Don’t Impose Kiswahili Sanifu To The Kenyan Youths

I have finished reading anonline article by Professor Austin Bukenya. Ithas been there since last Saturday. It was publishedonline by a local newspaper in east Africa. The article was decrying the death of Kiswahili in Kenya. It pointed out that Kiswahili has failed to be spoken and be written in Kenya because of shenginization of the communication culture in the public space of the Kenyan people. The article pointed out that Shengi as a corrupted form of Kiswahili has a strong hold among the Kenyan youths.

The article had a condemnatory tone, this is ideally in response to the Kenyan Kiswahili literature prizes by Mabati Rolling Mills having been scooped away by Tanzanian writers a fortnight ago, and perhaps an extension of the east African joke commonly cracked in Uganda that Kiswahili was born in Tanzania, got sick in Kenya, died in Uganda, resurrected in Congo and faced the judgment in Rwanda-Burundi. Most of us can find this jocularity looking like a dead a cliché, but when you socialize with the people of Uganda you find out that this joke is a repertoire of mirth to each and all.

Generally it is an observed cultural situation that the old people in east Africa are the ones worried about extinction of Kiswahili grammar also known as Kiswahili sanifu or mufti. The youths are comfortable and proudly identified with corrupted Kiswahili known as Shengi. Shengi is a blend of English words and the words from the local languages spoken in east Africa. This must be a clash betweenlinguistic civilizations; elderly civilization and youthful civilization.

Corruption of language is not happening in east Africa alone. It has been experienced in all ages and across civilizations. Arthur Schlesinger in his book A Thousand days of John F Kennedy used the words; Patois or gobbledygook to described English language as spoken by the American workers of that time. Nigeria has the pidgin; England has the experience of dock workers and the gipsies’English. Revelations from researches carried out in psychology, anthropology, sociology and linguistics show that language does not influence human behavior it is human behavior that influence language, and in turn human behavior is an antecedent variable of social class, physical environment, economic environment, technology, and class consciousness, nature of worker, home set-up, social objectives and mainstream social interactions. This is why Chinua Achebe recognized use of Pidgin English among the middle class in his book Ant Hills of the Savannah. Also in the same stretch, Malcolm X in his Autobiography used American patois or slang English in awhole chapter. This was in recognition of what actually happens as a linguistic sub-culture and communication among the American workers but not what is supposed to happen in terms of English grammar as perceived by the queen of England and her privities. Contextually, Shengi as a Kiswahili version spoken by the east African youths and workers is a cultural and mental outcome of economic situation affecting these groups. It expresses fear, hopes and consciousness of the groups in a clear manner more than Kiswahili Sanifu would do.

Kiswahili Sanifu has a lot of borrowing from Arabic words, 80% of the words in Kiswahili sanifu has a root word or an etymology in the Arabic. This is an indication of historical interaction between Africans and Arabs at the coast of east Africa, where the Arabs were economically superior hence their automatic command of cultural influence. In a contrast Shengi is heavily laden with American English words; a cop meaning police man, doo meaning money from the American dollar, Jay meaning a work from the word job, and so forth. This is also an indication of Anglo-American interaction with the east African youths through the mass media and other avenues of globalization and its affiliated globalectics.

In regard to the above facts it is thus realistic to point out that the old generation, should not impose Kiswahili sanifu to the east African youths.

Alexander Khamala Opicho,
Lodwar, Kenya.

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Articles by Alexander Opicho