African Languages, Development and the State

By Richard Fardon; Graham Furniss | Go to book overview

3

Official and unofficial attitudes and policy towards Krio as the main lingua franca in Sierra Leone

C. Magbaily Fyle

Sierra Leone, a small country on the west coast of West Africa with a population of some four million people, has some eighteen indigenous ethnic groups within its borders. The largest of these groups, the Temne and Mende, together comprise some 50 per cent of the total population. One of the smaller groups, the Krio, making up less than 2 per cent of the population, has historically and linguistically developed an importance out of all proportion to its numbers. The Krio language grew to become the main lingua franca in Sierra Leone. This essay proposes to explore the background to this development as a way of demonstrating the nature of official and unofficial attitudes and policy, both of the people and the government, to this language.


THE EMERGENCE OF KRIO SOCIETY AND LANGUAGE

Krio society developed out of a colonial situation where groups of captured slaves had been landed in the colony of Sierra Leone since the late eighteenth century. This involved, roughly speaking, two segments. The first is usually referred to in Sierra Leone historiography as the Settlers. There were three components of this segment. Firstly, the black poor, freed domestic slaves from England following the decision of Chief Justice Mansfield in England in 1772 that slavery was unknown to English law. The second component, the Nova Scotians, were former black American slaves who had obtained their freedom by fighting on the side of the British during the American War of Independence. Finally the Maroons were former slaves in Jamaica who had fought for their freedom and had consequently been sent packing through Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone (Fyfe 1962; Fyle and Fyle 1981). These Settlers had all become largely unfamiliar with African culture. They, particularly the black poor and Nova Scotians, had, like their parents and often grandparents before them, been born and bred in the western world and

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