The sable slave from Georgia’s utmost bounds,
Escapes for life into the Great Wahoo;
Here he has left afar the savage hounds,
And human hunters that did late pursue;
There in the hommock darkly hid from view,
His wretched limbs are stretched a while to rest;
Till some kind Seminole shall guide him thro’,
To where by hound nor hunter more distrest,
He in a flow’ry home shall be the Red man’s guest.

Albery A. Whitman,
Twasinta’s Seminoles, stanza V.

The late Lenny Bruce (1967:28) referred to “The real fifth column: the Seminoles”, but whatever military contribution the ancestors of the modern Seminole population made—and it was a significant one—it must now remain in history. Today, the descendants of the Seminole Scouts live peacefully in south west Texas and in north-eastern Mexico with their photographs and memories, and their language which, until its existence was revealed to this writer through his prior knowledge of Gullah and of related Creoles in Africa and the Caribbean, remained a secret to the outside world; even to the non-Seminole population of Brackettville (see Hancock, 1989). But despite its continuing use among its oldest generation of speakers today (May 2014), the language has not been passed on to the generations who have followed, and almost certainly it will not survive long into the present millennium.

Still, Creole languages have a remarkable tenacity of their own, and perhaps this prediction is premature; certainly, with or without the language of their forefathers, the Black Seminoles, and their legends and their heroes, will always be a part of the true heritage of the great state of Texas. The language of the Afro‑Seminoles is an English‑lexifier Creole whose origins go back to the west coast of Africa. It continues to be spoken by a dwindling elderly population of fewer than three hundred in south Texas, central Oklahoma and northern Mexico1; it is called Seminole (“shim-ino- li”) in the Brackettville, Texas community and Maskogo in the sister community in Nacimiento, Coahuila.

The Black Seminoles’ separation from Florida and their migration West followed that territory’s sale to the United States in 1821 as it became part of the Union. Most of its living speakers in Texas were born in the closed environment of the Fort Clark Indian Reservation. Since 1917 their families have been living in the town across Highway 90 in close contact with other Americans, and few people younger than about sixty five are fluent in the language.

The existence of the Seminoles’ language was kept from outsiders until 1976. Joe Dillard, whose Black English was for many years the standard work on African-American speech reported that his field-trip to Brackettville “tended to confirm the notion that the dialect of the Black adults is essentially that of Black English everywhere in the United States ” (1972:182). And Kenneth Wiggins Porter, who had surely worked more closely with the people over a period of thirty or more years than any other outsider, expressed “embarrassment and surprise” at having worked with the Seminoles for so long without ever having learned of their language (personal communication, July, 1976). He had earlier called their speech “perfectly understandable English” (Haynes, 1976:3).

Learning about Seminole

My own knowledge of the existence of the language began as a hunch. In 1975, I met a graduate student at my university who was writing a thesis on Texas military history. He told me that he had visited Brackettville in order to tape-record an interview with a man, a Black Seminole, whose father had served as a scout f or the Texas Rangers at the turn of the 20th century. I had never heard of Black Seminoles, believing (like most people still do) that Seminoles were Native Americans and that they lived in Florida. Assuming that connection with Florida, my curiosity led me to the works of Arthur Wiggins Porter (especially Porter, 1971), which provided much of the history outlined here. The fact that the Black Seminoles were escapees from the Carolina and Georgia plantations suggested the possibility that they might be speakers of Sea Islands Creole (i.e. Gullah, or Geechee), and that perhaps they had brought it with them on their journey west. He kindly allowed me to make a copy of his tape, and it was clear from listening to the man being interviewed, whose name was Caesar Daniels, that there was interference in his English from another system, which I recognised as Creole—for example he more than once used the Creole plural-marker dem (“the soldier dem”). I published a paper based on that tape before deciding to visit Brackettville for myself the following year (Hancock, 1975).

In the summer of 1976 I drove to Brackettville (called just “Brackett” locally), which is located some thirty miles from the Mexican border on Highway 90. I went straight to the town hall seeking information. I asked about language, and was told that the Seminoles didn’t have their own, that they spoke English and some of them spoke Spanish too since they worked on the surrounding ranches. I got the same answer again at the town’s only liquor store, where I was told to go a few blocks down to Dimery’s Bar, a social centre, along Highway 90, frequented by the Seminoles. Here, not knowing that my visit was already expected thanks to a quick phone call, I casually led up to the topic of language with the lady standing behind the bar, Mrs. Lilly Mae Dimery (sadly no longer with us). I was again told that there was no special Seminole language. I decided at that point to say something in Gullah, with which I was already familiar, to see whether it would elicit a response: I reasoned that if I sounded like a lunatic it wouldn’t really matter, because I’d be gone for good and all they’d remember would be an outsider who showed up one day babbling nonsense. So in my best approximation of that language, I asked ‘Is it really true that you don’t have your own way of speaking among yourselves?’ (duh chrue fuh chrue seh hunnuh nuh ha hunnuh own way fuh talk munks all a hunnuh? or something to that effect).

Instantly, Ms. Dimery’s response was to set down her tray, point at me, and tell me to wait right where I was. The bar had become completely quiet. The pool players stopped their game and stood watching, holding their cues. She got on the phone and within minutes a grim looking lady came striding in and I was asked to repeat to her what I’d just said. It was the late Ms. Charles Emily Wilson, who at that time was the community’s school teacher and historian. She paused for a few seconds, glaring at me, then came back with a long response in Creole that I understood perfectly. We continued like that for a while, and she asked me to come to a community meeting later that evening, because (she said) there would be people there who’d be very interested to meet me. I learned later that because the Seminoles had been isolated for so long, they were quite unaware that Creole languages very much like their own were spoken elsewhere in the world by millions of people.

Understandably they were puzzled as to how I, as an outsider, would have known their language. In subsequent visits over the years I have taken along Jamaican and Sierra Leonean friends, and in 1992 I arranged for the Brackettville Seminoles to meet in Georgia and talk to the Sea Islanders for the first time in perhap s more than two centuries. Their comment was that they sounded as though they were trying to speak Seminole, but were not getting it quite right, that it sounded “too English.” In that same year, and again in 1993, I went with the Texas Seminoles to participate in the Smithsonian Institution’s Folk Life Maroon Festival on the Mall in Washington, DC. In fact, Afro-Seminole Creole is not the same as Sea Islands Creole, but the two are closely related and descend from the same earlier parent Creole.

Coastal Gullah has increasingly metropolitanized under the influence of the English that surrounds it. Afro-Seminole Creole is more like the Georgia Sea Islands Gullah found in the writings of Jones (1888) than it is in the South Carolina texts published by Gonzales (1922). Because of the independence of the Afro‑Seminoles, and their earlier geographical and cultural isolation from the larger society, their language has preserved far more of its original character than has Sea Islands Creole. It has undergone far less Anglicizing influence, being spoken for much of its existence in the environments of Spanish and various Native American languages. Sea Islands Creole too has African influences not found in Seminole, traceable to the influx of (especially Sierra Leonean) peoples who were brought into Georgia and Carolina after the ancestors of the Seminoles had left that area and moved into Florida. Neither the names Gullah or Geechee are known in the Seminole community, both of them being labels probably traceable to peoples from the Sierra Leone and Liberia area (the Gola and the Kiji ). Unlike Sea Islands Gullah, whose conservative forms are becoming lost due to Anglicization, Seminole is disappearing because it is not being transmitted to subsequent generations.

Nor will its speakers reveal their knowledge of Seminole to casual outside enquiry; it is a very private language. While standing behind a bench in the cemetery at a dedication ceremony some time ago, I heard a lady some distance away hailing a friend who was sitting right in front of me, in English. When she reached her, she stooped to kiss her cheek, and repeated the greeting in her ear, this time in Seminole. The oldest fluent speakers are now in their seventies, and while younger people can understand much of it, they cannot reply in the same language. Children can neither speak nor understand it. Still, it continues to be spoken. That Suzanne Romaine should claim (2001:v :160) that the language is extinct is puzzling, since she has not ever visited the community and could have only relied on my own publications for her information about Afro-Seminole Creole.

Influence from English is evident in the Texas community, though not in Nacimiento, where Spanish is now the main language of the village. But more African words are remembered and used there, and older pronunciations of some items, such as choo-eh “spill,” now trowway (< “throw away”) in Brackettville, and the name of the language itself. In both communities, speakers claim that their parents and grandparents spoke an even more remote variety, which even they had trouble understanding. There is ongoing discussion of seeking funding to establish an annual summer school in Brackettville, in order to teach the language and history to the present generation.

Features of the Language

Afro-Seminole Creole contains about forty words of African provenance, some half of which are traceable to KiKongo/KiMbundu (about 41% of the slaves brought into Carolina were from this part of Africa), and the balance to languages of the Guinea Coast. On the other hand, it has a number of words of American Indian and Spanish origin not found in Sea Islands Creole. Some examples with matches in Bantu are oolah “bedbug,” pingy “cooking pot,” cootie “stunted pig,” teemuh “dig a hole,” zoondoo “a hammer.” From Gold Coast languages are Cuffy “male given name,” Cudjo “male given name,” kunkie “a tamal” and from the languages of Upper Guinea there are boontuh “buttocks,” chikka-bode “teetertotter,” tabby “mud daub,” chooklah “girlfriend,” ninny “breasts.”

The English items match in the main those found in other Anglophone Atlantic Creoles, pointing to both place (Southwestern England) and time (the 18th century). From the south-western English dialects there are weekaday “weekday,” mole “fontanelle,” yeddy “hear,” leff “leave,” broke “break,” loss “lose,” ees “y east” and ood “wood.” From Scottish English dialects there are pit “put,” snoot “snout,” wurrum “worm,” graytuh “grate” and bresh “brush.” Palatalization of initial velars in such words as gyal, gyaad’n, gyaalic, kyandle as well as the articulation of <ɔɪ> as [aɪ] in such words as liyer, nize , spile , jine and piz’n point to 18th century English phonology.

From Spanish come banyuh “wash,” kwahah “make cheese,” matatty “grindstone,” soakettuh “mud,” beeoleen “violin,” calpintero “woodpecker,” treego “rice,” huckle “adobe hut”. And from Indian languages suffki “corn porridge,” stammal “ground corn,” poleyjo “hominy” and polijotee “a corn-based drink.” There are words for which no etymology have so far been found, such as babba “carry on the back,” or skiffy “vagina” (though Sierra Leone Krio has bamba “carry on the back ” and Bahamian Creole has skiff “young woman”).

Similarities with other Creoles

It has been argued by Haynes that Seminole is not a Creole at all (Haynes, 1976), by Leap that it is “Indian English” (referred to in Haynes, op. cit .), and by Drechsel (1976) that it is relexified Mobilian Yamâ (the Choctaw-based pidgin referred to in Part I), and who believed that it was a product of local origin and development and not the result of diffusion from a common Anglophone Creole base. It is a Creole and, predictably, most like Sea Islands Gullah. It differs from that language in a number of ways, probably due to retention of features lost or obsolescent in the latter, where the postnominal plural dem for example now functions as an “& Co.” marker only: John dem “John and his family/gr oup” but additionally in Seminole book dem books.” Early Sea Islands texts show no as a preverbal negator, and this is the only means of negating in Seminole: E nuh shem he didn’t see her.” Sea Islands Creole now generally negates with ain’t (e ain’ shum ). This hasn’t happened in Seminole since the future marker here is en (< gwen < gwine < going). Similarly, nuh hasn’t become ain’ in Jamaican Creole either, as it has in Trinidad and elsewhere, because in Jamaican the past tense word ben (bin in Seminole) has become en. As in archaic Jamaican Creole there are the forms warrah and darrah f or “what” and “that”.

Like the Caribbean but not the African anglophone Creoles, Seminole has the construction Ah gi um worruh fuh e jrink (“I gave him water (for him) to drink,” but cf . Krio Ah gi am watta foh (lehe) drink ). Atlantic anglophone lexical items widely found in related Creoles include lukka “like, as,” nuff “plenty of,” nummuh “only,” shoes “shoe,” yaze “ear,” teet “tooth,” wisseh “where,” do-mout “doorway,” big-yie “envious,” cut-yie “give a glance of anger,” yie-worruh “tears,” moon “menses,” day-clean “daybreak,” han “arm and hand,” foot “leg and foot.”


1. Nouns and Pronouns

Nouns don’t usually change for plural by adding an ‑s at the end as in English; a few words like day and ting sometimes take a final‑s , and the word chile has its own plural chirren, but the usual way to show that there’s more than one of anything is to follow the word with dem:

De man‑dem wey binnuh wuck dey “The men who were working there”

Ah en talk tuh me frien’ dem “I’m going to talk to my friends ”

If there’s a number before the noun, then the dem isn’t necessary:

Fo uh me frien’ “Four of my friends ”

The same word dem, when placed after someone’s name, means that person and his family or group of friends:

We duh gwen siddung long wit Louis‑dem- “We’re going to sit with Louis and his family (or Louis and his group)”

Kay‑Kay‑dem done eat up all we tettuhpoon- “Kay‑Kay and her friends have eaten all our sweet potato pudding”

Possession is shown by putting the word for what is owned or possessed directly after the owner, without an apostrophe‑s :

Pompey dahdy- “Pompey’s father”

John Horse hoss- “John Horse ’s horse ”

Me ahnty neighbuh Toyota “my aunt’ s neighbour’ s Toyota”

Some groups of words that can go before nouns are:

(a) Demonstratives

dis- “this”
dish-yuh-“this,” close by
da- “that” (dat when emphatic)
darra- “that”
dem- “those”
dem‑yuh- “these”
yanduh- “those,” far away

(b) Adjectives

erreh- “either” Me nuh like erreh one
nerreh- “not any” Nerreh peepil nuh bin dey duh de schoolyaad
lilly- “little”
hongry- “hungry”
state-raise- “non‑Seminole”
hasty- “agitated, nerv ous”
jellie- “jealous”

(c) Possessive pronouns

me, muh, my- “my”
you, yuh, hunnuh- “you” singular
e- “his, her, its ”
him- “his, her, its,” emphatic
we- “our”
hunnuh, yall- “your”
dem- “their”

Hunnuh is only a plural pronoun in most related creoles, but this is not the case in Seminole. Possessive pronouns (and demonstratives) go before adjectives. If the possessive pronoun comes at the end of a sentence, it is followed by own:

Darra-dey cah duh we own- “That car is ours ”

E nuh look lukkuh e own- “It doesn’t look like his/hers ”

The same word own can go with a few other words too:

Duh who‑dat own?- “Whose is it?”

Dishyuh mus be somebawdy own “This must be somebody’s”

(d) Articles

One, uh- “a, an”

De- “the” singular

Dem, de- “the” plural

Some- “some”

Pronouns that go before nouns (possessive pronouns) have already been listed at (c) above. Other kinds of pronouns are the ones that go in front of a verb (subject pronouns), and those which go after a verb (object pronouns). They have almost the same form as the possessive pronouns:

(a) Subject pronouns

Ah, me- “I”
You, hunnuh- “you” singular
E, him- “he, she, it”
We- “we”
Hunnuh, yall- “you‑all”
Dem- “they”

The word for “I” is nearly always Ah, but me is sometimes used in emphatic constructions, and before negative nuh, especially in the expression me nuh know “I don’t know. E is also the commonest word f or “he ” or “she ” or “it,” but him is used for emphasis very frequently.

(b) Object pronouns

Me- “me”
You, hunnuh- “you”
Um, rum- “him, her, it”
We- “us”
Hunnuh, yall- “you‑all”
Dem- “them”

The form of um [əm] with an r , i.e, rum [rəm], is only used when the word before it ends in certain vowels; this is the same in West African Krio and in Sea Islands Gullah:

G’am ([gæm]= gi um) tuh rum- “Give it to her”

Ah cyan’ membuh rum- “I can’t r emember it”

2. Verbs

In English, the different forms of a verb are shown by adding different endings to it, e.g . walk, walks , walked, walking . In Seminole, the Sea Islands Gullah form of the verb doesn’t change like this. Instead of adding endings to it, separate words are placed in front of it. This is typical of creole languages everywhere. In creoles, and therefore in Seminole, more importance is attached to the nature of something happening than to the actual time it happens. In Seminole there are two words to express the nature of the action (called its aspect) and two words to express the time of the action (its tense).

These can be combined with each other to make more complicated structures. The aspect words are:

Duh, uh indicating that action is in progress or happens usually or habitually, and Done, indicating that an action is completed.

Uh is the form of duh that is used after the tense word bin , listed below (binnuh = bin duh).

It is important to remember that these have no reference to time. Duh can be used with the tense words to indicate continuous action in the past or future, and done can refer to something that will be completed at some time in the future that hasn’t even begun yet, or else was completed before some time in the past, also by being used with the tense words. The tense words are

Bin- indicating action before now, and En, gwen, indicating action in the future.

If action now (i.e . in the present) is expressed, it is done so with duh since if the time of the action is now, that action must be in the process of happening. When the verb alone is used, the time it refers to is past. This isn’t true of some verbs, which refer to actions which seem to be independent of time, like know or want.

The different combinations and meanings of these can be understood more easily in the following examples:

(a) With no tense or aspect words

Ah chry fuh do um- “I tried to do it”

Ah tell de man dis mornin- “I told the man this morning”

Molly joog me good wit e pin- “Molly stuck me hard with her pin”

Ah know how fuh shet um- “I know how to shut it”

Wuh else yuh wan”?- “What else do you want?”

When the verb alone comes after the word fuh , and there is no subject pronoun, the fuh means “to ”:

Ah bin too bex fuh talk tuh rum- “I was too angry to speak to her”

When a subject pronoun comes before fuh and a verb, then fuh means “must” or “should”:

Ah fuh talk tuh rum- “I should talk to her”
Ah bin fuh talk tuh rum- “I should have talked to her”

Hunnuh nuh fuh jrink- “You mustn’t drink that da worruh water”

(b) With bin

Meck e bin churray um- “Why did he throw it away?”

Dem bin nyus fuh talk Simanole- “They used to speak Seminole”

Dem bin pit e dahdy een jail- “They put his father in jail”

The last sentence would also be the translation of “his father was put in jail”, because there is no passive in Seminole:

Dem wale me- “I was beaten; they beat me ”

Dem tief e car- “her car got stolen; they stole her car”

(c) With en 

The future word en has several other forms, such as gwen, gwine , ennuh, gwunnuh and soon. The pronunciation without the g‑ seems to be the most common, and probably existed in the creoles from very early on. In Trinidad Creole the future word go has another form oh, and in Saramaccan Creole spoken in South America, the only form now is oh. Even in American Black English, “I’m gonna do it” has the variant pronunciation “I’ m ‘onna do it” and ev en “I’ m uh do it.”

Hunnuh en fin’ we deh- “You will find us there”
De sperrit‑dem en kyah you’way- “The spirits will carry you off”
Hunnuh gwine- “You‑all will die too ” dead too

(d) With duh

Ah duh chry fuh do um- “I am trying to do it”

Molly duh cratch e so foot- “Molly is scratching her sore leg”

Ah fuh duh talk tuh rum- “I should be talking to her”

Dem duh jouk um- “They’re teasing him”

Him duh go tuh school- “He is going to school”

Notice that in the last example, “he is going to school” can have two different meaning, as in English. It can be the answer to “where is that boy on his way to now?” and also to “what is he doing these days? Some creole languages have different constructions for each of these.

(e) With done
You done bruck um fuh chrue now- “you’ve really broken it now!”

Ah done tiyah fuh read- “I have become tired of reading”

Some verbs used with done can be translated with “become” as well, when there is no object following:

E done fix- “It has become fixed”
E done cook- “It has become cooked”

Compare these with:

E done fix um- “He has fixed it”
E done cook da poke- “He has cooked that pork ”

(f) Bin with done and duh

Bin duh is usually pronounced binnuh in ordinary speech:

All me peepil binnuh  talk um- “All my people used  to speak it”

Dem binnuh shout  een de chuch- “They were singing in the church”

Ah bin done shet um suh tight tell ah couldn opin um ’gen- “I had shut it so tightly that I couldn’t open it again”

E bin done tell me bout you befo- “She had told me about you before”

Ah bin done duh walk chree hour  befo ah reach deh- “I had been walking for three hours before I reached there”

(g) En with done and duh

By dis time tumorra hunnuh en done spen two whole week yuh- “By this time tomorrow, you’ll have spent two whole weeks here”

Ah hope seh hunnuh  en done duh meck all da nize een a while- “I hope you’ll have stopped making all that noise in a while ”

Hunnuh en uh see me, nuh worry-  “You’ll be seeing me, don’t worry”

Duh becomes uh after en, in the same way as it does after bin. In slow or careful speech, it stays as duh.

(h) Some other verbs

Seminole has taken some other auxiliaries from English. These are must, could and would, and their combinations mussa, coulda and woulda:

Ah nuh bin know seh ah could do um- “I didn’t know I could do it”
Ah shonuff would like  fuh go too- “I’d sure enough like to go too ”
Ah coulda tell you dat easy- “I could have easily told you that”
E woulda spile fuh chrue- “It would really have spoiled”

Two other verbs with characteristic pronunciations in Seminole are ha (“have”) and leh (“let”) :

Dem chillen nuh ha nuttin fuh do- “Those children have nothing to do ”
E ha fuh git back fuh school- “She has to get back to school”
Leh we go, bubbuh!- “Let’s go, sonny!”
You nuh bin ha fuh la’m go-“You didn’t have to let him go ”
Ah nen leh hunnuh een- “I’m not going to let y ou in”

3. The BE verb

“Be” here covers all the different forms of that verb— is, am, are, was, were, being, and so on. In Seminole, there are different ways of saying this.

(a) “Be ” between nouns is duh in the present tense, (gw)en be in the future, and binnuh in the past:

Him duh de o’des one aroun yeh- “He’s the oldest one around here”

Mr. Toughtry bin duh lyer- “Mr. Toughtry was a lawyer”

E bin wan’ fuh be lyer, Duh da e en be  “He wanted to be a lawyer” ,“That’s what he ’s going to be ”

Duh is also used as a “highlighter” when certain words in a sentence need to be emphasized. It this case, they come at the beginning:

We wan’ talk tuh John- “We want to speak to John”
Duh John we wan’talk tuh- “It’s John we want to talk to ”

Also with question words:

Duh wisseh hunnuh duh gwine?- “Where are you going?”

Duh who-dat bin call  me name?-“Who called my name?”

Duh warruh e need?- “What does she need?”
Duh who‑dat duh dey deh?-  “Who’s there?”
Duh wuh dem bin tell hunnuh?- “What did they tell you?”

Unlike other English-lexifier creoles, neither Sea Islands Gullah nor Seminole will allow for verbs to be brought forward in the same way; both West African Krio and Jamaican Creole can say duh buy you buy im or duh tief you tief im? (“did y ou buy it or did y ou steal it”), but in Seminole it would have to be you buy um or you tief um?

(b) “Be ” in the sense of “exist” or “be in a place ” (like Spanish estar ), is dey:

Hunnuh book dem dey pun da cheer – “Your books are on that chair”
Muskittuh bin dey ebbawey- “Mosquitoes were  everywhere”
Ah en dey een  “I’ll be in my room” me room

(c) “Be ” in front of adjectives isn’t translated at all in Seminole. Whereas in English you would have to say “I am hungry,” “they were noisy” and so on, this is left out in Seminole. That is because adjectives are really a kind of verb.

4. Adjectives

These behave just like verbs, except that without a tense or aspect marker they still can have a “present tense ” It’s hard to think of adjectives having tenses, but it’s one way to explain the difference between dishyuh leaf yalluh and dishyuh leaf duh yalluh ; the first one means “this leaf is yellow,” a kind of permanent state which includes the present since it is yellow while you make the observation about it; the second one has duh which is the aspect word for action in progress, so it would mean “this leaf is getting yellow,” or “this leaf is yellowing.”

Adjectives can be used with the other tense and aspect markers too, just like verbs:

Dishyuh leaf en yalluh- “This leaf will be yellow”
Dishyuh leaf ennuh yalluh- “This leaf is going to turn yellow”

Dishyuh leaf bin yalluh- “This leaf was yellow”
Dishyuh leaf binnuh yalluh- “This leaf was turning yellow”
Dishyuh leaf done yalluh- “This leaf has turned yellow” and so on.

Adjectives are made comparative by using the word mo in front of them, or if they are just short words, by adding ‑uh to them. Sometimes both mo and ‑uh are used together. The word for “than” is nuh:

You ogliuh nuh me- “You’re uglier than I am”
You mo ogliuh nuh me- “You’re uglier than I am”
You mo tankful nuh me- “You’re more thankful than I am”

They are made superlative by using the word mos’ in front of them, or if they are just short words, by adding ‑is to the end. Sometimes both mos’ and ‑is are used together:

You duh de odis’ ooman- “You’re the oldest woman”
You duh de mos’ odis’ ooman- “You’re the oldest woman”

You duh de mos’ tankful man- “You’re the most thankful man”

5. Negatives

There are many examples of negative sentences in the earlier pages. Usually this is made by putting nuh (or no or nah) right after the subject noun or pronoun:

Me nuh sabby um- “I don’t know him”
Me oncle nuh know- “My uncle doesn’t know”
Me ahnty nuh bin wan fuh know’-“My aunt didn’t want to know”                                                                                                                       En ah n’ en tell um- “And I’m not going to tell her”

When a sentence has two parts, i.e . a subject and an object, both are made negative, so it is correct Seminole grammar to say we nuh see nuhbawdy en we nuh bin eat nuttin, “we didn’t see any one and we didn’t eat anything.”

The verbs could, would, coulda, woulda and kin (“can”) don’t have negatives with nuh; the negative forms of these verbs are couldn, wouldn, couldna, wouldna and cahn’ or cyahn’. The aspect marker done, when made negative, is not *nuh done but nabbuh: E nabbuh shem “he hadn’t seen her.”

6. Joining sentences

Words and sentences can be joined together in different ways to make longer, more complicated constructions. Sometimes two complete sentences can be put side‑by‑side with a joining word, sometimes a sentence can be put inside another sentence, and sometimes a sentence can be put after a noun or a verb. When sentences are joined in any of these ways, they need joining words. Some of these are, for

(a) A sentence following another sentence

Me duh gwine en you fuh ’tay yuh- “I am going and you must stay here”
Josie wan’ leff um dey buh you wan’ fuh teck um wit you- “Josie wants to leave it there but you want to take it with you”
Ah en eat now, been’ [bi:ɪn] you n’en dey home befo six- “I will eat now, since you’re not going to be home before six ”

E say e nuh know how e en fine room fuh e seddown, nummuh e en seddown somewey – “She said she didn’t know how she’d find room to sit, except that she was going to sit down somewhere.

(b) Following a noun

Dishuh yaze wey  de doctor bin fix still nuh right- “This ear that the doctor fixed still isn’t right”

Dem piece uh ood wey dey onneet  da stove en ketch  fire ef you nuh moobe um- “Those bits of wood that are under that stove will catch fire if you don’t move them”

(c) Following a verb or adjective
Duh chrue seh  ([sɛ], [sə]) all two de man drown?  Ah bin yeddy seh duh lie- “Is it true that both men drowned?” “I heard that it was a lie ”

E ax um seh ‘duh wuh you wan’?’- “He asked him ‘what is it that you want?”
E gie um ansuh seh ‘nuttin’- “He answered him ‘nothing”‘

(d) More about fuh

Two different uses of the word fuh have been given already, namely as the indicator of a verb when it has no subject (to  run, to jump, to eat, etc.) and as a word meaning “must” or “should” when the verb does have a subject (“I must run,” I must jump,” etc.): fuh run , ah fuh run ; fuh jowmp, ah fuh jowmp, etc. Fuh can be used this way by itself, as in these examples, or together with ha (“have”), to giv e haffuh: Ah haffuh run. In the past it is bin fuh ‘should have.” Together with bin , bin fuh means “should have,” as in dem bin fuh go “they should have gone,” but sometimes it is mistakenly used as though it meant the same thing as bin duh (binnuh).

In sentences of the kind ‘“something for you to eat,” or “a song for them to sing,” which need a “to ” before the verbs in English, there is no need to use fuh:

Sometin fuh you eat- “Something for you to eat”
One song fuh you sing- “A song for you to sing”

It is also not necessary to use fuh after wan’ (“want”):

Ah wan’ go- “I want to go”

(e) Dey pun and studdeh
Dey pun means to be engaged in some action, as in e dey pun fool , “he ’s acting the fool (at this time).” The word studdeh can also have a similar meaning, and signifies that the action of the verb is repetitive or continuous: E studdeh binnuh watch de gyal “he was steadily watching the girl .”

7. Adverbs

Regular adverbs have the same form as the adjectives they are related to; it’s their position in the sentence which makes them adverbs:

De poodie gyal duh sing- “The pretty girl is singing”
De gyal duh sing poodie-  “The girl is singing prettily”
Some other adverbs, not derived from adjectives, are

How- “how”
Meck, meck‑so- “why”
Wisseh, wey- “where”
Wuh‑time, win- “when”
Tuhday- “today”
Turruh‑day- “the other day”
Soon- “soon,”
Soon een de monin- “early in the morning”

Adverbs are also whole phrases which tell you how, why, where or when:

Behime de do- “Behind the door”
Tru de do-mout- “Through the doorway”
Puntop we roof- “On our roof”
Wit e pent‑bresh- “With his paint ‑brush”
Kezz e bin wan’ fuh- “Because he wanted to ”
Nice de winduh- “Near the window”

8. Tags

Tags are little words you stick on the end of a sentence to give it a particular tone. Two common tags in Seminole are enty and nuh:

Nuffuh peepil bin deh dey, enty?- “Plenty of people w ere there, weren’t there?”

Dem en come back, enty?- “They’ll come back, won’t they?”

Enty can also come at the front of a sentence:

Enty dem yie bin shet? -“Weren’t their eyes closed?”

With nuh:

Nuh loss um, nuh Gie me, nuh- “Don’t lose it, will you” “Give it to me, won’t you?”

Derivation of the word ‘Seminole’

Derivation of the word ‘Seminole’ diagram

Derivation of the word ‘Seminole’ diagram

Although the popular association of the word Seminole today is with the Indian population in Florida, according to Giddings (1858:3) it was first used to refer to the African escapees into that region, and was only later applied by the Creeks to the Indian fugitives. “Seminole” has generally been supposed to derive from a Native American word cima meaning “a type of wild grass,” but more recently another etymology in the Arawak word símaran meaning “bow and arrow” has been proposed by José Arrom (1986). The Indians themselves pronounced cimarrón as cimalon or cimanol transposing the “m” and the “l,” hence the name Seminole—pronounced [sɪmənoʊl] by most Afro-Seminoles today, but in the more conservative creole of the oldest speakers, pronounced [ʃɪmɪno:lɪ].

Seminole History Falsely Represented at Fort Clark

A document and pictorial display entitled “Ar ea attractions” in the lobby of the Fort Clark Springs Hotel (which used to
be Fort Clark itself), and which is also displayed publicly in the town of Brackettville, contains the following information for visitors which both distorts and trivializes the Seminole contribution to Texan history:

“SEMINOLE SCOUTS: Serving during the frontier era, the scouts were the descendants of slaves stolen from Southern plantations by Florida Seminoles. The U.S. Government hired 150 as scouts for the Army to trail hostile Indians of the Southwest. A group settled in Brackettville around Fort Clark, and their descendants remain as area farmers and ranchers. The old cemetery is on a country road about three miles south of town.”

While it is true that the ancestors of the Seminoles were stolen by white people from Africa, they were of course not stolen by Indians from the plantations but escaped voluntarily to join them in Florida, themselves becoming Seminoles, a word simply meaning “fugitiv es.” As stated above, the name Seminole was in fact applied to Africans many years before it was applied to the Indian escapees. The fact that they created their own maroon (i.e. non‑slave) society is what makes the Seminoles unique among African American populations in the United States, and what qualified them to participate in the 1992 Smithsonian Institution’s Maroon Festival on the Mall in Washington DC. Nor did their ancestors simply “settle in Brackettville around Fort Clark ” but were specifically invited to serve as scouts for the Army out of Eagle Pass and Brackettville by the U.S. Government.


Arrom, José Juan, 1986. ‘Cimarrón:’ Apuntes sobre sus Primeras Documentaciones y su Probable Origen, Ediciones Fundación García-

Arévalo, Serie monográfica No. 18. Santo Domingo (DR).

Cohen, John, (ed.) 1967. The Essential Lenny Bruce. New York: Ballantine Books.

Dillard, Joe, 1972. Black English: Its History and Usage in the United States. New York: Random House.

Drechsel, Emanuel, 1976. Pidginization and creolization in North American Indian languages: Mobilian Jargon and Afro-Seminole Creole. Unpublished report to the National Science Foundation.

Evans, Christopher, 1990. “A Scout’s Honor,” The Fort Worth Star Telegram , March 25th, pp. 7-8.

Giddings, Joshua R., 1858. The Exiles of Florida. Follett: Columbus. Reissued by Black Classic Press, Baltimore 1997.

Gonzales, Ambrose E., 1922. The Black Bor der: Gullah Stories of the Carolina Coast. Columbia: The State Co.

Haas, Mary, 1940. Creek vocabulary. Unpublished mauscript.

Hancock, Ian, 1971. A Study of the Sources and Development of the Lexicon of Sierra Leone Krio. Unpublished doctor al dissertation, The University of London School of Oriental and African Studies.

Hancock, Ian, 1975. “Creole features in the Afro-Seminole Speech of Brackettville, Texas.” Caribbean Linguistic Society Occasional Paper, No. 3.

Hancock, Ian, 1977. “Further Observations on Afr o-Seminole Creole.” Caribbean Linguistic Society Occasional Paper, No. 7. Hancock, Ian, 1980a. “The Texas Seminoles and their Language.” Working Paper of the Afro-American Studies and Research Center of The University of Texas at Austin, Spring, Pp. vi+ 29.

Hancock, Ian, 1980b. “Gullah in Texas,” in Joe Dillard (ed.), Perspectives on American English. The Hague:Mouton, 1980. Pp. 305-333.

Hancock, Ian, 1986. “On the classification of Afr o-Seminole Creole,” in Michael Montgomery and Guy Bailey (eds.), Language variety in the South: Perspectives in black and white. University: Alabama University Press, Pp. 85-101.

Hancock, Ian, 1993. “Mortars and metates,” in Peter Seitel (ed.), Festival of American folklife. Washington: Publication of the Smithsonian Institution, pp. 59-61.

Hancock, Ian, 1994. “Componentiality and the creole matrix: The south-west English contribution,” in Michael Montgomery (ed.), The crucible of Carolina: Essays in the development of Gullah language and culture. Athens & London: University of Georgia Press, pp. 94-114.

Hancock, Ian, 1998. “History through words: Afro-Seminole lexicography,” in L. Fiet & J. Becerra, eds., Caribbean 2000: Identities and Cultures. Rockefeller Foundation Publication, University of Puerto Rico, pp. 87-104.

Haynes, Lilith, 1976. Candid chimaera: Texas Seminole. T erm paper, Department of English, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces.

Howard, Rosalyn, 2002. Black Seminoles in the Bahamas. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. Jones, Charles C., 1888. Negro Myths fr om the Georgia Coast, Told in the Vernacular. Boston & New Y ork: Houghton Mifflin & Co.

Littlefield, Daniel F., 1977. Africans and Seminoles. Westport and London: Greenwood Press. 

Loughridge, R.M., 1964. English and Muskokee Dictionary. Baptist Home Mission Board, Okmulgee.

Opala, Joseph, 1980. A Brief History of the Seminole Freedmen. Occasional Paper No. 3 of the African and Afro-American Studies and Research Center, Austin: The University of Texas.

Porter, Kenneth Wiggins, 1947. Freedom Over Me: The Story of John Horse (Gopher John, ca. 1812-1882)—Seminole Negro
Chief and His People in Florida, the Indian Territory, Mexico and T exas . Unpublished typescript.

Porter, Kenneth Wiggins, 1971, The Negro on the American Frontier, New York, Arnos Press. Powers, Bernard E., 1998. “A founding father and Gullah cultur e,” National Parks, 72(11/12):26-29 (November/December 1998). 

Romaine, Suzanne, 2001. “Afro-Seminole Creole,” in John Algeo (ed.), The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol. 6, English in North America. New York: CUP, p. 160.

Surowiecki, James, 2004. The Wisdom of Crowds. New York: Anchor Books. Wood, David E., 1980. A Guide to the Seminole Settlements at Red Bays, Andros 1817-1980. Nassau: The Bahamas Government Printing Department.

Woodhull, Frost, 1937, “The Seminole Indian scouts on the border,” Frontier Times , 17(3),118-127.

Other Works on the Afro-Seminoles

Much more information may be found on the Internet; the place to start for links is: The address to write to f or information is The Secretary, The Seminole Indian Scout
Cemetery Association, P.O. Box 262, Brackettville, TX 78832.

Britten, Thomas A., 1999. A Brief History of the Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts. Lewiston: The Mellen Pr ess.

Brown, Cloyde I., 1999. Black Warrior Chiefs: A History of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts . Fort Worth: Samizdat.

Guinn, Jeff, 2002. Our Land Before We Die: The Proud Story of the Seminole Negro . New York: Putnam.

Haenn, Wililam F., 2002. Fort Clark and Brackettville: Land of Heroes. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing.

Katz, William L., 1987. The Black West. Seattle: Open Hand Publishing Co.

Katz, William L., 1986. Black Indians . New York: Atheneum.

Littlefield, Daniel F., 1977. Africans and Seminoles. Westport and London: Greenwood Press.

McLoughlin, William, 1974. “Red Indians, black slavery and white racism: America’s slave holding Indians,” American Quarterly, 26(4):367-385.

McReynolds, Edwin C., 1957. The Seminoles.

Norman. Mulroy, Kevin, 1993. Freedom on the Border: The Seminole Maroons in Florida, the Indian Territory, Coahuila and Texas . Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press.

Opala, Joseph, ed., 2003. The Gullah Connection Trail. Honors Program Special Report, Harrisonburg: James Madison

Pirtle, Caleb & Michael F . Cusack. 1985. Fort Clark: The Lonely Sentinel on Texas’ Western Frontier . Austin: Eakin Press. Porter, Kenneth Wiggins, 1945. “Notes on the Seminole Negroes in the Bahamas,” The Florida Historical Quarterly , 24(1):56-60.

Porter, Kenneth Wiggins, 1950. “Negro guides and interpreters in the early stages of the Seminole W ar,” The Journal of Negro History, 35(2).

Porter, Kenneth Wiggins, 1952. “The Seminole Negro-Indian scouts,” Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association , January issue.

Powers, Bernard E., 1998. “A founding father and Gullah cultur e,” National Parks, 72(11/12):26-29 (November/December 1998).

Sturtevant, William C., 1971. “Creek into Seminole,” in Eleanor Leacock & Nancy Lurie, (eds.), North American Indians in Historical Perspective, New York: Random House. Pp. 92-128.

Twyman, Bruce, 1999. The Black Seminole Legacy and North American Politics 1693- 1845. Washington: Howard University Press.

Walker, James W., 1976. The Black Loyalists . New York: Africana Publishing co., Dalhousie University Press.

Whitman, Albery, 1880. Twasinta’s Seminoles; or, Rape of Florida. St. Louis: Mason-Jones.