Ronald Njoroge and Chris Mgidu NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya’s
Sheng language, a mix of English, Swahili and other vernacular
languages, is beginning to gain acceptance in the country.
unanimous that the language, which was once confined to the
lowest class of society, has now emerged as the Lingua Franca in
University Senior Lecturer Professor Chege Githiora told Xinhua
here on Tuesday that Sheng is a youth-based social dialect of
language was the result of the complex multilingual situation
found in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi,” Githiora said
during a conference on the use of Sheng language in Kenya.
conference brought scholars from the east African region to
discuss the structure, use and pedagogy of the hybrid language.
He said that many languages develop dialects as a result of
migration and settlements over a long period of time.
Githiora, Kenya’s Swahili suffers from low prestige among its
result, speakers tend to switch to English when speaking in
Swahili due to linguistic incompetence and negative attitude
towards the language,” he said.
is also a Senior Lecturer in Swahili at the University of
London, said that the colonial language policy made Kenyans to
have disdains for Swahili.
noted that Sheng’s covert prestige and flexibility has
contributed to the spread of the language.
International University Associate Professor Fredrick Iraki said
that the role of Sheng can be seen in the mass media. “Both
local and international companies now use Sheng when advertising
their products and services,” Iraki said.
He added that
rural youth tend to use the Sheng as they see it as “cool”
noted that Sheng’s prestige among Kenyan youth is due to the
fact that the dialect originated in Nairobi.
the economic hub of the country, has attracted people from all
regions of Kenya. “This has resulted in the mixing of all
Kenya’s 42 tribal languages,” he said.
constitution of 2010 designated English and Swahili as the
Sheng still does not have official status, it is the most
widely spoken language of the youth,” he said.
normally spoken while conducting international business,
education and news. Swahili, on the other hand, is used for
basic inter-ethnic communication, lower level commercial
activity and interaction as well as to express nationalism.
now taking over some of the domains especially in news and
entertainment,” he said.
University Associate Professor Peter Githinji said that some
dialects have over time become recognized as national languages.
He said that
Papua New Guinea has recognized the use of Creole in
parliamentary debate while in Haiti, the Creole dialect is used
in education. Githinji noted that Sheng began in the 1940s.
it is not until the period of the 1990s that Sheng become part
and parcel of Kenyan society,” he said.
is a former Michigan State University Swahili Teaching
Assistant, said that Sheng is now the most common language among
university students in Kenya.
schools also provide the basis for its spread into the rural
areas,” he said.
He noted that
Sheng can also be used to neutralize the mistrust among
Kenya’s ethnic communities. “We need to see how the dialect
can be used productively,” Professor Githinji said.
A former member
of the Constitution of Kenya, Committee of Experts Bobby Mkangi
said that the constitution gives Kenyan citizens the right to be
informed of their legal rights in a language they understand.
that if an accused person only understands Sheng then
constitutionally, the state will be obliged to find an
interpreter,” he said. Mkangi noted that for a language to
grow, it requires political will.