Liberian English

About Liberian English

According to John Singler (1981), one of the few scholars/researchers of Liberian English, Liberian English can be best understood as a term covering the many varieties of English spoken by Liberians (p.1). It is often acknowledged that there are five such varieties of Liberian English and these include: Kru Pidgin English, Liberian Kreyol (or Vernacular Liberian English), Merico Language, Caribbean English, and Liberian Standard (or Liberian Settler English). Though the introduction of English to West Africa, and specifically Liberia has long been attributed to freed slaves from the Americas who settled in Liberia in 1822, English and other European languages (example Portuguese[1]) were introduced to the region as early as the 15th century due to trade and slavery with European traders. Such interactions form the basis of the pidgins[2] (Singler, 1981, p.3). Specifically in regards to Liberia, Kru Pidgin English can be attributed to the merchant ships during the colonial era, where Kru Pidgin English was spoken as a second-language of crewmen (Sheppard, 2012). Today Liberian English is often seen to accompany all English within the country except Liberian Standard.

In Liberia, Liberian English is labeled as an L1 language for 113,000 people (2015), and is L2 status for over 1.5 million (1984). While commonly used throughout Liberia, it is most heavily used in urban and coastal areas (example: Monrovia and Montserrado). Overall, Liberian English is often described as repidginized from American Black English of the 1800’s, while influenced by several indigenous Liberian languages (such as Kru and Kpelle). It is considered as different from “standard” English as is Sierra Leone Krio (Ethnologue) and is the most widely used language in Liberia today.

Basic Overview of Liberia:

  • Population: 4.5 million
  • Capital: Monrovia
  • Current President: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (24th President of Liberia, first elected female head of state in Africa). Note: Elections will be held in October for a new President.
  • Religion: 85% Christian, 12% Islam
  • Official Language: English
  • Independence Day: July 26, 1847
  • Human Development Index (HDI): 177th

Works Cited:

Ethnologue. Retrieved from: https://www.ethnologue.com/language/lir

Singler, J.V. (1981) Peace Corps: An Introduction to Liberian English.

Sheppard, J.M. (2012). Cracking the Code: The Confused Traveler’s Guide to Liberian English.

[1] Certain Portuguese words still survive within Liberian English.

[2] A deeper and more complex background of Liberian English and the moving from pidgin to creole and the political complexities of the language will be addressed in a subsequent blog-post.

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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.