Thursday, October 19, 2006


I'm on a roll. Nothing from me for ages, then three posts come along! This is a lovely story from the Kenya Times about a dialect called Sheng used in that country.
Here's a taster: In the past few months, controversy has been rife over the issue of publishing books in Sheng, a slang believed to have originated from the Eastlands region of Nairobi. The language is a mixture of English, Kiswahili and coinage of other languages such as Kikuyu, Dholuo and Luhya...Critics have argued that Sheng is a language better left to touts...but on the other hand, proponents view it as a language that is set to have matured in the coming fifty years and that will give identity to Kenya. “Language cannot be separated from identity” argued Sam Mbure, adding that, writing in Sheng will give children and the youth a medium of communication in a language that they relate to and understand...But many questions remained unanswered. Original Sheng appears to be secretive and the slang seems to determined by virtue of its place of origin. A sheng from Maringo for instance, differs from that spoken in Korogocho so is the one from Mathare. Which one then will be adopted? Secondly, the language is very dynamic. You leave the estate in the morning knowing a baby’s Sheng name to be Mtoi and when you return in the evening, those left behind will have already invented a new name. Consequently, to a larger extent, it is a confused language...Some time last year, a motorcar was known as Motii, yet it now passes for Dinga. It is also common to find two or more words referring to the same thing. How then are the publishers going to cope with the ever changing words? Will there be consistency in words? Can someone read a book written today in Sheng and after twenty years re read and relate to it?
The writer goes on to discuss the problem of when a dialect becomes a language in its own right - subject of a recent posting here. Here's the link to the whole article:
Once you've read it, answer this if you can: what are 'matatus'? No, really, I don't know, and would like to!

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