Gullah – Geechee

I recently quoted Kevin Williamson who mentioned that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas grew up “not speaking English”. In his boyhood Thomas spoke a dialect (some argue it is a language) known as Gullah, which is the creole English of costal Georgia and the Carolinas. It is similar to the Caribbean dialects and represents a form of American English that developed in isolation from standard “white” English.

Nowadays there is an effort to preserve the language but in the 1960s it was considered backwards, not only by whites, but also by urban blacks. Thomas described trying – and failing – to make himself understood in English as a boy:

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 just started developing the habit of listening.

A translation of the Bible into Gullah was recently made in an attempt to preserve the language:

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2 comments

  1. This is probably what made him desperate to become accepted and a member of the groups higher up on the pyramid. Interesting.

    1. Who knows. He says that it made him an introvert, but also gave him a greater capacity for reflection.
      His autobiography is interesting – being Geechee put him smack on the bottom. Urban blacks looked down on Geechees because they were (literally) blacker – had less white ancestry – and were considered more backwards.
      He was also extremely resentful of whites. He moved North to escape Southern racism only to find things were much the same. The picture he paints is of a brooding, angry young man drawn towards radicalism. The left likes to paint him as a race-traitor but even in his supreme court nomination he gives his “high-tech lynching” speech and you see a lot of that screw-you / angry black man attitude.

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