While researching English hegemony and colonial rule in Kenya, I came across the work of Yukio Tsuda, a scholar I previously encountered in Communications classes. He discusses two main consequences of English hegemony in his article, “English Hegemony and English Divide”: linguicide and linguicism. Tsuda defines linguicide as “the killing of languages, especially weaker and smaller ones” (49). He claims the dominance and enforcement of English discourages the use of other languages, causing them to become obsolete. This relates to my case study because as English and Kiswahili have become privileged and deemed more proper in Kenya by the education system and government, speakers of ethnic languages have decreased. Thus, Sheng has become increasingly more popular in its attempt to preserve and incorporate ethnic languages.
Similarly, Tsuda’s discussion of linguicism, or the discrimination of non-English speakers, reinforces the popularity of Sheng amongst ethnic speakers in Kenya. Tsuda states, “In the process of building a modern state, the government established a standard language which served as a linguistic norm and became a basis of discriminating against the speakers of the non-standard languages” (50). As explored in previous blog posts, language is heavily tied to class status in Nairobi, leading non-English and non-Kiswahili speakers to be associated with low class and low intelligence. As a result, the treatment of these people and expectations of their success have been low. Therefore, the rise of Sheng has served as a resistive force to English and Kiswahili hegemony, demonstrating its success as a unifying language.
To prevent linguicide and linguicism, Tsuda suggests the monolingual approach or multilingual approach should be used. In the monolingual approach, one language is adopted by a group of people, often a new language that has been created for the purpose of not privileging one language over others (52). In the multilingual approach, one language is not chosen as a common language, but rather the use of all languages is supported and valued (53). Based on these descriptions, I believe Sheng is an example of the blending of these two approaches, both creating a new language while preserving commonly spoken languages. In this sense, Sheng rejects the notion of proper versus improper languages, calling for all languages in Kenya to be blended.
Tsuda, Yukio. “English Hegemony and English Divide.” China Media Research 4.1 (2008).