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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Krio: Creole language of Sierra Leone

Krio, a creole language credited with unifying most if not all of Sierra Leone is thought to have originated during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and over time developed as a method of communication between newly freed African slaves, as well as returned British and American Blacks, West Indians, and natives originally from the African Coast who settled in the West African nation during the early to mid-19th century.

Sign before entering the British Slave Castle ruins.  Dr. Turner took this image while conducting field work in Bunce Island, Sierra Leone, 1951. Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895-1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams. 

Linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner had a special interest in the Krio language due to its history and structure, and similarity to the Gullah language spoken in America. Turner was fascinated with the origins of the African diaspora in countries like America and Brazil so Turner focused his scholarship on drawing conclusions and highlighting the similarities of commonly associated patterns of speech, processes of thought, and ways of life so typically exemplified in Black communities in the West.

In 1951 Turner conducted fieldwork in Sierra Leone.  In the backdrop of Turner’s visit was the founding of the SLPP, the Sierra Leone’s People’s party, whose members had advocated for the political independence of the Protectorate, and who would later come to dominate the political arena in Sierra Leone late into the 1960s. Present among the throng of political unrest, Turner was not only able to capture the underlining social, political, and economic issues occurring in West Africa but interview one of the most  influential African linguists in Sierra Leone: Thomas Leighton Decker.

In interviewing Decker and other informants, Turner was able to discover and examine the linguistic components of the Krio language, a language that is today spoken by more than 90% of the population of Sierra Leone. In his field notebook, Dr. Turner compiled notes relating to syntax, morphology, and semantic structures as well as the etymology of words and phrases most commonly associated with Krio speaking people.     Later he produced two Krio texts An Anthology of Krio Folklore and Literature, with Notes and Inter-linear Translations in English (1963) and Krio Texts: With Grammatical Notes and Translations in English (1965).

Dr. Turner recorded this unidentified Creole informant  while conducting field work in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1951. Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895-1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams. 
Dr. Turner also used his research to develop education programs, lectures and courses for students, and he used the political crisis and conflicts in Sierra Leone and various other African states during his travels as a means to build upon his studies. By focusing on the expressions of language found in African proverbs and folklore, Turner was able to open doors that enabled further exploration of African culture.  The results of his fieldwork enabled him to place the importance of various African languages, customs and dialects on par with European languages.

Scroll through the pages of Turner’s Freetown Creole field notebook to transcribe and discover similarities between Krio and other creole languages.

Lorenzo Dow Turner's field notebook, Freetown Creole, Sierra Leone, B.W.A., October 1951.  Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895-1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams.  

Bremacha LaGuerre
Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Volunteer

1 comment:

  1. tha african languages are dying we need to find ways to resurrect them