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ABOUT GULLAH / GEECHEE SEA ISLAND CULTURE

Gullah Culture: Book

 

DEFINITION

NOUN: Coastal South Carolina and Georgia

1a. The Gullah creole. b. A speaker of Gullah.

2. Offensive Used as a disparaging term for a person who speaks a nonstandard local dialect, as in Savannah, Georgia, or Charleston, South Carolina.

3. ETYMOLOGY: Ultimately after the Ogeechee River, Georgia, along which distinctive varieties of Black English were spoken.
The American Heritage AE Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

It is believed the name Ogeechee comes from the Muskogean Indian Tribe meaning "River of the Yuchis"

According to the American Heritage Dictionary the word Geechee derives from the Ogeechee River. Map

Gullah-Geechee Ring Shout from Georgia

 

 

 

The McIntosh County Shouters is a ten-member Gullah-Geechee group that began performing professionally in 1980. The “ring shout,” is a compelling fusion of counterclockwise dance-like movement, call-and-response singing, and percussion consisting of hand claps and a stick beating the rhythm on a wooden floor. African in its origins, the ring shout affirms oneness with the Spirit and ancestors as well as community cohesiveness. The ring shout was first described in detail during the Civil War by outside observers in coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia. Its practice continued well into the 20th Century, even as its influence was resounding in later forms like spiritual, jubilee, gospel and  jazz.  By the late 20th century, the ring shout itself was presumed to have died out until its rediscovery in McIntosh County in 1980; thus, the beginning of the McIntosh County Shouters.  The group was awarded the NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 1993, and were selected as Producers of Distinction and Founding Members of  the “Georgia Made Georgia Grown Program,” in 2009. Their performances include the National Black Arts Festival, of Smithsonian Folklife Festival, World Music Institute, and Sound Legacies at Emory University. The group has been featured in magazines and documentaries, including HBO's Unchained Memories.

 

Gullah and Geechee Traditions
The first Gullah residents were brought to the United States and enslaved from many African nations, including Angola. Another myth the Queen Quet dismantled pertains to the way Gullah people speak. Gullah is an authentic language, not merely a dialect as some self-proclaimed experts claim, she said.


INDEPENDENT SCHOLARS

J. Herman Blake

J. Herman Blake
Sociologist:
Scholar in Residence
University of South Carolina Beaufort
Johns Island, SC 29457-0846
[p ]843-521-3138
[e] blakej at gwm.sc.edu
Founder The Sea Islands Institute at The University of South Carolina Beaufort honoring people of the Gullah/Geechee culture. "Primary focus is the study and preservation of Gullah culture through a program of scholarship, curriculum development, and community development."
Also see: 1963 Malcolm X interview of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz University of California Berkeley


Geechee culture and language captured in 70-year-old recordings: For more information, contact: Michael Sullivan (912) 681-0336 mikesull@GeorgiaSouthern.edu
June 2, 2005 #05-473

On a warm spring morning on Sapelo Island, Ga., Cornelia Bailey and Benjamin Hall sit on the veranda of the senior center and listen to a recording of the Rev. John Dunham reciting a Brer Rabbit story. The recording is more than 70 years old. Bailey and Hall are helping Georgia Southern University professor Thomas Klein translate and transcribe the recording from the Gullah-Geechee dialect to modern English.

The recording is one of many made in the early 1930s by the first African American linguist, Lorenzo Dow Turner. He traveled the Georgia and South Carolina sea islands and recorded the island residents talking about their families, their traditions and their daily lives. Informants

Now Klein is working to bring the recordings up to date and share them with the present-day islanders.
We are finding out about a group of people who have traditionally been under-represented and misrepresented, said Klein. We are learning about the diaspora of the African people on the American continent; we learn about the survival and adaptation skills that people have.
Bailey is a life-long resident of Sapelo Island and a leader in the small Hog Hammock community. I thought it was a great project; no one had done this before, she said. I read Turners book and stopped there. Thomas went beyond that and found out about these audio manuscripts, and no one had done that before.
Occasionally the project will become more than just academic research and hit home with the islanders. One day Bailey found herself listening to her great-great uncle, Shadrack Hall.
I remember him, and to hear his voice describing everything in minute detail, I said, You have to be kidding! Anyone who came to the house, I said, You have to listen to this, she said. I was dragging people in and saying, You have got to listen to this!

Called Gullah in South Carolina and Geechee in Georgia, the culture and language of the sea island residents has been preserved in small communities like Hog Hammock. The residents are the descendents of slaves who worked the island plantations before the Civil War. During the years of slavery, they developed Gullah-Geechee as a Creole language.
A Creole language arises out of the context of speakers of otherwise unintelligible languages in this case, English and African languages, said Klein. Eventually the Creole language replaces the original languages.
Klein discovered the Turner recordings at the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music.
Many of the people Turner interviewed had been born into slavery. While the recordings may be useful to a historian or a folklorist, they are also a gold mine to a linguist like Klein.
For me they are essential, because I can hear the original Gullah-Geechee speech as it was happening in 1932 and 1933, he said. This is absolutely unique. It is the only source of its kind to the best of my knowledge.
Translating and transcribing the Turner recordings may be a labor of love, but it isnt easy. It can take as much as an hour to translate just a minute or two of tape. One problem is the quality of the recordings. Klein is playing CDs, but the original equipment Turner used in the 1930s wasn't as good as modern recording tools. Another issue is the cultural difference between todays island residents and their ancestors.
The Geechee people of Sapelo don't understand Gullah-Geechee that well themselves anymore, and its a different kind of speech, said Klein. So this is the first time they are hearing Gullah-Geechee spoken the way it was 70 years ago. So its a matter of tuning your ear to the older stage of the language.
The differences between life on the island in the 1930s and today also present difficulties. They are talking about their daily lives 70 years ago and their lives were much different than what they are today, Klein said. The words they used are quite different.
Some linguists believe Gullah-Geechee is endangered because of the dominating influence of English. However, Klein says that may not be the case. It turns out the evidence you find is that Geechee is holding its own. Its not laying down to die. The structure of the language is still very much alive, he said.
A good percentage of the Gullah-Geechee community give up speaking the language, especially those who move off the islands. Klein found a core of island residents who are bilingual, switching back and forth from Gullah-Geechee to English as the circumstances dictate. For the people who are still here, who still speak Gullah-Geechee, the language is holding its own and is distinct from English, he said.
Klein is the latest in a long line of linguists, historians, anthropologists and other researchers who have studied the sea island people and culture. Islanders have developed a degree of skepticism of scholars who visit the island to pursue their work and then move on without leaving anything behind. Klein has a different approach. Every time he visits Sapelo with his recordings, he is bringing something into the community a contact with the islands past.
I don't want to work on the community; I want to work with the community. There is a huge difference, he said.
Bailey has opened her home to Klein to conduct his listening sessions. She says Kleins work is filling missing links in the communitys history. You know that black history has always been a bit sketchy, hit and miss, she said. Some we thought was ours was European or Native American. To find that this was something that was all ours; it was great. We are getting something great out of this.
In addition, the island residents hear about life on the island told by people 70 years ago. It is a time line of people talking about their lives back to the 1850s.
Its like hearing an audio history of your own family and your own history that you didnt know existed before, said Klein. You can't buy this. Its been wonderful for both parties.
Bailey shares Kleins enthusiasm and believes the community is getting more out of this project than Klein. It benefits him and his teaching and so forth, but I think it benefits us as much as it benefits him, she said. It is our history and culture. Its ours.

--

Talk of the Gullah tradition Sea Islanders help translate rare, 1930s-era recordings
http://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/story/4944511p-4523998c.html
BY MONIQUE GREEN, The Island Packet
Published Tuesday, June 14th, 2005
Emory Campbell tunes his ears to the sounds of his ancestors -- listening intently to learn more and help preserve a language he sees as a fragile specimen.
Campbell is the main source representing the 25 native islanders whom a Georgia Southern University linguistics professor is working with to unlock some 70-year-old recordings of the Gullah-Geechee language. But the process is difficult, partly because even Gullah people don't understand the language that well anymore.
Professor Thomas Klein is translating the 1930s-era recordings that are "the only source of its kind" with present-day Sapelo and Hilton Head islanders, at the same time teaching islanders that Gullah is not broken English and is a language of its own.
Hilton Head and Sapelo Island, Ga., are among the once-isolated Sea Islands where Gullah-Geechee speech developed.
That's why Lorenzo Dow Turner, the first African-American linguist and creator of the recordings, traveled the Georgia and South Carolina Sea Islands in the early 1930s. He made the recordings of Gullah, a Creole language derived from English and West African languages, to capture the voices of islanders born into slavery, discussing their families, traditions and daily lives.
Klein said he received the recordings from the Indiana University archives of traditional music.
It can take as long as an hour to translate just a minute or two of the tape partly because of the poor quality of the old recordings, Klein said.
While Campbell, a Gullah preservationist and author, said he understood a lot of the words in the recordings, he realizes many native islanders would not because they have chosen not to speak Gullah anymore.
Even before the island was connected to the mainland by a bridge in the 1950s, children were discouraged from speaking Gullah in school.
"Some of us got Gullah beaten out of us," Campbell said.
Gullah has not been widely accepted because it is not a written language and often is mistaken as broken English, Campbell said. Some Gullah people are trying to preserve Gullah by putting it into a written form, while some scholars don't believe this is the best method.
"If you put it in a written form, like a Webster's Dictionary, it tends to stabilize it," said Ray Crook, an anthropology professor at the University of West Georgia, who studies Gullah. "It's a unique oral language that's dynamic and ever-changing."
But Louise Miller Cohen, a Gullah storyteller from Hilton Head, sees writing down the language as a way to pass it on to future generations. Cohen is putting together a book to translate Gullah.
"This is my language, and I'm making a Gullah book because I don't want to lose the words I grew up with," she said.
The Sea Island Translation Team is translating the New Testament of the Bible and already has completed the Gospel of John. Some scholars also are working on types of dictionaries.
With young people more influenced by popular culture and moving to seek economic and educational opportunities away from the Sea Islands, the language is disappearing.
Campbell said he would like to see Gullah flourish and continue to be passed on through the generations, but realistically he knows this will be difficult.
"It is my wish, but not my hope (to preserve Gullah)," Campbell said. "But we don't have a textbook to teach Gullah -- it won't be easy."

Sound Structure in Gullah
The Narratives in Turner's 'Africanisms' as a Linguistic Resource By Thomas B. Klein & Meta Y. Harris 1/2001
To date, the narratives in 'Africanisms' have had a relatively minor influence on Gullah language studies. In contrast, this paper demonstrates that close study of these narratives contributes significantly to the understanding of phonological patterns and phonological variation in Gullah.
First, it is shown that there are mismatches between the description of Gullah phonology in the body of 'Africanisms' and the phonology of the narratives. Thus, a number of patterns described in the main text are not represented in the transcription conventions of the narratives. On the other hand, close study of the narratives reveals patterns that are not described in the text, such as Nasal Velarization (NV) and the deletion of unstressed syllables in pre-stress position (PSD) in English cognates.
In addition, the transcription of the narratives often provides phonological variants, thus enabling the study of phonological variation in Gullah.
As shown in this paper, NV in the narratives in 'Africanisms' transforms an etymological alveolar nasal into a velar nasal after the diphthong /aw/. Similar patterns are found in related Creoles such as Jamaican, Guyanese and Trinidadian/Tobagonian Creole English.
However, Gullah shows a dissimilatory effect in that NV does not occur if there is a velar consonant elsewhere in the word, whereas NV applies across the board in other creoles.
This paper also shows that the narratives in 'Africanisms' provide evidence for variable PSD. The overall rate of deletion is high. It is also shown that PSD differs by location and is heavily gender-graded.
In sum, this paper demonstrates that the close study of the narratives in 'Africanisms' can make a number of significant contributions to Gullah language studies. First, the uncovering of previously undescribed phonological patterns is enlightening for the linguistics of Gullah. Secondly, the demonstrated difference between different locations and men's and women's speech has significant implications for the dialectology and sociolinguistics of Gullah. Thirdly, the understanding of the connection between Gullah and other Creoles is enhanced by the similarities and subtle distinctions found in patterns such as NV. The match in the highly frequent and socially graded occurrence of PSD in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and Gullah versus the absence of NV in AAVE provides evidence which future discussions of the connection between AAVE and Atlantic Creole languages should take into account.

W.A. Stewart, Linguist Who Studied Ebonics, Dies at 71 April 10, 2002 by Wolfgang Saxon - Article Summary: William Alexander Stewart

Bill Stewart's Obituary re: William Alexander Stewart Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/10/obituaries/10STEW.html?ex=1019417440&ei=1&en=8a0609fbbc2760c8

Salikoko S. Mufwene
Remarks re: Bill Stewart's research
University of Chicago
Department of Linguistics
Etymology is not one of my strengths. Stewart is not the author of the etymology relating "Gullah" to "Angola". The author of his obituary certainly had to deal with what many of us have faced right after a colleague has passed away, viz., you need information very quickly and cannot verify everything you are told. I am sure anybody doing research on Gullah will know better than to rely on that particular obituary for a newspaper about the etymology of "Gullah." It was proposed in the 1920's, I think, and has been repeated in various publications. It has also been related to "Gola" (in Sierra Leone). Based on the forms, neither etymology is implausible, though I think demographic history may be in favor of "Angola"-- yet congruence of forms may not rule out the second etymology. A key factor is when, in the first place, people started using the word "Gullah." That would help us address the issue. I have no clue and therefore would not even consider writing the NYT if I have no better explanation to offer..


Sali.

 

 

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas
is a Gullah speaker

12/14/00 In Thomas's Own Words NYT

"When I was 16, I was sitting as the only black kid in my class, and I had grown up speaking a kind of a dialect. It's called Geechee. Some people call it Gullah now, and people praise it now. But they used to make fun of us back then. It's not standard English. When I transferred to an all-white school at your age, I was self-conscious, like we all are. It's like if we get pimples at 16, or we grow six inches and we're taller than everybody else, or our feet grow or something; we get self-conscious. And the problem was that I would correct myself midsentence. I was trying to speak standard English. I was thinking in standard English but speaking another language. So I learned that --- I just started developing the habit of listening. And it just got to be --- I didn't ask questions in college or law school. And I found that I could learn better just listening. And if I have a question I could ask it later. For all those reasons, and a few others, I just think that it's more in my nature to listen rather than to ask a bunch of questions. And they get asked anyway. The only reason I could see for asking the questions is to let people know I've got something to ask. That's not a legitimate reason in the Supreme Court of the United States."

Virginia Mixson Geraty: "Along the southeastern coast of the United States there is a narrow strip of land which is known to linguists and dialect geographers as the Gullah Area. This region, which includes the sea islands along the coast, extends roughly from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, and inland for about one hundred miles. Living in this area are African-American people who are descendants of the tribesmen brought to the New World during the time of the Slave Trade. These people still speak variations of the original creole language known as Gullah."

Sound Structure in Gullah:
The Narratives in Turner's 'Africanisms' as a Linguistic Resource By Thomas B. Klein & Meta Y. Harris 1/2001
To date, the narratives in 'Africanisms' have had a relatively minor influence on Gullah language studies. In contrast, this paper demonstrates that close study of these narratives contributes significantly to the understanding of phonological patterns and phonological variation in Gullah.
First, it is shown that there are mismatches between the description of Gullah phonology in the body of 'Africanisms' and the phonology of the narratives. Thus, a number of patterns described in the main text are not represented in the transcription conventions of the narratives. On the other hand, close study of the narratives reveals patterns that are not described in the text, such as Nasal Velarization (NV) and the deletion of unstressed syllables in pre-stress position (PSD) in English cognates.
In addition, the transcription of the narratives often provides phonological variants, thus enabling the study of phonological variation in Gullah.
As shown in this paper, NV in the narratives in 'Africanisms' transforms an etymological alveolar nasal into a velar nasal after the diphthong /aw/. Similar patterns are found in related Creoles such as Jamaican, Guyanese and Trinidadian/Tobagonian Creole English.
However, Gullah shows a dissimilatory effect in that NV does not occur if there is a velar consonant elsewhere in the word, whereas NV applies across the board in other creoles.
This paper also shows that the narratives in 'Africanisms' provide evidence for variable PSD. The overall rate of deletion is high. It is also shown that PSD differs by location and is heavily gender-graded.
In sum, this paper demonstrates that the close study of the narratives in 'Africanisms' can make a number of significant contributions to Gullah language studies. First, the uncovering of previously undescribed phonological patterns is enlightening for the linguistics of Gullah. Secondly, the demonstrated difference between different locations and men's and women's speech has significant implications for the dialectology and sociolinguistics of Gullah. Thirdly, the understanding of the connection between Gullah and other Creoles is enhanced by the similarities and subtle distinctions found in patterns such as NV. The match in the highly frequent and socially graded occurrence of PSD in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and Gullah versus the absence of NV in AAVE provides evidence which future discussions of the connection between AAVE and Atlantic Creole languages should take into account.

Gullah: a study of language.

by Taylor, Mark & Ouzts, Dan T.
Gullah has existed for approximately three hundred years. It is a blend of West African, European and Native American Cultures.

[St. Augustine Florida discovered by Ponce De Leon in 1583 is America's first European settlement. Gullah slaves knew how to plant, grow and cultivate rice. who escaped from plantations in South Carolina and Georgia various groups of renegade Indians in the Florida wilderness to form a new tribe called the Seminoles.]


Most Gullah speaking High School students who attend school speak two languages: Gullah and English as a second language. It is difficult knowing one language, but knowing two without confusing them is most difficult. Additionally, most of the teachers who teach in these communities lack a knowledge of Gullah where it is the student's primary language background. Once a student falls behind they tend to stay behind. Knowing these facts, it is easy to understand how such a proud community can have members who may become functionally illiterate in our society.
Some people believe that teachers in these school districts should be trained to learn Gullah. It only makes sense that we should make every effort to bridge the gap between teacher and student. School districts have often shown a lack of concern for the disparity in these counties up to this point, but with a constant attrition rate in South Carolina's teacher population this appears to be changing. Administrators are now faced with the dilemma of not only attracting good teachers, but also for training them to be effective in Gullah speaking communities.
Gullah is a blend of English and African languages. This type of blending is called a Creole. Creoles are common in the South and stretch from as far north as North Carolina and as far south as Louisiana. Louisiana is known for their Cajun; whereas South Carolina is known for Gullah. Most slaves that came over to North America were from a section in Africa called Angola. When these people were brought to the states they also brought their culture and traditions. In May the Gullah festival is held, and the Penn Center Heritage Days celebration takes place in November, (Gullah Language, 2001). It is at these festivals that one notes that the Gullah culture is still alive and thriving in the South.
Gullah slaves were the backbone of South Carolina's plantation system before the Civil War. They desired freedom just like the American Indian. The Indians had been mistreated and were trying to start a new settlement without any interference with the "white man". Fortunately, Gullah slaves had escaped from plantations in South Carolina and Georgia. These slaves met various groups of renegade Indians in the Florida wilderness to form a new tribe called the Seminoles. The Gullah speaking slaves regained their language, but became known as "Black Seminoles". The Black Seminoles now live in Central Oklahoma, West Texas, and Northern Mexico, (The Black Seminoles, 1998).
The religious practices of many Gullah speaking people were influenced not only by the religion that was practiced on the plantation, but also by the Muslim cultures. Diouf (as cited in By, 2000) discusses a Gullah song: "Rice cake, rice cake/Sweet me so/Rice cake sweet me to my heart" which contained the Muslim word saraka. The Muslim influence not only led to enriching the Gullah culture, but it also helped them stand in defiance as a race to the idea of slavery. The Gullah Wars were a type of anti-slavery movement that began in 1739 and concluded in 1858.

 

Gullah and Geechee Traditions
The first Gullah residents were brought to the United States and enslaved from many African nations, including Angola. Another myth the Queen Quet dismantled pertains to the way Gullah people speak. Gullah is an authentic language, not merely a dialect as some self-proclaimed experts claim, she said.

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