Harvard University will have a new class available this fall, and it is a class centered around the Gullah people and their language. Gullah is a language that was birthed in what is called the “lowcountry” region of South Carolina, and is generally described as a mixture of English, Central and West African languages. Teaching the class is a native South Carolinian, Sunn m’Cheaux, who is an activist, artist and social commentator.

The Gullah language was used by Black people in the South to communicate among themselves and with overseers on the plantations, and is believed to have spread from South Carolina to Georgia and eventually Florida. Since Gullah is an oral language and not a written language, there are few books available on the subject. m’Cheaux plans on teaching the class primarily using conversations with native speakers as a way to introduce people who are used to speaking “standard” English to the Gullah language.

The head of the African Language Program, Dr. John Mugane chose Sunn m’Cheaux because he was impressed with how quickly m’Cheaux was able to teach him basic concepts about the Gullah language. m’Cheaux was put in contact with Mugane by a graduate student who knows him and thought that Mugane would be interested in implementing a course on Gullah at the university.

Mugane describes the importance of the course in these words: “To engage in intellectual and professional work in the Gullah community, we deem it necessary even critical that scholars be literate in Gullah whose basic demonstration is an ability to hold non-trivial conversations with the people they write about, including (and especially) in Gullah, the language of the people they write about.”

“fo da cultcha” indeed.

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