The Oxford English Dictionary (OED)—the largest dictionary of the English language—has added 200 new and revised entries from East African English, which are primarily used in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
In a statement, the OED said coverage of east African English includes the varieties of English spoken in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, three countries that share a common Anglophone background despite their different colonial histories.
The words span from popular street snacks to musical genres in the region.
East African English is influencing the language globally
Nyama choma, which is a favorite across Tanzania and Kenya’s entertainment spots, is meat roasted over an open fire. While chips mayai can be found in any local restaurant in Tanzania and is a mix of omelette and chips. Katogo is a Ugandan breakfast dish using banana.
Local terms for shopping are also included. Mama ntilie, which is a slang term used in Tanzania to describe female vendors who sell street food along the roadside, has been added, along with duka—a local shop selling everything from toiletries to soft drinks.
With the global rise of afrobeats, it’s no wonder that ‘Bongo Flava’ now features in the dictionary. This is a type of music originating from Tanzania and made famous by the country’s biggest artist, Diamond Platnumz.
Daladala—buses which are used across East Africa—is also a new entry. The word comes from ‘dollar’, which is what bus conductors called out as people boarded, and was recreated to ‘daladala.’
Sayings and greetings, which form an important part of east African culture, have been incorporated. While in English, it is typical to say ‘long time no see’ after some time has passed, in Uganda, it is common to say ‘you are lost’, while ‘Well done!’ can also be used as a greeting, particularly when someone is at work.
Swahili language is a huge influence in east Africa
“East Africa has ‘altered (English) to suit its new African surroundings’—to cite Chinua Achebe who was referring to his experience,” said Dr Ida Hadjivayanis, Senior Swahili lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
“I see the language change in my work where through assessing international Swahili exams, I find candidates using the bantu structure with English words, for example ‘kupay’ as opposed to ‘to pay’.”
“This stems from the code switching that is rooted in our experience of living with both Kiswahili and English as well as integrating English into the east African milieu. Hence, greeting someone with ‘umepotea’—‘you are lost’ is common and simply means ‘long time no see’.”
Sheng—Kenya’s beloved urban slang—has also become a popular dialect in the country, mixing English and Swahili, as well as other languages.
“Adopting words of another language is a normal process in the growth and development of languages,” said Chege Githiora, Professor of Linguistics at Kenyatta University. “In this case, it is a recognition by English of the growing prestige of Swahili as a global language, and the east African culture it embodies.”
“Similarly, English and Arabic (and others) have enriched Swahili which has adopted many words and expressions over the centuries.”