Liberian English

Varieties- Liberian Pidgin English

Variation: Liberian Pidgin English

As noted in a past post Liberian English/Koloqua should be understood as encompassing a continuum. This means that while there are distinct variations of Liberian English, they don’t necessarily make up an entire distinct whole, nor do individuals necessarily represent or use only one of these varieties. Hancock (1971) and Singler (1982) refer to these varieties as “idealizations” seemingly borrowing from Weber the notion of “ideal type.” The use of each variety is partly based on context or occasion, though not everyone would use that variety within each specific context. It should also again be noted that these different varieties don’t necessarily infer a lack of fluency in English, as individuals/speakers can be “wholly fluent in each variety” (Singler, 1981, p.19).

Singler (1982) notes that there five factors that influence how and when an individual uses a particular variety. These five factors lead to “less standard-like speech” (p.16). These five factors include:

  • 1) Less serious and informal occasions or events.
  • 2) If the speaker knows the listener well.
  • 3) If the listener displays less-standard like features in their speech.
  • 4) If the listener is Liberian.
  • 5) If the speaker is emotionally involved or excited in what they are saying.

Liberian Pidgin English (LPE):

In the case of Singler’s (1982) taxonomy Liberian Pidgin English is described as the “least standard-like” or the most highly pidginized variety. LPE is often broken down into two subtypes, “Kru Pidgin English” (“Krumen” and “Kru” which refers broadly to sea or crewmen) and “Soldier English” (historically refers to individuals who joined the military or Firestone plantation despite having any formal English training).  Singler describes these pidginized language varities as having a vocabulary and grammar that comes from English (grammar is simplified, demonstrated by the absence of inflections such as verb endings) while the pronunciation comes from the speakers first or native language. The most highly pidginized varieties in Singler’s definition use the simplest or least inflected grammar (Example- “We de eat bread” instead of “We are eating bread”).

Besides using simpler grammar, other defining characteristics of LPE include:

  • 1) Lacking gender distinction (meaning no differentiation between male and female, instead use of “I” or “he”)
  • 2) Does not use a negator (use of “no” instead of “did not”)
  • 3) Uses “for” instead of “to” (example- “He go for work”)
  • 4) Uses/treats adjectives as a type of verb
  • 5) Copula (forms of “be”) are simplified and often absent (example- “He be my mother”; “He old”). Also the copula “de” is used for locational constructions (“He de for work”).

Pronunciation in LPE adopts many of the same rules/sounds as the other varieties, though it is more heavily influenced by the speakers native/first language. Given this heavy adoption of the first language, it is often associated or seen as a characteristic of a person’s education level (we should be reminded that the varieties of Liberian English are heavily raced and classed). The varieties of pronunciation within LPE and between the varieties will be further analyzed upon the completion of a breakdown of the varieties.


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