. It became a real language. That’s what a Creole is. It’s a pigeon that becomes a real language. And therefore, you have the kinds of complications that you have in languages that somebody lives a whole life in. This is an old Washington D not. And then there’s that not. Well, why is that is well, now is what happened over time. As people said the word dot over and over again, they’re actually earlier documents on where you can see that the word is still da dah was short for Dotty. Dotty was from that. So it used to be you would say this, that’s an old wash and go. And then after a while the that became basically and is and so this not one old wash and go like that then she says Condit that’s maybe and so can. And then there is this word for B which again is nothing like RB, it’s just something different. Then listen to her here for day faith in Azel, four days, five days or so. Then listen to this little bit, this sábado fosi she says so do Forese soldo foreseeable. What in the world is that? SORP is short for Sonny. Sonny is from something Sarr means what. So what we’re going to do first song or do is we what we all is short for go what we’re going to do. So soul doo doo. That’s easy. Forese from first so, so do falsey. She says very quickly in her language as we would say. Well what we’re going to do first, that’s what that means. Then she talks about parting her hair and she says, we wheaty. That’s from weeds. And so the word for hair and so on on happens to come from a word that began for meaning wiry plants and so weedy and then from ear to ear and noticed. Yes.
S6: Oh, yes, yes, yes.
S7: That’s from your ears ears. You hear a British person say ears and it’s not your language. And they’re speaking a dialect of English that we’ve never heard. And so yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. That’s an African person rendering the way a person speaking vernacular British would have said ears. So it’s this whole language. It’s a language just like English itself that is the purest version. That is what would have been brought across the seas for the most part. And you know what ears reminds me of feet, another part of the body that comes in pairs. You know what I’m about to do. And just because I feel like it, I want to share with you your feet’s too big. This is an old Fats Waller song. He does it wonderfully. But, you know, in the Broadway musical Ain’t Misbehavin, the Broadway musical revue, Ken Paige actually outdid Wollar. Everybody should hear this, whether they like the show music stuff on this show or not.
S8: This is Ken Paige doing your feet, Stubing, your panel extremities Collazo. To me, you look just like a Martha. You got men walking, tall women, small cars, feet, see?
S9: Ain’t go nowhere with your feet to be hanging in the bed next to you. Oh, she needs to be look at them. Oh. Cross the floor when you go and die and nobody goes on, the team is going to have quite a job. You to look funny when they leave in the case and look at them big feet sticking up out of the basket. All your friends.
S2: Anyway, I’ve talked about Surinam Creoles on this show before, Sarah Mochan is a version that spoken in the rainforest by slaves who were fortunate enough to get away from the plantations on the coast and go somewhere else and live just with one another. But before they escaped, they had worked on plantations that were owned not by Englishmen, but by Portuguese Jewish people. I kid you not. So remember those Ottomans that we talked about a couple shows ago? Well, the Spanish are getting rid of the Muslims because they don’t like those Ottomans and they’re getting rid of Jewish people because they don’t like them either. Where do the Jewish people go? Well, we talked about how some of them went and form these Ladino speaking enclaves. That was something that you could do. But there were other Jews who left Iberia and went to other places. Some of them crossed the ocean and went to Brazil because Brazil for a long time was owned by the Dutch. And so they were having peaceable lives there. But was then the Portuguese take over. Brazil can’t live there anymore. And so they go northward. And one of the first places they goes, another one of these little regions up on top of South America, French Guiana. And to this day, the Creole language spoken in French Guiana, although it’s a French Creole because of the history of that colony, has hints of Portuguese in it. And the reason is because of these wandering Jews, so to speak. And next, they kept going west to Suriname and they form these plantations. And so what happened is that they got some slaves from the English who were speaking this Charanam, but they hung around long enough that the sermon on on their plantations ended up being impregnated by lots of Portuguese. And so you end up getting this Portuguese find, this elusive find, as you call it, Surinam, which then gets taken into the rainforest. And that’s what Samarkand is. You never know how these things are going to go. And then here is the coolest story, talking about Jamaica in Jamaica, for the most part, you have this original language that settles in, but then it’s mixed with English a lot. So it isn’t that the Dutch are running things and nobody here is English again after the 16 60s. Instead, in Jamaica, English is always part of the mix. And so you’ve got lots of people speaking various Englishes and then you have the original African Creole language that comes in, but it gets mixed in with English. It’s influenced by English such that if you see a movie like The Harder they come, they’ll have subtitles here and there. But you may be didn’t absolutely need them. And if you listen to running Jamaican patois, the feeling that you often have is this is English that I can’t understand. Whereas if you listen to that Sahnoun clip with the girl, you don’t get the feeling you’re listening to anything you’ve ever heard. You might think it’s just some African language with Jamaican. It’s kind of English, but very different. But here’s something really interesting. The way people talk when they are in trances or, you know, perhaps we might say narcotic influenced. If this is culturally determined, often those ways of speaking are earlier. They are from another time as opposed to the way speech is now. And if you examine the way Jamaicans who live off in the mountains have lived traditionally rather separate existences talk in ceremonial circumstances like this. They speak a very different kind of Jamaican. And the damnedest thing is and it took an anthropologist, Ken Bilby, to notice this, you have to really immerse yourself in a culture to find something like this. It turns out that what these men speak in, what we might call a trance in these ceremonies, this passed down the centuries with nobody thinking a thing of it is Sorona. Now, I’m oversimplifying, but what these people are speaking is clearly the original layer of what became today’s English Jamaican patois. It’s the most fantastic thing. And so, for example, in Sauron on the way that you would say take him to that big place and put him inside, is this take him to that big place is Chine go.
S5: So carry him. Go. Cha is from Gary, Gary, Gary cha cha cha cha. So Jane, go carry him. Go to the big place. Not a big pressie. So tango not be pressie here. How you can kind of get the basics of running if we do it this way just because the word shapes are pretty familiar. So carry him. Go to the big place chango not boogie pressie. Carry him, go inside. Take him inside jungle Nardini. OK now in Jamaican patois, that sentence might sound kind of like that, except with a very different accent and with some slight structural differences. It would be that patois that sounds so cool to us, but we don’t think that it’s not English but American spirit language. Listen to this. Carry him go into the big Plaisance, run on time. Go no biggie. Pressie Imuran Spirit Language Chat Engo. Nada Beaky, pray it’s the same thing or carry him, go inside, try and go 90, OK, Imuran Spirit language can go 90. It’s the same language now of course they’re not exactly alike because it’s been a very long time. But Marouane spirit language is strong and so strong. Ana is still spoken in Jamaica in that circumstance as evidence.
S7: It’s a kind of fossil footprint of what language was originally brought to Jamaica and then ended up mixing in with English. And there are similar kinds of situations. And so, for example, in Barbados, it’s often said that they speak the most standard ish patois, their patois closest to English. For better or for worse. They often pride themselves on speaking something that isn’t as far from English as you might hear in Jamaica or other places. But the truth is, if you go and interview elderly, very rural Barbadians Baigent has one actually says then it was discovered in the 80s. I don’t think these people are around anymore, but it was discovered in the 80s that they speak something much less like English and they don’t speak something like this maroon spirit language, as it’s called in Jamaica. But they spoke something that was much more Creole. So there was an original situation that’s been effaced to a large extent today. But you can still find the evidence. And this language ended up having a Jamaican or a Barbadian like fate in various places. And so Guyanese sometimes it’s called Creole Guyanese. That is the same thing that ended up taking root in Guyana. There is the same thing in Belize. There is the same thing even in Nicaragua, where the history is such that you have Spanish as the formal language spoken. You learn that in school. But among many people in Nicaragua, these are the quote unquote Creole people. They are from a migration from the island Caribbean a long time ago.
S5: And what they speak is what they call English. And many of them do speak English. It depends on their life circumstances. But really, the lingua franca among them is something very much like Jamaican Creole. So you learn Spanish as you get older and you go to school and you start understanding what you’re hearing on TV.
S2: But I remember once when I was in a Creole speaking village in Nicaragua and I was not raised with patois. I was raised in Philadelphia speaking boring old English.
S5: And this cute little girl came up to me and she said, Why are you on me? And I said, What? And she said, Why are you? And I just turned and I asked I asked somebody, what does she say?
S7: And it turned out she was saying, why you name what’s your name? She was basically speaking deep Jamaican. To me, that was the only language she spoke at her, probably three years old. She was being very friendly. But all I heard was just as well your name. And that’s because she was speaking a very different language. She was speaking this West Indian English patois and that was in Nicaragua. Cute little girl. Her name began with TI. I don’t remember the rest of it. That language gets spread throughout the Caribbean. It takes root in each place and becomes a new version of this thing in each place. And it depended on what was going on, what actually came out linguistically. So for example, that original language that emerged in Ghana in its purest form in the new world that exists today only in Surinam. West Indian patois is something that most of us have probably heard in some form. You may have trouble understanding it, but you also may have trouble processing it as not English. It seems like something in between. That’s because in those places, this original language from Ghana has always existed, mixed in with English.
S5: But things were different in Suriname. Suriname was a British colony for about ten seconds in the mid sixteen hundreds, and then the Dutch took over. It was an interesting exchange, actually. The Dutch take Suriname and then there’s a Dutch colony elsewhere that the English take, and that was New York. And so that’s why New Amsterdam became New York. So there was a trade here in the United States. Frankly, we only think about that. But the trade meant that the Dutch got Surinam, this plantation colony. So what that meant was that this language that had been transported from Ghana to this colony got to stay the way it was. It hasn’t been existing, all mixed in with English for the past several centuries. Instead, it stayed more or less the way it was then in terms of its basic structure. So some questions that might have come up at this point. How do we know that all of those varieties have the same father language? How do we know that they’re all the same thing? Because really, you might think, OK, you are African, you are in a plantation setting, you’re learning English on the fly on. Orally, you know, there’s no such thing as Rosetta Stone or Berlitz in these settings, and so wouldn’t you expect that from place to place people would come up with similar solutions? And so in one place, the word for dog is dog. That’s in Srna. Well, wouldn’t you expect that maybe somebody would call a dog a dog somewhere else to is just kind of natural because African languages tend to have that consonant vowel, consonant balance or Talkeetna. So W instead of dog, that sort of thing, wouldn’t they all come out the same way? But the truth is, yes, there would be similarities. So if you are exposed to about 500 words of English and nobody gives you any grammar, there are certain things that you’re different renditions are going to have in common. But there is things that you’ll generally have in common. And then there are idiosyncrasies.
S2: For example, I have had occasion sitting on a plane and I saw a native speaker of Guyanese Creole start having a conversation with a native speaker of Gullah from South Carolina. Now, they were sitting there talking and, you know, looking into their eyes. I could see that they were missing a thing or two here and there, but they were basically like a Swede talking to a Norwegian. And the reason that they could communicate was because they were like Swedish, Norwegian speaking variations on the same language. And to pull the camera in a little closer, the way that you know, that Guyanese and Gulla are based on the same thing is the same way that you know, how, for example, groups of animals are related to each other. For example, dinosaurs, you know, you think, well, what do all dinosaurs have in common? Well, they were big fuckers, but, you know, a lot of dinosaurs were quite small. So then you think, well, you know, they were and try there. If they weren’t all big, then, well, they were just old. But there were a lot of old things.
S5: How do you know something is a dinosaur? What is it that a Tyrannosaurus and a brontosaurus have in common?
S7: Other than that they were big and old, especially when they were Tyrannosaurus. Is that were the size of that little girl in Nicaragua? It’s not just the size and it’s not just the old. And it’s usually these very boring things like there things about their bones that are so dull that you talk about it and people in the next room go to sleep. But in one of their ankle bones, there’s this weird little concave hole and that hole is there to take the fibula. You know, that that leg bone that’s kind of crappy. And it’s next to the better one. That tibia that seems like a real leg bone. You know, when you’re eating the fibula, is that bad one? Well, there’s this little concave hole that takes the fibula. All dinosaurs have that in common. Some shitty creature back in the Triassic happened to have that trait for God knows what reason. And that got passed on to everything that that creature became. Or for those of you who like rocks, you know, they’ll be some isotope of some atom. And that’s how you can trace where it came from. Languages are like that. And so how you decide that there was a father language that then became a bunch of other languages is often some little ankle depression. And so, for example, in these Creoles, there things that are just so specific, so quirky that they must all have come from the same thing because this quirky thing couldn’t have happened by chance in all of them. So, for example, there’s the way they used the word self. These English Creoles almost all use the word self where we would use even in 09. If you want to say he even had another horse, the way you say it is he had another horse self and we would never use self that way. And why self is used that way as a whole other story. But it just is. And so I then I’ll be one try to see if he can have one other horse self. Now if just run under that then you’d figure, well that’s this weird thing that goes on in Surinam for some reason. But then in Guyanese it’s got one Nexstar self, that same self Jamaican Imahara next to self and it just goes all over the place. The same thing in South Carolina today. There are people in the islands who are saying he even had another horse, if they choose to say that, and it’s not a whole SIFF itself. So basically, however that self happened, that’s something that would only have happened once. That is the little depression in the ankle bone that tells you that there was some original language where that choice was made because of the alignment of the planets. And now all the languages have it because they’re just carrying it along. Like we human beings have Taleban’s in there because it doesn’t hurt anything. There are a whole lot of things like that in these languages that show that they’re not all just something that started as non-native in. Was there’s something that started as one rendition of non-native English that now is many different ones. So that’s a little lesson for you in how historic a linguist, as we call it, figure out how the languages of the world are related. Creoles can be applied that just like any other language, then how do you know it’s from Africa? So I’m talking about how almost certainly this language emerged on the West African coast. Well, how do you know? Well, one way that, you know, is things in the languages. And so, for example, one of the most peculiar things about all of these English Creoles is the way they do you in the plural. So I will be something we recognize. You might be you. We is going to be we or as we saw it might be something like you. And they is going to be day or day or something like that. But then for plural, you English of course, doesn’t have one, but none of these languages are satisfied with that. But they come up with a solution we’d never expect. The word is unu. It’s this completely un English word. Sometimes it’s Oonagh, sometimes it’s Hudner, sometimes it’s wunna, but it’s clearly all variations on the same very non English word. So I remember once I was in a barbershop and it was a black barbershop because I’m black and they had magazines and the magazines were for black people and one of the magazines was Essence and the other magazine was something I didn’t want to read. I forget why. So I figured I’m going to just have to read an issue of essence. Essence is a woman’s magazine. It’s marketed as that. But one thing they had in it was lots of ads for food and cooking. And one of them said, una golove, the seasoning, una golove doloris seasoning. They were doing a South Carolina thing. They were emphasizing its southern roots. Oonagh, that meant you all are going to love Lowri seasoning. And it comes out that way in Creole after Creole. So in for example, stron on our Creole feature for the day I is me, you is you, he, she and it ah ah. That’s a whole other story. We oh they did you all unal and you just find that in Creole after Creole. Not every single one of them because life is sloppy but it’s there. Well what do we know. Well it certainly isn’t English and it’s not any other kind of English. There’s no regional English that’s been discovered where people are saying UNU instead of you. When they’re talking about y’all, people say y’all, they say Ewan’s. They just say you and let it be confusing. They do not say what might. Oh no, there is no such thing. But then you think, well it must be from all those African languages. But the thing is, those African languages are all as different from one another as English is from German is frankly from Italian. You’ve got massive differences as you move along that coast. And if you look at what languages have what for plural, you the only language along that coast that has UNU and one of them does is Ebow and that’s spoken in the southeast of Nigeria. There is no language that instead has like on or on or anything like it. It’s a completely different word in Chewey, in Funt Bay in Yarrabah, you go up and down the coast, there’s only one UNU and it’s in Ipoh. Now, the funny thing is the EBOs were not dominant in terms of the composition of slaves on plantations in English colonies that we often were, or often the Congo from much further down on the coast, often were. But numerically, EBOs were never especially dominant. And more to the point, you hate to get into these things. But in terms of the very different African people who were brought to plantations, often there were senses that people from one place had tendencies in terms of personality or what have you, that people from other places didn’t. And there’s a whole lot of fiction in all of this. But no one ever said that the Ibos were dominant. That was said constantly about the TWE, for example, in the Congo, but not the EBOs. They in terms of how they were depicted, didn’t God knows why they didn’t like being slaves. That was not something that they adjusted to gracefully. I think we can all understand that. But that means that it wasn’t that they were EBOs all over the Caribbean who were dominant and therefore imposing their word for y’all. And especially why would it be just that word? Why that same word from place to place? This then, is that dinosaur ankle thing. That is something that would have only happened once. We may never know exactly why the EBOW contributed the word to y’all in all of these languages. But what we can know is that it means that there was just one language at first that happened to make that choice, and that would almost certainly have only been up on the West African coast because Ebow is spoken in the area where the English had the most of. These slave castles, and there’s even some evidence, it’s just a lot of evidence, but there’s some evidence that castle slaves were sometimes taken from over in Ebow territory and brought into Ghana just to squeak. But that would have, for example, maybe meant that these people realize that this English doesn’t have a plural. You in a normal language does. And the Ibos had UNU and maybe, you know, it’s fun to say. And so that winds up in it or in general not to take it too far into the weeds. But if you look at that African coast, start way up in Mali and you make your way down to Angola all the way down, not only are you dealing with dozens of languages, but the languages are very, very different. There is no such thing as an African language template. They divide into four different families at least, and the families are as different as Japanese and English are. And what’s interesting is that all of these Creoles, you’ve got Gullah, Guyanese, Ranong, all of them have a basic grammatical pattern that involves, for example, this business of carry him go in their car and go so not carry him in there. But you say carry and then go. You string verbs together in that way. That’s something that only happens on one part of the West African coast. It’s the stretch from Ghana actually through Nigeria. Go west of that and you lose that whole structure, go east of that. And you’ve got a whole different way of being a language there. Certain West African languages that for some reason have a grammar, a lot like Chinese. I actually heard that Africans from that area actually find Chinese much easier than people almost anywhere in the world. There’s a reason if you know somebody from Nigeria who speaks Yoruba, Yoruba is almost alarmingly like Chinese in many ways. So it’s right there. And the verbs strung together is only one of many things. All the Creoles have that despite that sleigh’s from all over that coast were brought to the new world. So slaves were brought from Senegal and Liberia and Angola and all these different places. Why is it that the structure of the languages is always that kind of Chinese way that languages like Twi and Yarrabah? It’s because the language originally arose up there and then was brought to the Caribbean. So you see, we’ve got a kind of a detective story here. Being a linguist can sometimes be being a detective. So we’re getting near the end of the story. But there’s more there’s a whole other direction. But, you know, it’s time for a break and talk about UNU. There is one witty realist who has said that maybe UNU came from you and you, you and you. And he was only kidding. And no, it didn’t come from you and you. But on the subject of you and you, you know, call me Elizabeth Warren. I have a song for that. This is Steve from Married with Children, David Garrison in his Broadway singer phase, which came after he left that show and also was before it. This is nasty political Gershwin. This is Gershwin’s ugly, sour political musical that actually culminates in a virtual beheading. The musical is called Let Them Eat Cake. This is a song called Down With Everything That’s Up. This is political. This is very early 30s. It’s very Dorothy Day.
S10: Conditions as they are cannot go very far. The world must move. And I am here to. The brotherhood of man is crying for a plan. So here’s my plan I know you can’t improve at.
S11: So national joke is based on.
S10: Down with one and one, make two down with everything in view, down with all majorities, likewise all minorities, down with you and you and you don’t want to break down with all of us here. Somehow I abominate everything. You nominate every. That’s the torch we’re going to get the flame from. If you don’t like it, why don’t you go back where it came from?
S11: Why don’t you do it before you paying? Let’s tear down the house of Morgan and let’s burn up the rocsi yogurt down with Curry and Makkawi, down with chow mein and chop suey. With music by Stravinsky downwith shows except by mentioning. Happiness is not with everything that’s up of.
S2: So did you hear how there’s you and you in there? So that’s how I tried to tie all this together. By the way, folks, it’s time for me to mention that you could have more on this show than you think there is. You could have a little tag afterwards where for a few minutes I go on about something that’s often completely different from the episode or something that adds into what you’ve heard in the episode. And that is something that you can hear if you subscribe to what we call Slate. Plus Slate plus is a program that you can sign up with for a nominal fee. And what you get with Slate plus is you get this tag like in an old sitcom, you get a little bit more, which you can’t really hear in any other way. Also, you don’t have to listen to any commercials. You will hear the episode continuously without those interruptions. And then not only my show, this would be with all of Slate’s podcasts. So for that nominal fee, you really get an easier and fuller listen. It’s kind of like better liquor. And to be honest, in these times and you know what’s different about these times, it really would help slate out to have quite bluntly that nominal fee. And so not only do you get something special, but you help Slate make it through quarantine, so to speak. So try Slate plus, you’ll be glad you did. For example, this time you’ll learn what Creole languages have to do with sincerity. So there’s more this part of the story is so seldom told to the general public. And it actually answers a question that I often get about these languages.
S5: Basically, you’ve got the Revolutionary War and I think the the Americans won. But of course, there were slaves who fought alongside the British. Well, what happened to them?
S7: Well, with a lot of them, the British resettled them. Where are you going to take them? Well, one place that they thought that these people would be happy is way up in sunny Nova Scotia or various slaves who now were not slaves anymore. And they get to live in Nova Scotia. As you can imagine, they found that a bit of an adjustment. Many stayed, but many the next phase was they were taken across the ocean to somewhere with maybe more approachable weather. And one of those places was Sierra Leone back on the West African coast in Freetown. The capital wasn’t only them in Jamaica. Talk about the Maroons. These are people who resisted slavery and moved into encampments in the mountains. The Maroons kept resisting and they kept taking slaves from plantations. And as you can imagine, the whites running Jamaica didn’t like this. And after a major revolt, many Maroons were transported once again to Sierra Leone. So in Sierra Leone, in Freetown, you had this mixture of people speaking early Jamaican patois and early Gulla. And that means that this language had been taken back to West Africa. The English still have their settlements all along that coast. So Sierra Leone is one place and they train black administrators. And the black administrators speak not only English, but also this vernacular kind of English. And so this language, this Creole language that for a while in the seventeen hundreds had only been known as this Creole English of the Caribbean, and the surrounding area ended up being taken down the coast where today that same language is spoken as a vernacular variety. In Ghana, linguists call it Ghanaian pidgin English. People in Ghana just call it broken English, which is based on a common sense. That language that isn’t written, language that’s colloquial is broken. And we Americans are certainly quite familiar with that. And so many Ghanaians will tell you that Ghanaian pidgin English, as they call it, is just this sort of broken mess. But really, it’s the same Creole with the same structure as Ranaan and really it’s the same language run on just a different dialect. So you have Ghana, you keep going Nigerian, quote unquote, pidgin English or what they call broken English is that same language. You go further down to Cameroon and you’ve got the exact same thing there. So there are a few lessons to learn in Ghana and in Nigeria and in Cameroon. This language is called pidgin, as if it was the kind of peach jello that isn’t ready yet. That is because there’s a slip between folk terminology and scientific terminology. And just it’s important to remember that even though they call this language in Nigeria, for example, pidgin, it’s got the same structure. It’s got a very similar grammar to Scranton, which nobody calls pidgin. Everybody in Suriname knows that it is a language of its own. So that’s just the name of it. Pidgin. It is a Creole language in terms of how linguists look at it, it’s a Creole language. There is a grammatical description of Nigerian pidgin. If you dropped it on your foot, you would probably say shit. And that’s because there is a lot to describe it. In Ghana, it’s the same thing is not a pigeon. It is very much a Creole. And it’s the oddest experience sometimes to happen to be a linguist. And I happen to be a specialist in these kinds of languages to talk to actual people who often speak six languages, which is, you know, better than me. And one of them is this broken, what they’re calling broken. And they’ll often tell you, oh, no, it’s not real language. And yet what they’re speaking is fluent, nuanced command of a whole separate language. The way we think of our speech is different from the way it is. It’s just like me saying, is it such a thing or a such thing that somebody writes me about every month? I have no idea. And the fact that I apparently say, wah, I don’t know that well. Same thing with things like this. So not a pigeon, but people often ask me, not necessarily from Lexicon Valley, but in life they’ll say, why is it that I’m Jamaican and I can understand almost everything they’re saying in Nigerian songs or I’ve had Nigerian say I feel right at home listening to Jamaican patois. Why is that? And it’s not just because both of these are cases where people had to learn English partially and then make do it because really their same language. And so, for example, in Jamaican you have this unu for y’all in Nigerian oonagh. Well, of course it’s the same thing. Or in Jamaican. He even had another horse, Imar one next herself. Next is another in Nigerian. How do you say he even had another horse even get one or the horse. Sayef that same thing. Multiply all of that, all these arbitrary little things. And what you have is variations on the same language. Now me sitting here pretending to speak these languages isn’t good enough. And so let’s listen to some Nigerian pidgin. And I really enjoyed the one with the hair in Sorona. And it was I was thinking based on the sorts of stuff that I watch my little girls watching on YouTube, I was thinking, I’ll bet. Now, in just about any language, you’ve got people who are scootering themselves in their native languages. And I thought, I’ll bet there’s a Nigerian pidgin thing where somebody is doing their hair. And there was, but I didn’t want to use that. But then there’s this other thing of a Nigerian pidgin speaker who is doing her makeup. And so let’s listen to a little bit of what she says when they say the pilots. These are the colors that are inside of the palette. This nardy colors with day inside the palette, that sentence alone. So these are she says this not right out of Sorona. It’s the same language. This is this not for is this not that started in Ghana. It was taken to Suriname and now it’s in Lagos. Then the colors where they’re inside the palette and so the colors way. And that’s what like the man what brung me can’t dance or something like that way. And so the colors, which you can think of it as day inside the day is another is this is a subtle thing about all of these Kriol. So these are the colors. So what is this, these nare? But if there is is about where something is then you don’t say not. You say that all of these Creoles have that exact same thing and the word NA is always either NA or they’re all variations on the same word and the word for where something is is always, always debt. And so these are the colors way inside the palette. That’s exactly the way Stranahan would put it with that debt. Or if we can go a little further, might play play this part where she’s got this the stick, just become a blam everywhere we apply that concealer. So she says Mieko just stickum apply. OK, so megacorp that goal is from our word. I’ll give you a guess. And in early start on it was go to now it’s all in certain languages. Contract in different ways. In Nigerian pidgin it’s still go but megathrust just stick and then stickum apply them. And so there’s no it in almost all of these languages you have. Um and that can mean him or her or it. So somebody in South Carolina would perfectly recognize that as it. So miga just stickum apply them. So Nigerian pidgin. Not only is it not a pigeon, it’s a Creole but it’s the same Creole that’s spoken in South Carolina and Surinam. Then you go down to Cameroon and you just find such interesting things. Cameroon is something we never hear anything about it. And yet a conservative count is there about 150 languages, indigenous languages spoken in Cameroon, many of which have been barely.
S2: Describe in all of which are viciously interesting, then you have English and French as the big, fat, dominant European languages, then you have this quote unquote pidgin, which is a full fledged Creole language. Often it’s called calm talk like Cameroon talk calm talk. Then this is whole other dialect of calm talk that has a whole lot of French in it. The technical term for that is French. He can’t talk. I just made that up. But that is practically a different language because of the vocabulary. Then there’s this French English, come talk mix up. It’s like French English and come talk. All had a big car accident and that is called Campanile and that’s just this whole other thing. All of these things are what you speak as a Cameroonian. If you meet a Cameroonian, probably they speak English, they speak French, they speak Cameroonian pidgin, which they’re going to call broken. But it’s actually as much a language as English and French. Then they probably speak to indigenous languages. We are so vanilla in America in terms of what we think of as a normal linguistic competence. Broadway fans. No, I’m not. I don’t like vanilla ice cream. And that song is too soprano. But yeah, we do need Barbara Cook. And so what I’m going to use is something I’ve avoided playing on this show for a long time because it really is just too much what it is. But this is the wonderful soprano, Barbara Cook. If I listen to a soprano, the first one I always think of as her and this is a song called This Kind Of a Girl. It’s from a show from 1961. It was called The Gay Life. It wasn’t about what it sounds like. And in later productions, it’s called The High Life. It’s about Austrians and people wearing hats. The point here is that she’s in love with a man who’s more experienced than she is.
S7: She’s a an inexperienced young girl and he is something of a roue. And they’re trying to work out what kind of relationship they’re going to have. And the man talking here, his name is Walter Chiri. He was a matinee idol in Italy and somewhat beyond. He was horrible in this show. And actually, the lyricist for this, this is Howard Dietz’s lyrics and Arthur Schwartz’s songs. He said in his memoir that unfortunately, the gay life was hobbled by a leading man who could neither act, dance, sing or speak English. And you could hear it. I quote that about his English, but you can hear what he meant by the clumsiness of all this in anything that he says. But unfortunately, there’s only one recording.
S12: So this is this kind of a girl, except in her world, a girl is not afraid to give love. I’m sorry, the truth is sometimes indelicate.
S13: He should be waiting there for you. Listening on the for.
S14: She runs to.
S13: Is that what she says, something like that.
S7: All right, we’ll cut it here because he keeps fucking it up, but I have always been very touched by the way Barbara Cook renders that feeling I should fill in that the original language is no longer spoken in Ghana. It’s tempting to think that this Ghanaian pidgin English is a remnant of this thing that emerged at Normanton. But all evidence is that Ghanaian pidgin English came in when the Sierra Leone language, which today is called Cuyo, was transported down. Those slave castles fell into disuse, thank God. And the language that was used between Africans and Europeans they’re there for just would have disappeared with the wind. So that language isn’t spoken there anymore. In that form. The closest we can get to the original form today is Sorona. But in a way the language came back, which is just the most marvelous thing. Now, I should say, as the responsible academic that I at least try to be, there are Creoles who would disagree with some of the things that I have said here. Creole studies as academia and academics like to disagree. Some of them, for example, would say that the language didn’t arise on the West African coast. They would say that it emerged in the Caribbean, on Barbados, and that’s not absolutely impossible. But frankly, I consider it vanishingly unlikely. And to be even more frank, because sometimes I like to let you guys into how real life works in certain areas of my existence. I’m not sure that most Creoles have actually examined the issue closely enough to really have any strong feeling either way about West Africa or Barbados. It’s an issue that I have not really propounded for about 20 years. And most Creoles have different subarea interests than any of this touches upon. And so I feel pretty confident in telling you that this language emerged there. But many Creoles would tell you that, no, that hasn’t been proven. And I can’t say that it’s been proven, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not right. In any case, also with Barbados, it may not have been Barbados. There’s some evidence that it was on a different tiny island, that things first happened in the Caribbean, that different island would have been St Kitts. I have no way at present of deciding exactly which island it was. But because we do know that South Carolina and Suriname and Jamaica were settled from Barbados, I’m keeping the story clean by just starting it there. But St Kitts may actually have had something to do with it. And then there are all sorts of other details that I won’t bother you with or if I do.
S1: Well, as Homer Simpson said, there are perfectly good answers to those questions, but they’ll have to wait for another night now off to bed anyway, folks, that’s the story as I know it.
S7: It’s a linguistic miracle. We only see the tip of the iceberg for it. But it started in Ghana at Carment and it spread through the Caribbean and beyond and then it went back to Africa. All of those languages are the progeny of something that started in the sixteen forties and is still with us today as some of the world’s newest languages. And you know, we’re going to go out on more of that delightful. I don’t think I’ll end it all today that I started this with a very odd song about, you know, foreswearing suicide from a Broadway musical of the 1950s. That song is by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. And that means that you’re listening to a song written by the guys who fewer than 20 years before had written the score to The Wizard of Oz. And here’s the song with, you know, things like Seconal in it all way with the river, all way with the rays of the.
S3: It’s a with to get away with the second on the fall from the building tall.
S2: In any case, you can reach us at Lexicon Valley, at Slate Dotcom, that’s Lexicon Valley at Slate dot com, to listen to past shows and subscribe or just to reach out, go to Slate Dotcom Lexicon Valley now lined up online, mantlepiece almost all the flavors of Pepsi’s line of bubbly brand seltzer’s cherry raspberry, strawberry, cranberry, grapefruit, peach, mango, white, ginger, peach which is completely different. Pineapple, lemon, apple, lime, blueberry, pomegranate and blackberry. Watermelon is elusive, at least in my area this time. I’ll bet they discontinued it even before they knew I liked it. I’m also still looking for orange, but might follow is as always, the editor. And I am John McWhorter. For Slate, plus, this episode continuing with this silly The Jeffersons theme, there is one episode of Jeffersons where the neighbor, Mr. Bentley, comes downstairs and prefaces whatever silly business he’s about to contribute to the plot by giving the etymology of the word sincere. And he says that sincere comes from the Latin for without sin and then wax the seer part. And the idea is that there was a time when with Greek statues, you would adulterate the statue, you tried to hide some hole or some black with wax. So the idea was that a really solid Greek statue, a really fine piece of work was without the wax sincere. Now, you listen to that and you think that’s interesting. But actually that is a quote unquote old wives tale. That’s not where sincere comes from. But actually, it’s funny where sincere really came from relates to the topic of this episode. And that is because the sin in Sincere was same. We’re talking about an old steps of the Ukraine route that goes back to something that would have meant same. And then the sphere goes back to something that started as care. And so the care became a third and so on. But care would actually have meant to grow. Now, what’s interesting about this care is that once it leaves Ukraine and spreads all over Europe, not to mention parts of South Asia, then you have it meaning all sorts of things. And in our language, that care is in create, for example, so growing and creation. It’s in crescendo as in a growing noise, and it’s also in Creole. That’s because of growing Creole goes back to a Portuguese word that means to take care of like a child creer and that goes back to care. So it’s all about growing. So that means that sincere isn’t about statues that don’t have any wax, but sincere and Creole actually come from the same root. Now, if you want a dandy little story like that without wax, then I can give you one. It’s one of my favorites. It’s alive. And so in French there’s this Olivea and that’s where English gets its arrive. Instead of just saying to come or to get there and arrive is something where you’d suppose that if there’s this ugly they in French then there must be something in Latin. Legat Rivara But no, there isn’t a word like that. Rather RGV arrive goes back to a Latin idiom. It was odd too. And then Rippa like Kelly Ripa Rippa The Shore. So you get to the shore odd rippa you could make that into a verb. It was probably something that made certain Romans chuckle. At a certain point you would add Rippa So let’s go to the shore it let’s get to the shore with ourselves. A drip, drip, drip, drip becomes arvi via the alleyway and now we have arrived. So Arrive goes back to an idiom. I’m sorry Harry Bentley. But Sincere does not have anything to do with wax. But you know it’s just as cute that arrive has to do with an idiom that sailors in ancient Rome used to talk about getting to the shore so that they could go meet their wives and drink whatever it is they drank. So that is your Slate plus segment for this episode.