The Raciolinguistic Landscape of Liberian English

Author: Krystal A. Smalls (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, United States)
Speaker: Krystal A. Smalls
Topic: Linguistic Landscapes
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Language, as a prominent and powerful aspect and conduit of culture and politics, played a critical role in the early cultivation of Liberian nationalism and social life and continues to bear upon sociopolitical relations in the country and its diaspora. The roughly 15-20 Indigenous language varieties (the number varies as a result of disputed designations as dialects or languages but most accounts list 16) spoken in Liberia are generally grouped into three language families: Mel, Kru, and Mande. In addition to Arabic and other languages spoken by foreign residents, a variety of Englishes and English-related varieties are spoken by a majority of the population, often in addition to one or more Indigenous languages (Dunn et. al 2000; Singler 1981). Of the many English and English-related varieties, there is a general consensus among scholars that there is a local standardized variety usually called “Liberian English” or “Liberian Standard English” by scholars and “English” or “” Liberian” by Liberians as well as a host of local hybridized, or “Indigenized” varieties (often called “”kolloqua,”” or “”Kwi””) (Mongrue 2011; Singler 1981). Like many varieties forged through colonialism and slavery, Liberia’s Englishes are part of a complicated continuum that is often organized with a heavily accented version of the lexifier (usually a European language) on one end and a variety that diverges more substantially from the lexifier on the other. Using a raciolinguistic perspective (Rosa and Flores 2017) and raciosemiotic approach (Smalls 2020) rooted in more than 10 years of ethnographic research, this paper explores the various past and present meanings and sociopolitical functions of Liberia’s many English varieties.


Dunn, D. Elwood, Amos Jones Beyan, and Carl Patrick Burrowes. 2000. Historical Dictionary of Liberia. Scarecrow Press.
Mongrue, Jesse N. 2011. Liberia: America’s Footprint in Africa: Making the Cultural, Social, and Political Connections. iUniverse.
Rosa, Jonathan, and Nelson Flores. 2017. “Unsettling Race and Language: Toward a Raciolinguistic Perspective.” Language in Society 46 (5): 621–47.
Singler, John Victor, and And Others. 1981. “An Introduction to Liberian English.”
Smalls, Krystal A. 2020. “Race, Signs, and the Body: Towards a Theory of Racial Semiotics.” In The Oxford Handbook of Language and Race, edited by H. Samy Alim, Paul V. Kroskrity, and Angela Reyes, 233–60. New York: Oxford University Press.


Keywords: Liberia, raciolinguistics, raciosemiotics, Blackness