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EAST AFRICAN ENGLISH

EAST AFRICAN ENGLISH, short forms EAE, EAfrE. The English language as used in East Africa and associated parts of southern Africa, an outcome of European involvement since the 16c in KENYA, MALAWI, TANZANIA, UGANDA, ZAMBIA, and ZIMBABWE. In these countries, English is taking its place as an African language in the registers of politics, business, the media, and popular culture. It includes an expanding body of creative literature, by such writers as John Mbiti (b. 1931), Ngugi wa Thiong'o (b. 1938), Peter Palangyo (b. 1939), J. P. Okot p'Bitek (b. 1931), and David Rubadiri (b. 1930).

Background

When English was first used in East Africa, Swahili was already a regional lingua franca. Because of this, English came to be used as an additional language without any pidgin varieties. The contemporary choice of common language is most often between SWAHILI (with associations of informality) and English (with associations of formality and authority). The use of English, however, often depends on the attitudes of those being spoken to: there is a risk of causing offence by choosing English if the other people do not speak it, or Swahili, implying that they are uneducated. Linguistically mixed marriages (such as between a Luo and Kikuyu) may make English the first language of some families. EAE is greatly influenced by such languages as Swahili at large, Kikuyu in Kenya, Chichewa in Malawi, Luo in Kenya and Tanzania, and Shona in Zimbabwe. Since these are related BANTU languages, they contribute to a common Bantu substrate, but even so the ethnicity of a speaker can be identified on the basis of pronunciation and lexical choices.

Pronunciation

(1) EAE is non-rhotic. (2) It has a five-vowel system, /i, ɛ, a, ɔ, u/. As a result, there are more homonyms in EAE than in WAE and English at large: ‘bead’ for bead/bid; ‘bed’ for bade/bed; ‘bad’ for bad/bard/bird/bud; ‘bod’ for bod/board/bode; ‘pool’ for pool/pull. (3) A vowel, usually close to schwa, is often inserted in consonant clusters: ‘konəfidens’ for confidence, ‘digənity’ for dignity, ‘maggənet’ for magnet. (4) Consonants are often devoiced: ‘laf’ for love, ‘sebra’ for zebra. (5) Homorganic nasals are introduced before stop consonants: ‘mblood’ for blood, ‘ndark’ for dark. (6) A distinction is not always made between l and r for speakers of some mother tongues: speakers of Lozi often use ‘long’ for wrong; in Bemba, the name for oranges is (ma)olanges.

Grammar

(1) Because many people are multilingual, code-mixing is common, as in the mixed Swahili/English sentence: Ile accident ilitokea alipolose control na akaoverturn and landed in a ditch (The accident occurred when he lost control and overturned and landed in a ditch). (2) The omission of either the comparative adverb (more, less, worse, etc.) or the correlative than in comparative constructions, sometimes with the addition of and: This university is successful in its training program than yours; They value children than their lives; They would have more powder on the hand and in their faces. (3) Use of the all-purpose tags isn't it? and not so?: He came here, isn't it?; She is a married lady, not so?

Vocabulary

(1) Loans from local languages: Swahili boma enclosure, administrative quarters, duka store, shop, ndugu brother, friend, piripiri/pilipili red-pepper sauce. (2) Loan translations from local languages: Kenya clean heart pure, elephant ears big ears (often of someone who does not listen), word to come into one's throat to have a word on the tip of one's tongue. (3) Extensions in the senses and uses of general words, many well established, some more or less ad hoc: come with (bring), as in I will come with the kitenge (I will bring the women's cloth: Swahili); medicine (medical), as in She is a medicine nun; duty (work), as in He is at his duty now. (4) Hybrid compounds and fixed phrases such as magendo whisky blackmarket whisky (Swahili), tea sieve tea strainer. Occasionally, neologisms (some of them grandiloquent) are formed, such as foodious (gluttonous), crudity (to make crude), and pedestrate (to walk). See AFRICAN ENGLISH.

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p'Bitek, Okot

Okot p'Bitek, 1931–82, Ugandan writer and anthropologist. Educated at the Univ. of Bristol, University College of Wales, and Oxford, p'Bitek is best known for three verse novels, Song of Lawino (1966), Song of Ocol (1970), and Two Songs (1971). In these works, he told poignant contemporary stories, using Acholi literary devices. In addition to his poetry, he also published works on Acholi culture. He was director of the National Theatre before teaching at University College, Nairobi (1971–78) and the Univ. of Ife in Nigeria (1978–82).

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