I have seen the list of languages of the United States on Wikipedia. The Bantu languages (including Swahili) are the only African languages on it, with 0.22 million speakers, but they aren’t even mentioned further down in the “African, Asian and European languages” section, and I don’t think they refer to people who came to America prior to the 20th century.

Are there African American communities who, in addition to English, speak the language of their ancestors who were brought to the US as slaves? (Of course, the language would have changed a lot by now both in Africa and the States.)

I assume that for this to happen, African Americans would have needed a chance to form a culturally homogeneous group (at least enough people of the same language together), but I’m not sure that happened.

One way this could happen is in more secluded areas, or if the community actively refuses cultural exchange with their surroundings. A non-African example are the Pennsylvania Germans with their Palatine variety of German (which people from that area in Germany can understand to this day), although they obviously had very different starting conditions. I also don’t believe many Africans would have been given the opportunity to form such communities. A second way would be in bigger cities (port cities) where exchange and isolation could co-exist, and where new people from Africa would reach the States.

The closest example I found was the Gullah language (quote from Wikipedia):

  1. Gullah developed independently on the Sea Islands off the coast of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida throughout the 18th and 19th centuries among enslaved Africans. They developed a language that combined grammatical, phonological, and lexical features of the non-standard English varieties spoken by white slaveholders and farmers in that region of the United States along with those from numerous Western and Central African languages. According to this view, Gullah developed separately, or distinctly, from African American English and varieties of English spoken in the South.
  2. Some enslaved Africans spoke a Guinea Coast Creole English (also called West African Pidgin English) before being forcibly relocated to the Americas. Guinea Coast Creole English was one of many languages spoken along the West African coast during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries as a language of trade between Europeans and Africans and among multilingual Africans. It seems to have been prevalent in British coastal slave trading centers such as James Island, Bunce Island, Elmina Castle, Cape Coast Castle and Anomabu. This theory of Gullah's origins and development follows the monogenetic theory of creole development and the domestic origin hypothesis of English-based creoles.

The vocabulary of Gullah comes primarily from English, but there are numerous words of African origin for which scholars have yet to produce detailed etymologies.

But this doesn’t go back to a single language or even language family, but uses grammar and vocabulary from various languages. (Not that any language emerges without roots and mixed vocabulary, but you know what I mean.)

1 Answer 1


No there are no such communities - we gotta understand that the circumstances under which European people resettled and African people found themselves in North America are different. When slaves were brought to a specific area it quite often happened that they represent different languages and even different language families, this is one factor, the other one is that it was very critical to the slave to be fluent in English as much as possible - slaves who were able to communicate in the language of their owners were more valuable.

When African-American became free people the significance of knowing English became even bigger.

That makes Gullah people quite unique. Well, there's also near-extinct Afro-Seminole language, which is considered either a dialect of Gullah or a related language and, therefore, it's creole as well.

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    While the circumstances were indeed different, I would argue that essentially the same dynamics are at play for most groups, and the rates of linguistic assimilation over time are roughly the same. The collapse of nearly all non-English language communities in the US is remarkable (even compared to Canada and Mexico). The main difference between macro-groups is explainable by the total numbers and the time since arrival. Jan 28, 2020 at 19:29

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