Research Blog 5

While doing research, I came across two articles that discuss the hegemony of language and its influence on the rise of Sheng and the opposition it faces. As a nation previously colonized by the British, the ability to speak English continues to reflect social and economic prestige in Kenya. As a result, the best students are equated with the ones capable of speaking “proper” English. As Wendo notes, Kenya declared English the official language of the country after achieving independence, requiring all government officials and staff to speak English while at work and prepare documents in this language. As a result, these policies “re-emphasised what was already in place as a result of the colonial language policy” (Wendo 122). The dominance of English within Kenyan government and its association with success continue in contemporary times. Similarly, Chege Githiora argues Kiswahili has served as a dominant language to some degree, hierarchically below English but above Sheng and ethnic languages. Today, Swahili is also associated with social and economic prestige, and students who speak “proper” Kiswahili often have tutors or attend high-end private schools. Both authors discuss the potential Sheng has in challenging the hegemony of English and Kiswahili. Githiora states, “In the future, Sheng is likely to increase in use and in the number of speakers, as more young Nairobians identify with its dynamic and innovative culture. The conditions for its existence are likely to continue to prevail, such as the socio-linguistic distance between classes and generations. Sheng will probably continue to be the favoured code of the urban masses that do not fit in to the world of Standard Swahili – being ethnically non- coastals, and having low levels of formal education” (175). Overall, the dominance of English and Swahili in Nairobi greatly contributes to the opposition faced by Sheng.

Githiora, Chege. “Sheng: peer language, Swahili dialect or emerging Creole?.” Journal of African cultural studies 15.2 (2002): 159-181.

Nabea, Wendo. “Language Policy in Kenya: Negotiation with Hegemony.” Journal of Pan African Studies 3.1 (2009).


Hannah Markey

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