Liberian English

It has been a long while. Hope everyone has been doing well in the interim. Let us start again.

The topic for today is Liberian English. The official language in Liberia is English and is the language most often spoken on the street. However, if you come from India, US or Europe and think you can straightaway understand what is being said, then you are sadly mistaken. As a Liberian once said to me,’ I can sell you right in front of you and you wouldn’t even know’. You have to develop Liberian ears to follow the conversation.

Liberians speak with a very thick tongue and keep dropping the last part of the word. It is as if you are in Texas or as if people have marbles in their mouth. With their heavy tongue, ‘this’ becomes ‘dis’ and ‘that’ becomes ‘da’. There is a popular song going around here , ‘Da ma era’ which in plain english means ‘ That is my area’. (In the song, this phrase ‘da ma era’ is being uttered by a street vendor pointing to a particular spot and claiming ownership of the spot). Similarly, ‘pepper’ becomes ‘peppe’. And, when I say you have to develop liberian ears, I mean that you have to distinguish between ‘peppe’, ‘pepe’ and ‘pen pen’, all of which have completely different meanings. ‘pepe’ refers to ‘urinating’ or ‘passing water’ while ‘pen pen’ refers to the motorcyclists rushing by on the road making the sound ‘peeeen peeen’ with their blaring horns. (Interesting tidbits: Like India, you can find signs on the walls saying – ‘ Only dogs can pepe here’. And, the ‘Pen Pen’ drivers drive so recklessly that they have a second name as well – ‘suicide bombers’.)

In addition to the thick tongue, Liberians also have their own usage of terms and way of saying things. They don’t say ‘please’, they ‘beg you’.  They don’t get ‘angry’, they get ‘vexed’ and they don’t ‘quarrel with each other’, there is ‘confusion between them’. When they like what you are doing, they say ‘ goo goo’ and the ‘good’ is almost pushed out of the mouth to create emphasis.   It is as if the head goes back and then jerked forward to create the emphasis. Once I gave a banana to a child I met on the street. Next time he saw me, his eyes twinkled, and he arched his body like children do and said, ‘I enjoyed the banana you gave me’. He didn’t just ‘like’ the banana or ‘the banana was good’, he ‘enjoyed’ it. Hearing him say that warmed the cockles of my heart. It was so sweet.

With that background, here are some more snippets of Liberian english for you to ‘enjoy’.

Liberian English                       Plain English

  • Go                                     Gold
  • Lego, Lego                     Let us go
  • Cocona                            Coconut
  • Motoba                            Motor bike
  • Daee, Daee                     That is it
  • Howzit                             How is it
  • Ho                                     Hole
  • Aaho                                 Asshole
  • Cowata                             Cold water
  • damn bah                        damn bad
  • damn bi fi                        damn big fish
  • goo, goo                           good
  • gu plae                              good play
  • mamein                            my man

Later,

Kapil

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