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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cracking the Gullah Code

If you’re a regular reader of the Collections Search Center blog then you know the Lorenzo Dow Turner papers have been the topic of several posts.  If not, here’s a refresher:  Dr. Turner, the first professionally trained African American linguistic, known as the “father of Gullah studies,” proved through scientific research that the Gullah dialect spoken by African Americans living on the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia was a Creole language, heavily influenced by the languages of their West African ancestors.   

Sea-Island Dialect of South Carolina, Lorenzo D. Turner papers, Anacostia CommunityMuseum Archives, gift of Lois Turner Williams [ACMA 06-017.1]

Turner interviewed and recorded over twenty Gullah informants for his research that would later inform his seminal book, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect.  According to Margaret Wade-Lewis, Turner’s biographer, Professor Turner often made photocopies of his transcribed interviews with various Gullah speakers and provided them to his students as course “handouts.” “Sea-Island Dialect of South Carolina” is an example of Turner’s class materials and gives us a glimpse into his process for cracking the Gullah language code.

The Anacostia Community Museum needs your assistance in making the “Sea-Island Dialect of South Carolina” accessible and available to the public. Visit the Smithsonian Transcription Center and try your hand at transcribing Turner’s interviews!

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

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