Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Moonlight in Glory: The Survival of Gullah, or Sea Island Creole

I've never lived in the middle of nowhere, always in a place fairly adjacent to oceans and lakes, large rivers or inland seas, within easy reach of a large city. For whatever  reason -- a lot of moving around, maybe -- I've forever been keen to listen for differing voices, languages, dialects and accents, plus slang and colloquialisms. What's different, what's similar? The dynamic borderlands and port cities on one hand, palimpsests and isolated areas on the other. Coastal languages created and preserved, but always shifting at some pace or another.

On the Atlantic Coast along an arc ranging from around Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, now mostly concentrated in parts of South Carolina and Georgia, there's Gullah, Sea Island Creole, and the Geechee people, with direct and indirect links to Central and West Africa, mixed with English and Caribbean influences. "Goober peas" (aka peanuts) would seem to be one Gullah crossover contribution to the lexicon of the wider American South. The word "Kumbayah" ("come by here") has an even wider circulation. A history teacher from South Carolina, Dr. Ruth Cunningham Bishop, quipped in one of my high school classes that the word "jazz" had a similar provenance, but the verdict is still out on that one.

Today's Rune: Partnership.

A nod to Elizabeth Little's Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America's Languages (New York: Bloomsbury, 2012) for reminding me about Gullah.


Charles Gramlich said...

Although I've never made a close study of languages and dialects, I can see how it could be fascinating, and it would be great fodder for a fantasy writer.

jodi said...

Erik-both Charleston and Savannah are places I've yet to visit but really want to. I have a friend that lives on John's Island and her accent is so cute!