Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo October 19, 2009

Liberia: Ma Ellen talk plenty plenty Liberian English


Media file: 920.jpg

Glenna Gordon and Jina Moore look at Liberia's efforts to restore law and justice -- for victims of...

author #1 image author #2 image
Multiple Authors

Jina Moore, for the Pulitzer Center

One of the luxuries of Monrovia is working in my native language -- almost. English is the official language of Liberia, and the lingua franca of all things government. But it's not really what the people speak.

Most Liberians speak colloqua, or Liberian English. It's not exactly a pidgin English, and not really English, either. What it is, exactly, is deceiving: An American English speaker like me hears a familiar word or two; I feel totally looped into the conversation, and then, out of nowhere, comes a series of sounds that makes me feel like I've got cotton in my ears.

But the language barrier works both ways. Here, Torwon Sulonteh-Brown, a radio producer for the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), explains her monthly Liberian English radio program, "A Conversation with the President" -- and how she kept on "Ma Ellen," as Liberians call President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to testify before the Truth and Reconciliation commission. (Watch this space for more on the TRC).


pink halftone illustration of a hand underneath a floating feather


Peace Initiatives

Peace Initiatives

Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues