Gullah Language

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Gullah Language
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The Sea Island Creole (Gullah) Language

Gullah is a creole language spoken along the coastline of the Southeastern U.S. The language was first spoken by slaves and is still spoken by their descendants. Many Americans – even in the Southeast – are unaware or only vaguely aware of Gullah, but its existence as a distinct language is well established. Gullah is not to be confused with African American Vernacular English (also known as Ebonics or Black English), though some linguists argue that AAVE had its roots in Gullah. Gullah is an English creole, and its vocabulary comes chiefly from English and from various African languages. Structurally, the grammar is distinct in some significant ways from English. An English speaker listening to Gullah would recognize many or most of the words, but the uses and nuances of meaning differ. The following example highlights some of the differences between English and this creole language spoken on the Southeastern coastline:

 Oona da nyam. = You are eating.

Gullah has had an impact on English over the past 200 years or so, and some of our English vocabulary comes from Gullah, including goober, gumbo, tote and yam. (For more information on the Gullah language and culture, see the December 1987 National Geographic magazine, pages 735-763.)

Contributing to Gullah's development as a distinct language is the fact that the people who spoke it traditionally lived on islands off the coast and in other isolated rural areas inland. Through migration Gullah has spread as far as Oklahoma and New York City. Even today with schooling in English, Gullah speakers prefer to use their own comfortable “heart language” in informal contexts.

New! Click here to see pictures from the Heritage Days Festival
on St. Helena Island, SC, November 6-9, 2003.