Sheng is a Swahili and English-based cant, perhaps a mixed language or creole, originating among the urban youth of Nairobi, Kenya, and influenced by many of the languages spoken there. While primarily a language of urban youths, it has spread across social classes and geographically to neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda.

Sheng
Native toKenya
Language codes
ISO 639-3
GlottologNone
G.40E[1]

Etymology and historyEdit

The word "Sheng" is coined from the two languages that it is mainly derived from: Swahili and English. The "h" was included from the middle of "Swahili because "Seng" would have sounded unusual. The term is first recorded in 1965.[2]

Originating in the early 1950s in the Eastlands area of Nairobi (variously described as a "slum", "ghetto" or "suburb"), Sheng is now heard among matatu drivers/touts across the region, and in the popular media. Most of the Sheng words are introduced in various communities and schools and given wide exposure by music artists who include them in their lyrics, hence the rapid growth. It can be assumed to be the first language of many Kenyans in urban areas.

Like all slang, Sheng is mainly used by the youth and is part of popular culture in Kenya. It also evolves rapidly, as words are moved into and out of slang use. It found broad usage among hip hop artists such as Kalamashaka and G.rongi in the African Great Lakes region in the '90s, both mainstream and "underground" (whose music helped spread the language and contribute to rapid changes or shifts in Sheng vocabulary), as well as among virtually all university and secondary-school students, the language was not always associated with people who cannot do much for the society until when the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation noted the rise in both class and diversity. Radio presenters John Karani, Jeff Mwangemi and Prince Otach, and many more, took it to the mainstream by presenting the first radio shows using Sheng phrases on the national broadcast. By 2010 almost every media show had some sort of sheng it.

Although the grammar, syntax, and much of the vocabulary are drawn from Swahili, Sheng borrows from the languages of some of the largest ethnic groups in Kenya, including Luhya, Gĩkũyũ, Luo and Kamba. Words are also borrowed from languages that are neither a local language nor English – such as the Sheng word morgen "morning" – a Sheng word used in some areas with a similar meaning in German.

Sheng vocabulary can vary significantly within Kenya's various subdivisions and the larger African Great Lakes region, and even between neighbourhoods in Nairobi. Many youth living in the capital often use the argot as their everyday mode of communication rather than Swahili or English.

Sheng in literatureEdit

The written use of Sheng in literature is still a minor phenomenon. Some poems in the African literary magazine Kwani? have been published in Sheng, but the first and only book in this language is "Lafudhi hip hop poetry in Sheng" (2015), written by G rongi.

Sample vocabularyEdit

Sheng English (definition)
kugura to leave
boya fool
mnati, ras Rastafarian
babi, barbie person who doesn't speak Sheng, person from a wealthy background
bonga (bong-gah), Roroa, zoza, banja, tema talk
bonga mavi talk smack
saksua Search
para cap
imbo fake
digaga spectacle
sepa go away,flee
zingua disturb
mbwakni jumpy
peremba interrogate
dai want, view
dungia (doong-gi-ah), gawia, chapia, vutia hit up (call someone)
apantambua no respect to that (don't recognize that)
riba story
serereka have fun
dema eat
pack,stick live (somewhere)
deng'a, thwau, bunde, mchuma, mtoo, ridhe, fee, toka gun, firearm
keroma food
chapaa, munde, mundez, niado, ganji, doe, keroma, cheddar/chedaz,dau,mkwanja, makwarkwar,cheng money
so, kioo, exsoo, red,os one hundred shillings
finje, chuani, pachas, hamusini,nich fifty shillings
mbao, blue twenty shillings
ashuu, shoe, kindee, ikongo, das,teja ten shillings
ndonya sell
wai buy
ngovo, kobole, guoko five shillings
rwabe, doso, jill two hundred shillings
punch, jirongo five hundred shillings
thao, jii (like the letter G), kapaa, ngiri, ngwanye, ndovu, azar, K, muti, bramba one thousand shillings
fala, mwere (mweh-reh), dwanzi, zuzu stupid person, idiot
ocha, moshatha,shaggz up country, rural home/area
noma, niku hatata, wa gwan in a mess, trouble
Conte Tough person
Oposh, momo,fatso,bazu Fat person
1 GB Skinny person
njeve cold
ingiza njeve,gwaya get scared, be afraid, chicken out
Kanjo city/town council officer
chapo chapati
ngodha underpants
msee,mzing' kizee, mdhii, mguys, mzeiya, mtunguyaz, mzaee,morio guy, dude
dame, mresh, supuu, msupa, manzi, shore (sho-reh; from "shawty"), msusu, mroro, mshee, totoh, yeng, mdenge,nyegz,nguna girl, chick
buda, mzae, arinzu, mzing father
gweng, gwan hard (difficult)
zii, nada, do, nah no
mathree, mat, jive, jav, buu, nganya matatu
ngwai, Tire (Tea-Reh), kithuke, vela, ndom, aroma, shashi, kenti, mashashola,kindukulu bhang
msudi traitor,snitch
deree, kigonyi, vandere driver
konkodi, makanga, manumber, donda bus/matatu conductor
fegi, mozo, ngale, fuaka cigarette
Mzae Parent
karao, gova, sanse, beast, afande,gova police
keja, hao, mbanyu, base, digs,guba,ndaki house, home
matha, mathe, mthama,masa,mondhres woman, mother
mboch, chinebo housegirl (maid)
mbota,wochi watch
mbwenya, jako, blazer coat
dhafu Mathematics
mdosi, sonko, sos, penki, donga, bombay, bola, Okwonkwo,dela Rich person
msoto,mbleina,sufferer, hustler poor person
sota,kauka,chupri go bankrupt/become poor
bie,B.A good
mdosi, fathe, mbuyu, buda, arinzu, dad
masa, mathe, mnyaka, mokoro, moda, mthama,mondhres mum
ndauo an individual with

Maasai descent

mngoso an individual with English descent
Mchinku an individual with Chinese descent
msapere an individual belonging to Kenya's Kikuyu ethnic community
Mkao, mcambodia, mnduli an individual belonging to Kenya's Kamba ethnic community
mjaka,mjaze,mjaksus an individual belonging to Kenya's Luo ethnic community
mlunje an individual belonging to Kenya's Luhya ethnic community
mkale an individual belonging to Kenya's Kalenjin ethnic community
Arges, walalo,oria an individual belonging to Kenya's Somali ethnic community
Kasee a male person from the Kamba ethnic community of Kenya
Baite(pronounced vaite) a male person from the Meru ethnic community of Kenya
nare (nah-reh) fire, matches
ndai, moti, murenga, dinga car
ngata (ng-gah-tah), ngede (ng-geh-deh), irori fuel
nguenos, ngwex, mwewe, ngwetes, ngokos chicken
rodhi trouser
njumu, njuti, ndula, magwanda,manduleng', chuja shoes
poa, wazi, wabe, fiti, chonjo cool
ubao, maunenge,kidale hunger
mboka city
uaganis nonsense
veve, mbachu, shamba, mogoka,jaba miraa
kuber (koo-beh-r), kubz,doze,mungich,mungiki (chewing) tobacco
mburungo cargo
chapa,donje, kiatu, forbes, kiraka, kubeat ugly
fyat crazy

Teo Exams -

chipo, chibaz, njiva, vanga chips
fika, ishia, jikata,sepa to go somewhere
kirindi, mbogi crowd
earthwire neck tie
nyonde bird
dush dove/pigeon
mavi, mafi, shonde, shoi, shoste faeces
shower bath
mode (moh-day),odijo teacher
mboka,mtaa city, town, streets, neighbourhood
chuom pathway
omoka,kukafunga, be rich
mzii/noma tough/bad
majuu, mayolo, chambele,farova Western world/overseas
mlami,myuro white person, Caucasian person
mtiaji, msororaji, mrazi a cunning person, tattletale
kauzi, thegi, gondi, dingo, obe (ob), gwangi thief, thug, mugger, burglar
masaa, githaa time
mshikaji,bf,gf boyfriend/girlfriend
pasuka, raruka laugh
karokota, doze,kufinyilia,kutuna take a nap, sleep
nyaku, waka, washa, gwezere, malaga, drink (alcohol)
kalesa, pace,tembeza walk a distance
tei alcohol
tenje,mtambo Radio/ music system or a phone
Nangos,digitz Number
N.B. Words in brackets in the Sheng column show how the word is pronounced.

ExamplesEdit

Sheng Standard Kiswahili (translation) Standard English (translation)
Muokalaiz nikupeleke na mtara za gishagi Karibia nikufunze jinsi ya kuishi huku nyumbani Come let me show you how to survive here.
Uyo Arif ako na za ovyo Huyo rafiki yako anapenda mzaha. Your friend likes jokes!
Sepa hii daro juu odijo akimuok, kutatee! Toka humu darasani maana mwalimu akija atakuadhibu!. Flee from this class because when the teacher comes you'll be punished!
Gura hiyo chuom,madingo watakuchai.! Koma kupita hiyo njia wezi wapo hapo,watakuibia Avoid that path it's ladden with thugs who'll steal from you.!
Tangu Kama akanjwe anajiskia skari,sana! Kama alipo pata pesa,alianza kuringa After receiving some money Kama became haughty!
Siko guba niko mtaa nikisaksua wira! Sipo nyumbani,nimeenda mtaani kutafuta kazi I am not in the house I have gone outside to look for work!
Amulia hata dhenga ya nich nijipin,niko kidale,mzing! Ninunulie githeri ya hamsini tafadhali nile nina njaa Could you spot me fifty shillings to buy a meal? (a specific meal of boiled maize and beans is mentioned but the actual meaning is the price of what is considered the cheapest item in a food kiosk)
Huu msee ni fala! Huyu mtu ni mjinga. This guy's an idiot!
Ntadema Daso na Raila Cakes. Ntainywa Soda kwa keki. I will take a Soda with Raila Cakes.
Si unidungie chuani? Unaeza nipa shilingi hamsini? Can you please give me fifty shillings?
Acha kubonga mavi mdhii. Acha kuongea vibaya, kaka. Stop talking smack, brother.
Udingo ndio maana magidha ako ndani,riba ni alichai Doo ya gova Ufisadi ndio chanzo ya kushtakia kwake,mda wote yupo kizimbani Kwa mashtaka ya wizi was pesa za serikali Corruption is the main reason he is in and out of the courts for allegations of embezzlement of government's money"
Ukivuta fegi utajiletea noma. Ukivuta sigara utajiletea shida. If you smoke cigarettes you'll get yourself in trouble.
Ule dame amechapa! Yule msichana ana sura mbaya. That girl is ugly!
Maisha ni gweng bana. Maisha ni ngumu kaka. Life is hard man.
Kuja utugawie hizi njiva. Kuja utugawie hivi vibanzi. Come and share your fries with us.
Budake alishikwa na makarao. Babake alikamatwa na polisi. His dad was caught by the police.
Aliibiwa mbota na mboch. Aliibiwa saa na mjakazi. His watch was stolen by his housegirl.
Aliona magondi akaingiza njeve. Aliona mhuni akahisi woga. He got scared when he saw some thugs.
Niko mbioni. Niko na haraka. I am in a hurry.
Budake ni mzii. Babake ni mkali. His father is tough/bad.
Mokoro aliniwai rwabe nikamchekie ka kwota. Mamangu alinipa shilingi mia mbili nikamnunulie kilo nusu ya nyama. My mother gave me 200 shillings to go buy a quarter kilogram of meat.
Alirauka gware ndo asihate mat za kwenda kwao moshatha. Aliamka mapema ili asikose matatu ya kuenda kwao kijijini. He woke up early so as not to miss a matatu to his rural home.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  2. ^ Lambert, James. 2018. A multitude of 'lishes': The nomenclature of hybridity. English World-wide, 39(1): 13. doi:10.1075/eww.38.3.04lam

Additional literatureEdit

  • Abdulaziz, Mohamed H. and Ken Osinde. 1997. Sheng and Engsh: development of mixed codes among the urban youth in Kenya. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 125 (Sociolinguistic Issues in Sub-Saharan Africa), pp. 45–63.
  • Beck, Rose Marie. 2015. "Sheng: an urban variety of Swahili in Kenya." Youth Language Practices in Africa and Beyond, Nico Nassenstein and Andrea Hollington, (eds.) 51–79. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Bosire, Mokaya. 2009. What makes a Sheng word unique? Lexical manipulation in mixed languages. In AkinloyeOjo & Lioba Moshi (Eds), Selected Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference on African Linguistics, 77–85.
  • Bosire, Mokaya. 2006. Hybrid languages: The case of Sheng. In Olaoba F. Arasanyin & Michael A.Pemberton (Eds). Selected Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference on African Linguistics, 185–193.
  • Fee, D., & Moga, J. 1997. Sheng dictionary.Third edition. Nairobi: Ginseng Publishers.
  • Fink, Teresa Kathleen. 2005. Attitudes toward languages in Nairobi. Diss. University of Pittsburgh.
  • Githinji, Peter. 2005. Sheng and variation: The construction and negotiation of layered identities. PhD dissertation, Michigan State University.
  • Githinji, Peter. 2006. Bazes and Their Shibboleths: Lexical Variation and Sheng Speakers' Identity in Nairobi. Nordic Journal of African Studies 15(4): 443–472.
  • Githiora, Chege. 2002. Sheng: peer language, Swahili dialect or emerging Creole? Journal of African Cultural Studies Volume 15, Number 2, pp. 159–181.
  • Githiora, Chege J. Sheng: rise of a Kenyan Swahili vernacular. Boydell & Brewer, 2018
  • Kang’ethe-Iraki, Frederick. 2004. Cognitive Efficiency: The Sheng phenomenon in Kenya. Pragmatics 14(1): 55–68.
  • Kießling, Roland & Maarten Mous. 2004. Urban Youth Languages in Africa. Anthropological Linguistics 46(3): 303-341
  • Mazrui, Alamin. 1995. Slang and Codeswitching: The case of Sheng in Kenya. Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere 42: 168–179.
  • Ogechi, Nathan Oyori. 2002. Trilingual Codeswitching in Kenya – Evidence from Ekegusii, Kiswahili, English and Sheng. Doctoral dissertation, Universität Hamburg.
  • Ogechi, Nathan. 2005. On Lexicalization in Sheng. Nordic Journal of African Studies 14(3): 334–355.
  • Samper, David. 2002. Talking Sheng: The role of a Hybrid Language in the Construction of Identity and Youth Culture in Nairobi Kenya. PhD Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Spyropoulos, Mary. 1987. Sheng: some preliminary investigations into a recently emerged Nairobi street language. Journal of the Anthropological Society 18 (1): 125–136.
  • Vierke, Clarissa. 2015. "Some remarks on poetic aspects of Sheng." Global Repertoires and Urban Fluidity. Youth Languages in Africa, Nico Nassenstein and Andrea Hollington, (eds.) 227–256. Berlin: de Gruyter.

External linksEdit