West African Pidgin English (WAPE) is a term for a diverse number of English-based pidgin and creole languages spoken throughout West Africa, of which Krio (spoken in Sierra Leone) is one of those languages. Other types of WAPE languages are Liberian Pidgin English, Nigerian Pidgin English and Cameroon Pidgin English. Pidgin languages in West Africa act as a lingua franca between speakers of different languages, who speak the WAPE languages in addition to other vernacular. In Nigeria alone, there are between three and five million people whose primary language and form of communication is Pidgin, and is estimated to be used as a second language by up to 75 million people in the country (around half of the population). Whilst Sierra Leone Krio is not spoken to the same degree as Nigerian Pidgin English, it is spoken as a second language in Gambia, Guinea and Senegal by an estimated 4 million people.


Are Krio and West African Pidgin mutually intelligible?


Both Krio and West African Pidgin derive from the same language family, English Creole (also known as English-based creole languages). As a result, the majority of the pidgin and creole languages that constitute West African pidgin share the same basic linguistic and phonological characteristics. For instance, many of the WAPE languages share the same vowel inventory, made up of seven vowels: i, ey, e, a, o, ow, u.  In addition to this, word formation in the WAPE languages is very similar. The phrase “sit down” in Pidgin English is constructed through complex forms, combining the bound prefix “si-“, meaning “sit”, with the free form “dong”, or “don”. Both Nigerian Pidgin English and Krio translate the phrase “sit down” as “Sidon”. In most of the pidgin languages, there are words, like the word “si”, which are only found in a bound form, meaning that they only occur as part of another word and never on their own.


Another example of the possible mutual intelligibility between Sierra Leone Krio and West African Pidgin is the prominence of the grammatical feature of verb serialization, or serial verb construction. This type of grammar can also be found in many different African languages, namely Yoruba, and is not common in the English language. Serial verb construction refers to a type of grammatical construction in which a sentence contains a subject and different verbs, but these words are not linked by a conjunction (e.g. and, but, if). Therefore, in Yoruba, one would translate the sentence “He brought the book” as “O mu iwe wa” (“He took book come”). In the Krio language, the sentence “I cut the bread with the knife” would be translated as “A tek nef kot di bred” (literally translated “I take knife cut the bread”). Moreover, Krio and the other West African Pidgin English languages share similar pronouns. Some of the Krio pronouns, for instance, are mi (“me, my”), yu (“you, your”), “am” (he/she/it), “dem” (they, them, theirs), “im” (his, hers, its”), “una” (feminine pronoun “you”). These pronouns are all also used in Nigerian Pidgin English as well as Ghanian Pidgin English.


To what extent are these languages not mutually intelligible?


While there are some similarities between Krio and the other West African Pidgin languages, they are not entirely mutually intelligible. To give an example, the most common phrase across the different pidgin languages in West Africa is the greeting. In Cameroonian Pidgin, the phrase “how na” (“how are you”) is used, similar to the Nigerian Pidgin greeting phrase “har fa”, meaning “how far”. However, in Krio, the word “kushe” (pronounced cushah), meaning “hello”, is used as a form of greeting. Ghanian pidgin English also diverts from the rest of the West African Pidgin English languages, especially in the context of greetings, as it utilises loanwords from the Akan languages (most widely spoken languages in Ghana), namely “eti sen” (“how are you”).


The primary pidgin languages in West Africa, like Nigeria Pidgin English, tend to borrow words entirely from the English language and do not utilise many loanwords, inhibiting the extent of intelligibility between the different pidgin languages. Like Ghanian Pidgin English, Krio also borrows loanwords from other languages. One such example of the use of loanwords in Krio is the word “bòku”, meaning “many”. This word derives from the French adjective “beaucoup”, meaning “many” or “lots”. Moreover, Krio has borrowed different idiomatic expressions from other African languages such as Yoruba, Kikongo and Igbo. In Krio, the phrase “big yay” (literally translates as “big eye”) is used to convey greed and selfishness. This idiom is borrowed from the Igbo expression “anya uku” (which literally translates as “eye big”). Similarly, another idiom that can be found in the Krio language is “swit mot” (meaning “sweet mouth”), which is used to convey persuasiveness. This same idiom can be found in Yoruba and the Akan language, as “enu didu” (Yoruba) and “ano yede” (Akan, or Twi).


In Conclusion


The plethora of pidgin languages that constitute the West African Pidgin English languages, such as Nigerian Pidgin English and Krio, derive from the same language family of English Creole and are spoken by millions across West African countries as a lingua franca and second language. They share some vocabulary and phonological similarities, and could be argued to be mutually intelligible to some degree. However, there are definite varieties and divergences between the languages, like Krio’s use of loanwords from other languages as well as its differences in phrases. Therefore, one cannot treat Sierra Leone Krio and Nigerian or Ghanian Pidgin English as the same language, especially in the context of translation or interpretation.


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