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College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program


Talk around Town: On Gullah

Tracey Weldon gave an invited talk on Gullah at Georgetown County Library, September 21.

In her talk entitled "The Place of Gullah in the African American Language Continuum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives," Dr. Weldon reflected on Gullah’s origins, its historical development, and its current role in people’s lives.

Gullah, also known as Geechee or Sea Island Creole, is an African American Language spoken along the coast and Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. While theories on its origins vary, it dates back to the Atlantic slave-trading era. This was a time when massive numbers of Africans speaking different languages were brought together under extreme conditions that required the formation of a common means of communication. After the Civil War, Gullah continued to be used by local speakers.

As noted, nevertheless, by Dr. Weldon, “In recent years, linguists and community members alike have feared the impending demise of Gullah, resulting from increased mobility of speakers and the growth of the tourism industry, both of which have disrupted the earlier isolation believed to have been critical to its survival.” Dr. Weldon also spoke about the damaging effects of stigmatizing and negative stereotyping of Gullah speaking which also occurred. She noted encouragingly that “there has been a concerted effort in recent years to preserve and promote Gullah language and culture through storytelling, Bible translations, heritage tours, music festivals, and other initiatives.”

This talk is the first in a series of programs entitled "Out of the Rice Fields: Vestiges of Gullah Culture in Modern Society", which will be presented by 6 USC faculty. These programs are sponsored by a grant from the SC Humanities Council, and Dr. Valinda Littlefield (History) is the PI on the grant.