Making The Case For A Consistent Gullah Orthography

I have gone through my notes about the Gullah language, though most of them have been about trying to create a unique alphabet for the creole language. I relied on the research that linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner conducted while living among the Gullah Geechee people for years. This included all of the unique sounds within the creole language that he compared to the African languages that the slaves originally spoke when they were brought to America.

I have experimented by using letters from the scripts of other languages, such as Esperanto, Turkish, Latvian, the IPA, and, of course, the Krio language, which is one of the languages spoken in Sierra Leone that originally arose as pidgin communication between the English and the Africans.

This is the orthography that I propose:

Consonant Monographs

B, b [b]

C, c [ch]

D, d [d]

F, f [f]

G, g [g]

H, h [h]

J, j [j]

K, k [k]

L, l [l]

M, m [m]

N, n [n]

P, p [p]

R, r [r]

S, s [s]

Ş, ş [sh]

T, t [t]

W, w [w]

Y, y [y]

Z, z [z]

Consonant Digraphs

Ŋ, ŋ [ng]

Ɲ, ƞ [nj]

Ñ, ñ [ny]

Vowel Monographs

Æ, æ [ah]

ə, ə [uh]

A, a [aw]

E, e [eh]

I, i [ih]

Î, î [ee]

O, o [oh]

U, u [oo]

Vowel Digraphs

Aw, aw [ow]

Aî, aî [eye]

Eî, eî [ay]

Oî, oî [oy]

This would be a sample:

Də kutə dən krasobə, deîfo Î yaî dəlîk.

The turtle was dead, therefore he/she is crying.

I also recommend that phrases become singular words, as semi-agglutinative so to speak; though perhaps in the same way that the English language uses prefixes and suffixes to coin abstract and scientific ideas, and not in the Turkish language where entire sentences are constructed through prefixes and suffixes. In the case of the Gullah language, there are plenty of phrases that represent a concept or action, with an example being krasobə which would translate literally as to cross over or to die.

One reason for suggesting this orthography is that it provides consistency to the Gullah consonants and vowels. The English language is notorious for its inconsistent orthography and I would not want this to become a feature in the Gullah language. I found it easier to identify the sounds of the words based on my own orthography. It is also important to note that it would create less confusion for Gullah words that are homophones yet have different meanings. With the word as it is currently spelled colluh, it refers to both color and collar. In my orthography, kələ refers to color, while kalə refers to collar. It is easier that way to reduce the misunderstandings as much as possible.

Unfortunately, the writing of Gullah can not only appear inconsistent, but it would give off the appearance of the stereotype that it really is poor English. When it has already been established that Gullah is different from English and not a poor dialect, then the case can additionally be made that Gullah should utilize characters unique to the speech patterns.

This was seen with Krio, which is the creole language spoken in Sierra Leone during the start of the Atlantic slave trade. It began as a means of communication between the English colonizers and the African tribes in order to negotiate trade, usually for slaves. As of 1993, it is spoken by 500,000 native speakers and 2 million speakers as a second language. As such, it makes use of its own orthography ever since 1980, complete with characters for each individual sound including digraphs for the velar nasal [ng] and the plosive and affirmative labial-velar stop [gb].

Originally, I used the dot and dotless I‘s, which originate from the Turkish alphabet, but there are more inspirations that originate from it. While the Turkish language underwent reforms during Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s rule by using letters not found in the Arabic language that was the prestige language of the Ottoman Empire. I eventually settled with the similar I‘s found in Latvian which separates the near-close front unrounded vowel [ih] from the close front unrounded vowel [ee]. Although the sounds in the Gullah language can be found in the English language, it would be extremely crucial to narrow the sounds into their own characters.

This reason would make the Gullah script less confusing but also more unique from Standard American English. This would make sense considering how the Gullah language is itself unique, for it is neither the English nor the African languages that breathed life into it.

I am not sure what Queen Quet Marquetta Goodwine or any of the leading Gullah figures would think about this orthography created by an outsider, though if they were to come across this article, I would simply inform them that this is simply a proposal and not a definite imposition. The main purpose of this proposal is for the Gullah language to be more taken seriously.

Tænk unə all


Anderson, Gregory D. S. “Velar Nasal.” World Atlas of Language Structures.

Close Front Unrounded Vowel.” Wikipedia.

Gerarty, Virginia Mixson. “Gulluh Fuh Oonuh (Gullah For You): A Guide to the Gullah Language.” Sandlapper Publishing Co. 2006.

Jatniece, Amanda. “Latvian-English/English-Latvian Dictionary and Phrasebook.” Hippocrene Books. 2004.

Krio Words and Phrases.” VSLTravel.

Near-Close Front Unrounded Vowel.” Wikipedia.

Near-Open Front Unrounded Vowel.” Wikipedia.

Olson, Kenneth S. “Mono.” Illustrations of the IPASIL International and the University of North Dakota. 2004.

Scott III, Robert. “Why The Gullah Language Is Not ‘Poor English’.” 2nd Edition. Quintillions Bright.

Spencer-Walters, Tom. “Chapter 10: Creolization and Kriodom: (Re)visiting the Sierra Leone Experiment.” New Perspectives on the Sierra Leone Krio. Edited by Mac Dixon-Fyle and Gibril Cole. American University Studies. 2006.

Turkish Alphabet Reform.” Turkish Alphabet. Wikipedia.

Turner, Lorenzo Dow. “Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect.”

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