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Kiswahili’s future lies in borrowing from English

Discussion in 'Habari na Hoja mchanganyiko' started by Spear, Jan 16, 2011.

  1. Spear

    Spear JF-Expert Member

    Jan 16, 2011
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    Kiswahili's future lies in borrowing from Englishnc

    [​IMG] Lamu town. Mombasa and Lamu have distinct Kiswahili dialects. Photo/FILE
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    Posted Monday, January 17 2011 at 00:00

    When Kenya's Minister of Education Sam Ongeri recently lamented the poor performance of primary school pupils in national examinations of Kiswahili, and ordered an investigation into the matter, it was reminiscent of an oft-quoted saying in East Africa: that Kiswahili was born in Zanzibar, grew up in Tanzania, fell sick in Kenya, died in Uganda and was buried in Congo.

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    This saying, albeit light-heartedly, aptly captures the evolution of the language as one moves north and west of the East African coast, characterised by a shrinking of vocabulary, adulteration by indigenous languages and a near-unforgivable non-adherence to basic structure and noun classes - so much so, that by the time one crosses into eastern DR Congo, or gets to northern Uganda, and lately Southern Sudan, it hardly sounds like Kiswahili at all.

    The pertinent question at the moment is what is the future of Kiswahili as a regional lingua franca as it buffers the storms that plague the "correct" form of the language, particularly in places where it has "fallen sick" to the ravages of other languages, local slang and negative perceptions; or where it has been admitted into "intensive care," perhaps because the proper form has never been mastered in the first place. What can we learn from other linguas franca of history?

    Despite the problems faced in mastery of Kiswahili, the spread of the language in the region is undeniable: more and more people are speaking Kiswahili in Uganda, Rwanda and recently Southern Sudan.

    Charles Omondi, an editor with the African Review, an Online news site owned by the Nation Media Group and recently in Southern Sudan to cover the historic referendum, writes that Southern Sudan could soon be the next major frontier for the expansion of the language widely spoken in East and Central Africa.

    "Having been in Juba," he writes, "I have been marvelling at how widespread Kiswahili is in a land where English and Arabic should be lingua franca. Whether in a hotel, in a shop or on the streets, chances are that one in three people you interact with is able to communicate in Kiswahili...coming at a time when no official effort has been made by the government to promote the language."

    The rise and rise of Tanzanian Bongo flava music in the region has undoubtedly contributed to the spread of Kiswahili, particularly in Uganda, where it had long been considered the language of soldiers, criminals and refugees.

    The language's popularity surged after Ugandan artiste Jose Chameleone recorded his biggest hits todate in Kiswahili - Jamila and Mama Mia.

    In Kenya, Sheng, the oft-maligned working language of Kenya's youth that has its origin in Nairobi's Eastlands, is often blamed for the poor mastery of Kiswahili among Kenyan students.

    It is also interesting to note how Kiswahili demarcates sharp divisions in socio-economic status, and one can tell which side of the divide a person falls in by the language others use to address them.

    Middle and upper middle class children in Kenya, for example, are socialised to speak Kiswahili specifically to domestic workers, drivers and gardeners included - the so-called ordinary wananchi, and are less likely to speak the language among themselves.

    One key step in spreading Kiswahili was to create a standard written language.

    In June 1928, an interterritorial conference was held in Mombasa, at which the Zanzibar dialect, Kiunguja, was chosen to be the basis for standardising Kiswahili.

    Today's standard Kiswahili, the version taught as a second language in Kenya, is for practical purposes the Zanzibar dialect, even though there are minor discrepancies between the written standard and the Zanzibar vernacular.

    The other dialects are Kimvita, spoken in Mombasa, Kiamu, spoken in Lamu and Kingazija, spoken in the Comoros Islands.

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