Krio language

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Native toSierra Leone
EthnicitySierra Leone Creoles
Gambian Creoles
Krio Fernandinos[1]
Nigerian Creoles[2]
Native speakers
(500,000 cited 1993)[3]
4 million L2 speakers in Sierra Leone (1987)[3]
English Creole
  • Atlantic
    • Krio
Language codes
ISO 639-3kri
Video of a man speaking Krio

Sierra Leonean Creole or Krio is an English-based creole language that is lingua franca and de facto national language spoken throughout the West African nation of Sierra Leone. Krio is spoken by 87% 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 Creole people, or Krios, a community of about 95,000[4] descendants of freed slaves from the West Indies, Canada, United States and the British Empire, 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, and Krio, despite its common use throughout the country, has no official status.


The Krio language is an offshoot of the languages and variations of English 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, and Liberated Africans — influenced Krio, but the Jamaican Maroons, Igbo, Yoruba, Congo, Popo, and Akan Liberated Africans were the most influential. It seems probable that the basic grammatical structure and vowel system of Krio is an offshoot of Jamaican Maroon Creole[5] spoken by the Maroons, as there are well-documented and important direct historical connections between Jamaica and Sierra Leone. The language was also influenced by African American Vernacular English while the majority of the African words in Krio come from the Akan, Yoruba and Igbo.

As an English-based creole language, the Sierra Leone Krio is distinct from a pidgin as it is a language in its own right,[6][7] with fixed grammatical structures and rules. Krio also draws from other European languages, like 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 pikin, which means 'child', indirectly comes from the Portuguese word pequeno meaning 'small' and often used to mean children in Portuguese.

In Sierra Leone, the Krio Language is spoken by people with different degrees in the fluency, as well as regional changes to the Krio. Many of the speakers of Sierra Leone Krio live in or close to the capital city, Freetown. As of 2007, there were close to 350,000 individuals who spoke Krio as a primary language. Even more individuals were using it as a main language for communication purposes in the country as a whole.[8]

Language origins[edit]

One theory suggests the early roots of Krio go back to the Atlantic slave trade era in the 17th and 18th centuries when an English-based "pidgin" language (West African Pidgin English, also called Guinea Coast Creole English) arose to facilitate the coastal trade between Europeans and Africans. This early pidgin 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 preexisting pidgin was incorporated into the speech of the various groups of freed slaves landed in Sierra Leone between 1787 and about 1855. The pidgin gradually evolved to become a stable language, the native language of descendants of the freed slaves (which are now a distinct ethnic and cultural group, the Creoles), and the lingua franca of Sierra Leone.[9]

Language usage[edit]

Krio usage in Sierra Leone[edit]

Most ethnic and cultural Creoles live in and around Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, and their community accounts for about 3% to 6% of Sierra Leone's total population (Freetown is the province where the returned slaves from London and Nova Scotia settled).[10] 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.

Krio speakers abroad[edit]

The Sierra Leone Creole 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.[11] As a result of Sierra Leone Creole migratory patterns, in the Gambia, the Gambian Creole or Aku community speak a dialect called the Aku language that is very similar to Krio in Sierra Leone. Fernando Po Creole English is also largely a result of Sierra Leone Creole migrants. 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 imported Krio words like sabi into Nigerian Pidgin English.

Language revival[edit]

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. Beginning with the involvement of Lutheran Bible Translators,[12] Krio-language translations of the New Testament and Bible were published in 1986 and 2013.

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.


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


The suffix "-dèm" is used to mark the plural, as well as the genitive plural e.g. "uman" ("woman").

singular plural
Oblique uman umandèm


Verbs do not conjugate according to person or number, but reflect their tense. Tense, aspect and mood are marked by one or more tense or aspect markers. The tense markers are 'bin' for the past tense and 'go' for the future, the absence of either shows the present tense. Aspect is shown by 'dòn' for perfective and 'de' for imperfective. Infinitive is marked by 'fòr' and conditional by a combination of 'bin' and 'go'. Tendency is marked by 'kin' and 'nòbar'. The verbal paradigm is as follows.

infinitive fòr go
present simple (unmarked) go
present progressive de go
perfect dòn go
perfect progressive dòn de go
future simple go go
future progressive go de go
future perfect go dòn go
future perfect progressive go dòn de go
past simple bin go
past progressive bin de go
past perfect bin dòn go
past perfect progressive bin dòn de go
conditional bin for go
conditional progressive bin for de go
conditional perfect bin for dòn go
conditional perfect progressive bin for dòn de go
tendency kin go
negative tendency nò kin/nòbar go

The hortative is marked by 'lè' e.g. 'lè wi go, lè wi tòk' and the optative by 'mè' e.g. 'mè yu Kingmara kam, mè yu Will bi duo'


The following interrogatives can be used:

udat who
wetin what
ustɛm when
ussay where
wetin mek why
us which
ɔmɔs" how much/many

In addition, like many other Creoles, a question can be asked simply by intonation. E.g. Yu de go?: 'Are you going' vs yu de go: 'you are going.' Additionally the question particles 'ènti' and 'nòoso' can be used at the start or end of the phrase respectively.


There is no distinction between masculine and feminine in any person and, unlike Standard English, there is a 2nd person plural form. However, there are the hints of nominative, accusative and genitive cases.

a, mi, mi I, me, my
yu you, your
i, am, im he/she/it, him/her/it, his/her/its
wi we, us, our
unu or una or ina you, you, your (plural)
dèm they, them, theirs


Krio uses the Latin script 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 now
Ay, ay yay eye
B, b bin already
Ch, ch cham chew
D, d dia expensive (< dear)
E, e let late
Ɛ, ɛ ɛp help
F, f fɔs first
G, g got goat
Gb, gb gbana/tranga difficult (from Temne)
I, i titi little girl, small female child
J, j jomp jump
K, k kɔntri country
L, l liv live (being alive)
M, m muf/muv to move
N, n nak knock
Ny, ny nyu new
Ŋ, ŋ siŋ (sing) sing
O, o wok to work
Ɔ, ɔ bɔn born, give birth to
Ɔy, ɔy jɔy joy, happiness
P, p padi friend
R, r ren rain
S, s saf soft
Sh, sh shem shame, to be ashamed
T, t tif steal (< thief)
U, u uman woman
V, v vot vote
W, w waka walk
Y, y yala yellow
Z, z zɛd the letter 'z' (U.S. "zee")
Zh, zh plehzhɔ pleasure

Language samples[edit]

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

Krio High Krio (Salontòk) English
Atikul Wan

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

Artikul Wan

Òll mòrtalmandèm bòrn fri èn ekwal pan dignity èn raihtdèm. Dhèm gèt ratio èn kònshèns èn pantap dhat dhèm fòr akt with dhèm kòmpin na bròdharhudim spirit.

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:

Kushɛh. - "Hello."
Kushɛh-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?"
Ar 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?"
Ar de tich na Prins ɔf Welz. - "I teach at Prince of Wales."
Ar 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
Kushɛh Hello, Hi
Padi Friend
Titi Girl
Bɔbɔ Boy
Mi Me
Pikin Child
Wɔwɔ Ugly
Plaba Conflict
Sɔri Sorry
Tɔk Talk
Fɔgɛt Forget
Ansa Answer
Mek Make
bɔku Many, Too much
Uman Woman
Lef Stop
Mɔt Mouth
kil Kill
Pipul People
Wetin What
Usay Where
Wetin Mek Why
Ustɛm When
Vɛx Angry
Dia Expensive
Waka Walk
Cham Chew
Motoka Car
Sabi Know
Fεt Fight
Wεf Wife
Lεf Stop
Mama Mother
Papa Father
Grani Grandmother
Granpa 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.[13]

The first feature-length documentary entirely spoken in Krio is Boris Gerrets' film Shado’man (2014).[14] It was shot in Freetown at night with a group of homeless disabled people. The film premiered at the IDFA documentary festival[15] in Amsterdam and was seen in festivals around the world including FESPACO, the biannual Pan-African film festival in Ouagadougou.[16][17][18][19][20][21]


Peter Grant, the protagonist of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, is the London-born son of an immigrant from Sierra Leone. While speaking English with other characters, he speaks Krio with his mother. Aaronovitch includes some such conversations in his text, leaving the reader to puzzle out what was said.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lynn, Martin. 1984. Commerce, christianity and the origins of the ‘creoles’ of Fernando Po. Journal of African History 25(3). 257–278.
  2. ^ Dixon-Fyle, Mac, "The Saro in the Political Life of Early Port Harcourt, 1913–49", The Journal of African History, Vol. 30, No. 1, p. 126.
  3. ^ a b Krio at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  4. ^ "Sierra Leone 2015 Population and Housing Census National Analytical Report" (PDF). Statistics Sierra Leone. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  5. ^ Bhatt, Parth; Ingo Plag. The Structure of Creole Words: Segmental, Syllabic and Morphological Aspects.
  6. ^ Singler, J. & Kouwenberg, S. (2011). "Pidgins and creoles: Multilingualism and language contact". The Cambridge Handbook of Sociolinguistics (Cambridge Handbooks in Language and Linguistics): Cambridge University Press: 283–300). doi:10.1017/CBO9780511997068.022.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "Creole and Pidgins".
  8. ^ Velupillai, Viveka (2015). Pidgins, Creoles and Mixed Languages: An Introduction. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 249, 276. ISBN 9789027268846.
  9. ^ Fourah Bay College, Freetown: Guide to Krio, (held at SOAS Univ. of London Library, 195?
  10. ^ Simon Schama: Rough Crossings, London, 2007
  11. ^ A. Wyse: Krios of Sierra Leone, London (1989)
  12. ^ Link to dedication report
  13. ^ video clip of Krio-dubbed version of Zefirelli's Jesus of Nazareth.
  14. ^ "Shado'man - A Boris Gerrets Film". Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-12-20. Retrieved 2014-12-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^[bare URL PDF]
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-04-04. Retrieved 2014-12-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ Debruge, Peter (2013-12-09). "Film Review: 'Shado'man'". Variety. Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  19. ^ "Shado'man (2013) recensie, Boris Gerrets - Cinemagazine". Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  20. ^ "Pijnlijke prachtige schaduwwereld". de Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  21. ^ "Leven in de schaduw in Sierra Leone". NRC (in Dutch). Retrieved 2018-09-17.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]