The language of slaves on the island of St Helena, South Atlantic, 1682–1724

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This paper considers reported speech of slaves in court records from the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic. It constitutes some of the earliest evidence of slaves’ language anywhere, and shows that the early slave community on the island of St Helena spoke a creoloid, as well as non-standard Southern English. Nothing is known about the personal history of the slaves apart from some of their names. These names are analysed, and by comparison with name-usage in eighteenth-century London, it is concluded that they betray contemporary British attitudes to slavery. Thus, data is presented on the early linguistic situation of St Helena, showing that creoloidisation happened early on as a result of slavery, and conclusions about master-slave relationships during the period are drawn on the basis of the analysis of names.


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