Bible translated into Gullah, endangered Creole language

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More than a quarter century after the laborious work began, the New Testament has finally been translated into Gullah, the creole language spoken by slaves and their descendants for generations along the sea islands of the Southeast coast.

Gullah is an oral language, so the translation was painstaking, beginning in 1979 with a team of Gullah speakers who worked with Pat and Claude Sharpe, translation consultants with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Many efforts have been made over the years to preserve Gullah, which mixed West African languages with English, and experts believe the translated Bible will be a major contribution toward that goal.

“I think this makes the language universal,” said Ervena Faulkner, co-manager of history and culture at the Penn Center, which is dedicated to preserving the threatened sea island culture.

“People have done Gullah cookbooks, they have done African-American sayings, they have done proverbs,” Faulkner said. “But for the Bible to go out with the Gullah sends a message. It means we can speak the Word.”

Nestled amid spreading oaks dripping Spanish moss on this island just east of Beaufort, the center is located on the site of the Penn School, which was founded in 1862 to educate slaves newly freed by advancing Union troops. The culture — called Gullah in the Carolinas and Geechee in Florida and Georgia — remained intact with descendants of slaves because of the isolation of the region's sea islands. Now, about 250,000 Gullahs live in the four-state coastal area and about 10,000 of them speak Gullah as their main language.

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