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Sierra Leone News: CHETANYA’s View:Beguiled by the Krio language

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

There’s a Krio phrase I heard someone say that stuck with me  “ A mos o’clock i de stat?”
It took a good five seconds after hearing this phrase for the meaning to hit me: “What time does it start?”
I’ve always been fascinated by languages and how they work  my other major in university besides journalism is Middle Eastern studies with a focus on languages, for which I took several classes in Arabic and Persian. Krio is different from most foreign languages I’m familiar with, because it has the shape and feel of English, but the full meanings of so many sentences hide just out of view. There are times when I understand Krio 100 percent  but this usually only happens when it’s a simple sentence spoken slowly. I’d guess that most of the time Krio is 50, 60 or 70 percent understandable (though putting percentages on it like this is a rough estimate) — but then there are times when I catch absolutely nothing.
Maybe it’s because I’m more obsessed with languages than most people are, but I had fun breaking down the meanings of that phrase I heard, “A mos o’clock i de stat?” I can see how “A mos” is similar to “How much,” “stat” is just another way of pronouncing “start,” and “i” is a shortened form of “he,” which is used (like in a lot of languages, including Arabic) to mean “it.”
It’s the perfect example of why Krio is so beguiling – so close to English in its roots, yet sounding almost like another language.
Because I’m only armed with a smattering of Krio, I almost always have to use English when talking to Sierra Leoneans. I feel bad about this, since I’m forcing people to make an extra effort to speak to me. Most Sierra Leoneans I’ve met speak it, but English is clearly not the language people feel most natural speaking here. It’s not the right language for a casual chat, the pop music on the radio, or the market.
Sometimes, a few of my colleagues will speak to me in Krio  a sentence, question or instruction here and there  and I understand it to varying degrees. I appreciate being spoken to in Krio even when I don’t always understand it. When in Sierra Leone….Or I should say, “When na Salone…”?
Living in Freetown and spending so much time with educated Sierra Leoneans, it’s easy to forget that English is not the main language here. This was especially apparent one day when I was at court with a colleague to do some reporting. (It’s a day I’ll remember for another reason  after my colleague and I started walking toward the exit in the back of the room, the judge told us to come back, and then shouted at and lectured us “using the court as a thoroughfare.” But that’s a different story.)
That day, a witness was giving a statement, and the judge and lawyers were cross examining her. The woman didn’t understand the judge’s standard English instructions, so someone translated them into Krio for her. At one point the judge said, “There’s no evidence she can read English.”
I think this is one reason why Krio should be recognized as an official language in Sierra Leone. It’s the language most people speak, but because English is official, those without a formal education are disadvantaged. Sierra Leone is no longer an English colony, and Krio is a fully standardized language in its own right, not a broken version of English. The only reason to keep English is its usefulness on the international stage, but many influential countries, like China, Russia and France to name just a few, do fine without enshrining English as an official language.
I know that like many things, I’ll miss hearing the sound of Krio when I leave Sierra Leone.
*Chetanya Robinson is a journalism intern from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the 7th intern in as many years in an internship program with Awoko Newspaper
Thursday August 18, 2016

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