Sierra Leone Krio language

Sierra Leone Krio language

Native to Sierra Leone
Ethnicity Sierra Leone Krio
Native speakers 500,000  (1993)Template:Infobox language/ref
L2: Template:Sigfig million total (97% of Sierra Leone's population)
Language family
  • Atlantic
    • Krio
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kri
Linguist List Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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Linguasphere 52-ABB-bb

Sierra Leone Krio is the lingua franca and the de facto national language spoken throughout the West African nation of Sierra Leone. Krio is spoken by 97% of Sierra Leone's population and unites the different ethnic groups in the country, especially in their trade and social interaction with each other. Krio is the primary language of communication among Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad. The language is native to the Sierra Leone Krio people or Krios, (a community of about 300,000 descendants of freed slaves from the West Indies, United States and United Kingdom), and is spoken as a second language by millions of other Sierra Leoneans belonging to the country's indigenous tribes. English is Sierra Leone's official language, while Krio, despite its common use throughout the country, has no official status.


The Krio language is an offshoot of the language brought by the Nova Scotian Settlers from North America, Maroons from Jamaica, and the numerous liberated African slaves who settled in Sierra Leone.

All freed slaves—the Jamaican Maroons, African Americans, Nova Scotian Settlers, Sierra Leone Liberated Africans—influenced Krio, but the Jamaican Maroons, Nova Scotian Settlers, Igbo and Yoruba Liberated Africans were the most influential. The basic English structure of Krio is an offshoot of the English spoken by the Nova Scotians and Maroons, while some of the African words in Krio come from the Yoruba and Igbo languages spoken by the liberated Yoruba and Igbo.

Krio is distinct from Pidgin English as it is a language in its own right, with fixed grammatical structures and rules. Krio also draws extensively from other European languages, namely Portuguese and French, e.g. the Krio word gentri/gentree, which means wealth or to acquire wealth, is derived from the Old French word "gentry," and the Krio word pickin, which means child, comes from the Portuguese word "pequeno."

Language origins

The early roots of Krio are believed to go back to the Atlantic slave trade era in the 17th and 18th centuries when an English-based language arose to facilitate the coastal trade between Europeans and Africans. This early language later became the lingua franca of regional trade among West Africans themselves and likely spread up the river systems to the African interior. After the founding of Freetown, this language was incorporated into the speech of the various groups of freed slaves who landed in Sierra Leone between 1787 and about 1855. The language gradually evolved to become a stable, native language of descendants of the freed slaves (which are now a distinct ethnic and cultural group, the Krios), and the lingua franca of Sierra Leone.[1]

Language usage

Krio usage in Sierra Leone

Most ethnic and cultural Krios live in and around Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, and their community accounts for only about 3% or 5.4% of Sierra Leone's total population (Freetown is the province where the return slaves from London and Nova Scotia settled).[2] However, because of their cultural influence in Sierra Leone — especially during the period of colonial rule — their language is used as the lingua franca among all the ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. Many Mendes, Temnes, and Limbas grow up in the interior of the country speaking both their native languages and Krio. Children born in Freetown to parents who are not ethnic Krios grow up speaking Krio and only Krio as their mother tongue language.

Krio speakers abroad

The Krio people acted as traders and missionaries in other parts of West Africa during the 19th century, and as a result there are also Krio-speaking communities in The Gambia, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea.[3] As a result of Sierra Leone Krio migratory patterns, in the Gambia, the Aku community speak a dialect that is very similar to Krio in Sierra Leone. A small number of liberated Africans returned to the land of their origins, such as the Saros of Nigeria who not only took their Western names with them but also Krio word like sabi which was installed into Nigerian Pidgin English.

Language revival

During the period of colonial rule, Sierra Leoneans (particularly among the upper class) were discouraged from speaking Krio; but after independence from the United Kingdom in 1961, writers and educators began promoting its use. In the 1960s, Thomas Decker translated some of Shakespeare's plays into Krio, and composed original poetry in the language. In the 1980s the New Testament was translated into Krio.

While English is Sierra Leone's official language, the Ministry of Education began using Krio as the medium of instruction in some primary schools in Freetown in the 1990s. Radio stations now broadcast a wide variety of programs in Krio. Sierra Leonean politicians also routinely give public speeches in the language.

The New York City Public School system recently recognized Krio as a "home language" allowing children to be recognized as speaking Krio rather than other African languages.


Krio is an English-based language, similar in some respects to Nigerian Pidgin English and Cameroonian Pidgin English, but it has its own distinctive character. It is also similar to English-based languages spoken in the Americas, especially the Gullah language, Jamaican Patois (Jamaican Creole), and Belizean Creole. It also shares some linguistic similarities with non-English creoles, such as the French-based creole languages in the Caribbean.


As in English, there is no grammatical gender in Krio. However, there are the hints of nominative, accusative and genitive cases. Verbs do not conjugate according to person or number, but reflect their tense.


The following interrogatives can be used:

udat who
wetin what
ustem when
usay where
wetin mek why

In addition, a question can be asked simply by intonation. E.g. Yu de go?: 'Are you going' vs yu de go: 'you are going'


There is no distinction between masculine and feminine in any person and unlike Standard English there is a 2nd person plural form.

ah, mi, mi I, me, my
yu, yu, yu you, you, your
i, im, in he, him, his, she, her, her
wi, wi, wi we, us, our
una, una, unu you, you, your (plural)
den, dem, den they, them, theirs


Krio uses the Latin script as used in English but without Qq and Xx and with three additional letters from the African reference alphabet, Ɛɛ (open E), Ŋŋ (eng), and Ɔɔ (open O). Three tones can be distinguished in Krio and are sometimes marked with grave (à), acute (á), and circumflex (â) accents over the vowels for low, high, and falling tones respectively but these accents are not employed in normal usage. An alternative orthography with Latin letters only has been devised by Thomas Decker.

The complete alphabet with digraphs follows with Decker's orthography in parentheses:

Krio letter or digraph Example word English meaning
A,a wata water
Aw, aw naw (nau) now
Ay, ay nayn (nain) that's him
B, b bɔku (bohku) many, very much (< French beaucoup)
Ch, ch cham chew
D, d dia(dya) expensive (< dear)
E, e let (leyt) late
Ɛ, ɛ ɛp (ep) help
F, f fɔs (fohs) first
G, g got(goat) goat
Gb, gb gbana/tranga difficult (from <Temne)
H, h argyu/argyument (agyu/agyument) argument
I, i titi girl
J, j jomp jump
K, k kɔntri (kohntri) country
Kp, kp kpatakpata completely
L, l liv live
M, m muv/muf move
N, n nak knock
Ny, ny nyu new
Ŋ, ŋ siŋ (sing) sing
O, o wok work
Ɔ, ɔ bɔn (bohn) born, give birth, conceive
Ɔy, ɔy ɔyl (ohyl) oil
P, p padi friend
R, r ren (reyn) rain
S, s saf soft
Sh, sh shap sharp
T, t tif steal (< thief)
U, u uman woman
V, v vot vote
W, w waka walk
Y, y yala yellow
Z, z ziro zero
Zh, zh plɛzhɔ (plehzhoh) pleasure

Language samples

Below is a sample of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Krio:

Krio English
Atikul Wan

Ɛvribɔdi bɔn fri ɛn gɛt in yon rayt, nɔn wan nɔ pas in kɔmpin. Wi ɔl ebul fɔ tink ɛn fɛnɔt wetin rayt ɛn rɔŋ pantap dat wi fɔ sabi aw fɔ liv lɛk wan big famili.

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Below are some sample sentences in Krio:

Kushe. - "Hello."
Kushe-o. - "Hello."
Wetin na yu nem? - "What is your name?"
Mi nem Jemz. - "My name is James."
Usai yu kɔmɔt? - "Where do you come from?"
A kɔmɔt Estinz. - "I come from Hastings."
Us wok yu de du? - "What work do you do?"
Mi na ticha. - "I am a teacher."
Na us skul yu de tich? - "At what school do you teach?"
I de tich na Prins ɔv Welz. - "I teach at Prince of Wales."
Mi gladi fɔ mit yu. - "I am happy to meet you."
Misɛf gladi fɔ mit yu. - "I myself am happy to meet you."
OK, a de go naw. - "OK, I am going now."
Ɔrayt, wi go tok bak. - "Alright, we will talk again."
Krio word English meaning
Salone Sierra Leone
Kusheh Hello, Hi
Pady Friend
Titi Girl
Bobo Boy
Pickin Child
Wowoh Ugly
Plabah Conflict
bohku Many, Too much
Uman Woman
Leff Stop
Wetin What
Usay Where
Wetin Meck Why
Ustem When
Vex Angry
Dia Expensive
Wakka Walk
Cham Chew
Motocar Car
Sabi Know
Fett Fight
Wef Wife
Lef Stop
Mama Mother
Papa Father
Granny Grandmother
Grandpa Grandfather
tif Steal
Jomp Jump


Krio is used (incorrectly) early in the 2006 film Blood Diamond between Danny Archer (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and a character named Commander Zero.

It can also be heard in the music video for "Diamonds from Sierra Leone", a song by American rapper Kanye West.

In 2007, work was completed on an unsanctioned, dubbed Krio version of Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 film Jesus of Nazareth The dubs were recorded by a team of over 14 native Krio speakers, over a period of 9 months in the Lungi region of Sierra Leone. The film aired on ABC-TV and a limited run of 300 copies were produced, which were mostly sold in Lungi and Freetown.[4]

See also


External links

  • Sweden.
  • Krio proverbs
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Krio
  • PanAfrican L10n page on Krio (& Pidgin)
  • Basic Krio and Temne Vocabulary
  • Yakpo, Kofi (2009) "A Grammar of Pichi", 692 pp. This link opens a pdf of a comprehensive linguistic description of Pichi (Fernando Po Creole English), a language closely related to Krio, by the linguist Kofi Yakpo (University of Nijmegen)