Friday, May 11, 2012

An Introduction To Liberian English

postcard we sent to our grandparents in the States in 1984

English is the official language of Liberia.  It is true that there are still many who only speak in one or more of the many indigenous languages.  For example, we had to use translators when visiting certain villages.  However, many people do speak English, even if it is a style of English not familiar to US ears.  I've been told it can be difficult for some in the US to understand.  Having grown up in Liberia I've always found it surprising when watching a film or TV production about Liberia and there are actually subtitles used when a Liberian is speaking in English!   

I guess Liberian English is an acquired sound to US ears, but I believe many from the US would probably understand most Liberians when they are speaking as long as they don’t start speaking too fast!  I would say that the same is true with us and speaking fast.  I've had many Liberians tell me that they thought I was speaking a different language when I speak freely with my US friends!  Talking slowly at first will help both parties until you each get an ear for one another.  

Following is a short glossary of a few Liberian English words and phrases.  In reality you have to hear it to get the rhythm and the accent.  The best place to do that is in Liberia.  


Area/your job, domain, or responsibility, area of specialty  
   "My area to drive taxi.  Not my area to make market."

Bug-a bug ate his brain / someone is not all there in the head
   "That man crazy!  Bug- a bug ate his brain."

Bright/lighter skinned, caramel colored 
    "That bright man say he want to beat you."

Carry/to take you somewhere, to walk with you
    "I will carry you home." (i.e. I will walk home with you)

Chunk/to throw                               
    "Tell them children them to stop chunking rock at the taxi-o."

Da how I looking/This is how I behave
   "If and you don't respect me, I don't respect you.  Da how I looking."   

Dammit/Wow!  (This phrase is acceptable even in church and is not viewed as offensive as it is by some in the US)
    "Dammit!  That was a good sermon!" 

Dress/to move out of the way or "excuse me"  
  "Dress small, my man."  (To add 'small' is to be polite when saying, ‘excuse me’ to someone who is in your way)

Dry/thin, skinny                                
    "That dry woman need to eat some cassava."

Eat (money)/to use money that isn’t yours          
     "I gave him the money for the Old Pa but he eat it."

Fat/healthy (this is actually a complement!)
     "Aye fine girl.  You looking too fat-o!"

Fini/ finished, all gone                    
    "He fini eating all the fufu."  or "My money fini-o."
Hada day/ How are you doing?  How is the day?               
     "Hada day, my man?"  a common response ---  "I thank God."

My heart cut/scared, startled     
      "When I saw the snake my heart cut straight!"

Old Ma/ Mother, title of respect for older woman.  (It is respectful to call an older woman 'Old Ma' unlike in the US.)  
    "The Old Ma makes good fufu."

Old Pa/ Father, title of respect for older man      
      "Old Pa, I beg you, listen to me yah."

Pekin/small child, pre-adolescent, subordinate or someone under your protection (pronounced somewhere between "pee-key" and "pee-king")         
      "She take the pekin to market everyday."  or "That my pekin.  You leave him!"  (as in don't mess with this guy.  He is under my protection)
Reaching/leaving, heading out towards my destination                 
    "Good night.  I reaching."  (as in I’m going home)

Rouge/thief (this is yelled aloud and repeatedly if someone is caught stealing.  Be careful as a mob will usually ensue to deal with this thief.)  pronounced ‘Ro!’
   "The people them beat the ro."

Sabu or Sabu head/bald         
   "That sabu head pekin there can be too frisky!"

Show myself/to reveal your strength usually by spanking, beating, fighting, or somehow using your authority.
    "Aye, my man!  Take yourself from here!  You don't know me?  I will show myself to you!"

    "This man my stranger.  He came to my house last week."

Them/Used for the phrase “and others’  (pronounced ‘then’) 
    "Peter then are here."

Trying/In good health, in response to How are you? How the day?  
   "How you doing?" ---- response  "I trying."

    "I vex with you –o!"

Yah/okay?  (Used to soften what you are saying, or be polite.)             
   "You will bring me some rice yah?"

Waste/spill something or pour something out    
    "Why you waste the water on me?  I will show myself to you-o!"

That's just a few words and phrases of Liberian English.  Hope you enjoyed!  Now find some Liberian friends and practice!

Part II of this introduction has been recently added here.


  1. I really love this. Im a Liberian and it hard for me to understand some of my own family sometimes too. I guess i have been out of liberia for too long. Thanks for doing this. My daughter and i, had a lot of fun reading it.

  2. A good introduction. If you are going for a visit or just want to learn more, get the book.

  3. How do you ask for the email address in Liberian english?

  4. Thanks for the education, I found this very intriguing