The Sierra Leonean Creole or Krio is an English-based creole language that is lingua franca and de facto national language spoken throughout the West African nation of Sierra Leone. Krio is spoken by 96 percent of the country's population,[3][4] and it unites the different ethnic groups in the country, especially in their trade and social interaction with each other.[5] Krio is the primary language of communication among Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad,[6] and has also heavily influenced Sierra Leonean English.[7] The language is native to the Sierra Leone Creole people, or Krios, a community of about 104,311[3] descendants of freed slaves from the West Indies, Canada, United States and the British Empire, and is spoken as a second language by millions of other Sierra Leoneans belonging to the country's indigenous tribes. Krio, along with English, is the official language of Sierra Leone.

Native toSierra Leone
EthnicitySierra Leone Creoles
Gambian Creoles
Krio Fernandinos[1]
Nigerian Creoles[2]
Native speakers
830,000 (2022)[3]
7.5 million L2 speakers in Sierra Leone (2022)[3]
English Creole
  • Atlantic
    • Krio
Language codes
ISO 639-3kri
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Video of an L2 speaker of the Krio language

Overview edit

The Krio language is an offshoot of the languages and variations of English brought by the Nova Scotian Settlers from North America, Maroons from Jamaica, and the numerous liberated African slaves who settled in Sierra Leone.[8]

All freed slaves—the Jamaican Maroons, African-Americans, and Liberated Africans—influenced Krio, but the Jamaican Maroons, Igbo, Yoruba and Akan Liberated Africans were the most influential. It seems probable that the basic grammatical structure and vowel system of Krio is an offshoot of Jamaican Maroon Creole[9] spoken by the Maroons, as there are well-documented and important direct historical connections between Jamaica and Sierra Leone. The language was also influenced by African American Vernacular English while the majority of the African words in Krio come from the Akan, Yoruba and Igbo.[8][10]

As an English-based creole language, the Sierra Leone Krio is distinct from a pidgin as it is a language in its own right,[11][12] with fixed grammatical structures and rules. Krio also draws from other European languages, like Portuguese and French, e.g. the Krio word gentri/gentree, which means wealth or to acquire wealth, is derived from the Old French word 'gentry', and the Krio word pikin, which means 'child', indirectly comes from the Portuguese word pequeno meaning 'small' and often used to mean children in Portuguese.[13][14]

In Sierra Leone, the Krio Language is spoken by people with different degrees of fluency, as well as regional changes to the Krio. Many of the speakers of Sierra Leone Krio live in or close to the capital city, Freetown. As of 2007, there were close to 350,000 individuals who spoke Krio as a primary language. Even more individuals were using it as a main language for communication purposes in the country as a whole.[15]

Language origins edit

One theory suggests the early roots of Krio go back to the Atlantic slave trade era in the 17th and 18th centuries when an English-based "pidgin" language (West African Pidgin English, also called Guinea Coast Creole English) arose to facilitate the coastal trade between Europeans and Africans. This early pidgin later became the lingua franca of regional trade among West Africans themselves and likely spread up the river systems to the African interior. After the founding of Freetown, this preexisting pidgin was incorporated into the speech of the various groups of freed slaves landed in Sierra Leone between 1787 and about 1855. The pidgin gradually evolved to become a stable language, the native language of descendants of the freed slaves (which are now a distinct ethnic and cultural group, the Creoles), and the lingua franca of Sierra Leone.[16]

Language usage edit

Krio usage in Sierra Leone edit

Most ethnic and cultural Creoles live in and around Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, and their community accounts for about 3% to 6% of Sierra Leone's total population (Freetown is the province where the returned slaves from London and Nova Scotia settled).[17] However, because of their cultural influence in Sierra Leone, especially during the period of colonial rule, their language is used as the lingua franca among all the ethnic groups in Sierra Leone.

Krio speakers abroad edit

The Sierra Leone Creole people acted as traders and missionaries in other parts of West Africa during the 19th century, and as a result, there are also Krio-speaking communities in The Gambia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal, and Guinea.[18] As a result of Sierra Leone Creole migratory patterns, in the Gambia, the Gambian Creoles or Aku community speak Krio. The Fernando Po Creole English language of Equatorial Guinea is also largely a result of Sierra Leone Creole migrants. A small number of liberated Africans returned to the land of their origins, such as the Saros of Nigeria who not only took their Western names with them but also imported Krio words like sabi into Nigerian Pidgin English.

Language revival edit

During the period of colonial rule, Sierra Leoneans (particularly among the upper class) were discouraged from speaking Krio; but after independence from the United Kingdom in 1961, writers and educators began promoting its use. In the 1960s, Thomas Decker translated some of Shakespeare's plays into Krio, and composed original poetry in the language. In the 1980s, the New Testament was translated into Krio. Beginning with the involvement of Lutheran Bible Translators,[19] Krio-language translations of the New Testament and Old Testament were published in 1986 and 2013.

While English is Sierra Leone's official language, the Ministry of Education began using Krio as the medium of instruction in some primary schools in Freetown in the 1990s. Radio stations now broadcast a wide variety of programs in Krio. Sierra Leonean politicians also routinely give public speeches in the language.

Classification edit

Krio is an English-based creole from which descend Nigerian Pidgin English and Cameroonian Pidgin English and Pichinglis. It is also similar to English-based creole languages spoken in the Americas, especially Jamaican Patois (Jamaican Creole), Sranan Tongo (Surinamese Creole), Bajan Creole and Gullah language, but it has its own distinctive character. It also shares some linguistic similarities with non-English creoles, such as the French-based creoles of the Caribbean.

Phonology edit

Krio contains seven monophthongs in its inventory of vowels, all of which can be nasalized. Most nasal vowels occur in words derived from English, in cases where an oral vowel precedes a nasal consonant. The nasal consonant is deleted and the vowel is nasalized.[20]

Vowels edit

Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a

Krio has three diphthongs: /ai/, /au/, and /ɔi/.

Consonants edit

There are 24 phonemes in the consonant inventory of Krio.[20]

Bilabial Labiodental Labial–velar Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular
Plosive voiceless p kp t k
voiced b ɡb d ɡ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ
voiced v z ʒ ʁ
Affricate voiceless
Central w j <y>
Lateral l
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ

Consonant cluster reduction is a common process in phonology. It is typically applied to lexical items in English containing two or more consonants in a row including an initial s. Some examples include:[21]

Krio word English meaning
plit 'split'
trit 'street'
tret 'straight'
pit 'spit'
prɛd 'spread'
tap 'stop'

Replacing a stop for a fricative, known as stopping substitution, is also common in words of English origin. Some examples include:

Krio word English meaning
dɛm 'them'
brɔda 'brother'
tɛŋki 'thanks'
ebi 'heavy'
dɛbul 'devil'
tit 'teeth'

There is also evidence of the influence of West African languages in the presence of the labial-velar plosives /kp/ and /gb/, as in:

Krio word English meaning
akpɔlɔ 'frog'
agbo 'medicinal herb'
gbagbati 'show of force'
kpatakpata 'completely finished'

Krio is a tonal language and makes contrastive use of tone in both African and English words. Examples of minimal pairs of words distinguished by tone patterns are:[22]

LL (low-low) LH (low-high) HL (high-low) HH (high-high)
'skin-irritating herb'
'go away'
'a young boy'
'a barber'
'a type of drum'
'a baby or a doll'
'girlfriend or attractive young woman'
'elder brother or older male relative'
'a Catholic priest'
'someone from the countryside'
'a country'

Grammar edit

The suffix "-dèm" is used to mark the plural, as well as the genitive plural e.g. "uman" ("woman").

singular plural
Oblique uman umandèm

Verbs edit

Verbs do not conjugate according to person or number, but reflect their tense. Tense, aspect and mood are marked by one or more tense or aspect markers. The tense markers are 'bin' for the past tense and 'go' for the future, the absence of either shows the present tense. Aspect is shown by 'dòn' for perfective and 'de' for imperfective. Infinitive is marked by 'fòr' and conditional by a combination of 'bin' and 'go'. Tendency is marked by 'kin' and 'nòbar'. The verbal paradigm is as follows:

English verb tenses Example in Krio
infinitive fòr go
present simple (unmarked) go
present progressive de go
perfect dòn go
perfect progressive dòn de go
future simple go go
future progressive go de go
future perfect go dòn go
future perfect progressive go dòn de go
past simple bin go
past progressive bin de go
past perfect bin dòn go
past perfect progressive bin dòn de go
conditional bin for go
conditional progressive bin for de go
conditional perfect bin for dòn go
conditional perfect progressive bin for dòn de go
tendency kin go
negative tendency nò kin/nòbar go

The hortative is marked by 'lè' e.g. 'lè wi go, lè wi tòk' and the optative by 'mè' e.g. 'mè yu Kingmara kam, mè yu Will bi duo'

Interrogatives edit

The following interrogatives can be used:

Krio word English meaning
udat who
wetin what
ustɛm when
usai where
wetin-mek why
us which
ɔmɔs how much/many

In addition, like many other creoles, a question can be asked simply by intonation. E.g. Yu de go?: 'Are you going' vs yu de go: 'you are going.' Additionally the question particles 'ènti' and 'nòoso' can be used at the start or end of the phrase respectively.

Pronouns edit

There is no distinction between masculine and feminine in any person and, unlike Standard English, there is a second person plural form. However, there are the hints of nominative, accusative and genitive cases.

Krio word English meaning
a, mi, mi I, me, my
yu you, your
i, in, am, im he/she/it, him/her/it, his/her/its
wi we, us, our
unu or una or ina you, you, your (plural)
dèm, dèn they, them, theirs

Orthography edit

Krio uses the Latin script but without Qq and Xx and with three additional letters from the African reference alphabet, Ɛɛ (open E), Ŋŋ (eng), and Ɔɔ (open O). Three tones can be distinguished in Krio and are sometimes marked with grave (à), acute (á), and circumflex (â) accents over the vowels for low, high, and falling tones respectively but these accents are not employed in normal usage.

The complete alphabet with digraphs:

Krio alphabet
Krio letter or digraph Example word English meaning
A, a wata water
Aw, aw naw now
Ay, ay yay eye
B, b bin already
Ch, ch cham chew
D, d dia expensive (< dear)
E, e let late
Ɛ, ɛ ɛp help
F, f fɔs first
G, g got goat
H, h Harry Harry
I, i titi little girl, small female child
J, j jomp jump
K, k kɔntri country
L, l liv live (being alive)
M, m muf/muv to move
N, n nak knock
Ny, ny nyu new
Ŋ, ŋ siŋ sing
O, o wok to work
Ɔ, ɔ bɔn born, give birth to
Ɔy, ɔy jɔy joy, happiness
P, p padi friend
R, r ren rain
S, s saf soft
Sh, sh shem shame, to be ashamed
T, t tif steal (< thief)
T, t tranga difficult, hard
U, u uman woman
V, v vot vote
W, w waka walk
Y, y yala yellow
Z, z zɛd the letter 'z'
Zh, zh plɛzhɔ pleasure

Language samples edit

Spontaneous language sample analysis is critical when evaluating and monitoring progress in communication and language acquisition.

Below are some sample words in Krio:

Krio word English meaning
Salone Sierra Leone
Adu, Kushɛh Hello, Hi
Padi Friend
Titi Girl
Bɔbɔ Boy
Mi Me
Pikin Child
Wɔwɔ Ugly
Yu You
Plaba Conflict
Sɔri, Ɔsh Sorry
Tɔk Talk
Fɔgɛt Forget
Ansa Answer
Mek Make
Bɔku Many, Too much
Uman Woman
Lef Stop
Mɔt Mouth
Kil Kill
Pipul People
Wetin What
Usay/Usai, We Where
Wetin-Mek Why
Ustɛm When
Vɛx Angry
Dia Expensive
Waka Walk
Cham Chew
Motoka Car
Sabi Know
Fεt Fight
Wεf Wife
Lεf Stop
Mama Mother
Papa Father
Grani Grandmother
Granpa Grandfather
Tif Steal
Jomp Jump
Chɛr Rip
Dede/Dai Dead
Tata Bye

Below are some sample sentences in Krio:

Krio sentence English meaning
Kushɛh or Kushɛh-o "Hello" or "Hi"
Wetin na yu nem? "What is your name?"
Mi nem na Jemz. "My name is James."
Usai yu kɔmɔt? "Where do you come from?"
Ar kɔmɔt Estinz. "I come from Hastings."
Us wok yu de du? "What work do you do?"
Mi na ticha. "I am a teacher."
Na us skul yu de tich? "At what school do you teach?"
Ar de tich na Prins ɔf Welz. "I teach at Prince of Wales."
Ar gladi fɔ mit yu. "I am happy to meet you."
Misɛf gladi fɔ mit yu. "I myself am happy to meet you."
OK, a de go naw. "OK, I am going now."
Ɔrayt, wi go tok bak. "Alright, we will talk again."

Below is a sample of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Krio:

Krio High Krio (Salontòk) English
Atikul Wan Artikul Wan Article 1
Ɛvribɔdi bɔn fri ɛn gɛt in yon rayt, nobɔdi nɔ pas in kɔmpin. Wi ɔl ebul fɔ tink ɛn fɛnɔt wetin rayt ɛn rɔŋ. Ɛn pantap dat wi fɔ sabi aw fɔ liv lɛk wan big famili. Òll mòrtalmandèm bòrn fri èn ekwal pan dignity èn raihtdèm. Dhèm gèt ratio èn kònshèns èn pantap dhat dhèm fòr akt with dhèm kòmpin na bròdharhudim spirit. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Films edit

Krio is used (incorrectly) early in the 2006 film Blood Diamond between Danny Archer (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and a character named Commander Zero.

It can also be heard in the music video for "Diamonds from Sierra Leone", a song by American rapper Kanye West.

In 2007, work was completed on an unsanctioned, dubbed Krio version of Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 film Jesus of Nazareth. The dubs were recorded by a team of over 14 native Krio speakers, over a period of 9 months in the Lungi region of Sierra Leone. The film aired on ABC-TV and a limited run of 300 copies were produced, which were mostly sold in Lungi and Freetown.[23]

The first feature-length documentary entirely spoken in Krio is Boris Gerrets' film Shado’man (2014).[24] It was shot in Freetown at night with a group of homeless disabled people. The film premiered at the IDFA documentary festival[25] in Amsterdam and was seen in festivals around the world including FESPACO, the biannual Pan-African film festival in Ouagadougou.[26][27][28][29][30]

Fiction edit

Peter Grant, the protagonist of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, is the London-born son of an immigrant from Sierra Leone. While speaking English with other characters, he speaks Krio with his mother. Aaronovitch includes some such conversations in his text, leaving the reader to puzzle out what was said.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Lynn, Martin. 1984. Commerce, christianity and the origins of the ‘creoles’ of Fernando Po. Journal of African History 25(3). 257–278.
  2. ^ Dixon-Fyle, Mac, "The Saro in the Political Life of Early Port Harcourt, 1913–49", The Journal of African History, Vol. 30, No. 1, p. 126.
  3. ^ a b c d "CIA World Factbook (2022)". 22 September 2022.
  4. ^ "Translators without borders: Language data for Sierra Leone".
  5. ^ Oyètádé, B. Akíntúndé; Fashole-Luke, Victor (15 February 2008). "Sierra Leone: Krio and the Quest for National Integration". Language and National Identity in Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 122–140. ISBN 978-0-19-928675-1.
  6. ^ Thompson, V. A. D. (2013). The Transformation of Freetown Christianity, 1960–2000. Doctoral Dissertation, University of London.
  7. ^ Saidu Bangura, 2015 A Roadmap to Sierra Leone English: A Sociohistorical and Ecological Perspective, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, PhD thesis, p. 124, 222, 232-242.
  8. ^ a b Lewis, M. Paul, ed. (2009). "Krio, a language of Sierra Leone". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (16 ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Retrieved 1 December 2012.
  9. ^ Bhatt, Parth; Ingo Plag. The Structure of Creole Words: Segmental, Syllabic and Morphological Aspects.
  10. ^ Opala, Joseph (March 10, 2015). "The Gullah: Rice, Slavery, and the Sierra Leone-American Connection". Yale Macmillan Center Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. Yale University. Archived from the original on October 19, 2021. Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  11. ^ Singler, John Victor; Kouwenberg, Silvia (2011). "Pidgins and creoles". In Rajend Mesthrie (ed.). The Cambridge Handbook of Sociolinguistics. Cambridge Handbooks in Language and Linguistics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 283−300. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511997068.022. ISBN 9780511997068. Part IV - Multilingualism and language contact.
  12. ^ "Creole and Pidgins".
  13. ^ "The painful origins of many creole languages". The Economist.
  14. ^ "Krio words and phrases".
  15. ^ Velupillai, Viveka (2015). Pidgins, Creoles and Mixed Languages: An Introduction. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 249, 276. ISBN 9789027268846.
  16. ^ Fourah Bay College, Freetown: Guide to Krio, (held at SOAS Univ. of London Library, 195?
  17. ^ Simon Schama: Rough Crossings, London, 2007
  18. ^ A. Wyse: Krios of Sierra Leone, London (1989)
  19. ^ Link to dedication report
  20. ^ a b "Krio Phonology".   Text was copied from this source, which is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
  21. ^ Finney, Malcolm. 2007. Universal and substrate influence on the phonotactics and syllable structure of Krio. In Huber, Magnus & Velupillai, Viveka (eds.), Synchronic and diachronic perspectives on contact languages, (Creole Languages Library Series 32), 23–42. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  22. ^ Finney, Malcolm. 2004. Tone assignment on lexical items of English and African origin in Krio. In Escure, Genevieve & Schwegler, Armin (eds.), Creoles, contact and language change: Linguistics and social implications, 221–236. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  23. ^ video clip of Krio-dubbed version of Zefirelli's Jesus of Nazareth.
  24. ^ "Shado'man - A Boris Gerrets Film". Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  25. ^ "Shado'man | IDFA". Archived from the original on 2014-12-20. Retrieved 2014-12-20.
  26. ^ "IDFA 2013 - Documentaries to Watch List". Archived from the original on 2015-04-04. Retrieved 2014-12-20.
  27. ^ Debruge, Peter (2013-12-09). "Film Review: 'Shado'man'". Variety. Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  28. ^ "Shado'man (2013) recensie, Boris Gerrets - Cinemagazine". Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  29. ^ "Pijnlijke prachtige schaduwwereld". de Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  30. ^ "Leven in de schaduw in Sierra Leone". NRC (in Dutch). Retrieved 2018-09-17.

Further reading edit

External links edit