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LINGUIST List 19.3756

Mon Dec 08 2008

Diss: Socioling: Rudd: 'Sheng: The mixed language of Nairobi'

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        1.    Philip Rudd, Sheng: The mixed language of Nairobi

Message 1: Sheng: The mixed language of Nairobi
Date: 07-Dec-2008
From: Philip Rudd <pruddpittstate.edu>
Subject: Sheng: The mixed language of Nairobi
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Institution: Ball State University
Program: Linguistics and TESOL
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2008

Author: Philip W. Rudd

Dissertation Title: Sheng: The mixed language of Nairobi

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics

Dissertation Director:
Carolyn J. MacKay
Frank R. Trechsel
Herbert Frederic W. Stahlke

Dissertation Abstract:

The purpose of this dissertation is to determine whether Sheng, a language
spoken in the Eastlands area of Nairobi, Kenya, is a mixed language
(incorporating Swahili, English and local vernaculars). The study focuses
on the lexicon and morphosyntax, but social factors are examined as well.
Three broad research questions are addressed: (1) Does Sheng have a core
vocabulary separate from that of Swahili? (2) How do the system morphemes
of Sheng compare with those of Swahili? And (3) in what manner does Sheng
provide its speakers a new identity?

With respect to question one, the core lexicon, like Russenorsk's,
Trio-Ndjuka's and Michif's, manifests a nearly fifty-fifty split in Sheng
(52% Swahili; 48% other), making it a mixed language lexically.

As for question two, the analysis reveals that Sheng has a composite
morphosyntax. No object or relative affixes are marked on the verb.
Predicate-argument structure from English has provided a null relativizer.
The aerial feature imperfective suffix -a(n)g- is preferred 68% of the
time. Noun classes show convergence leveling. The marker ma- serves as the
generic plural. The diminutive markers, (ka-, tu-), constitute a complete
non-Swahili subsystem. Consequently, Sheng is also a mixed language

In reference to question three, a negative correlation exists between
competence in Sheng and income and housing. Though the affluent display a
negative attitude toward Sheng, they agree with the lower socio-economic
groups that Sheng has a communicative utility in metropolitan Kenya. A
comparison of the usage in the different residential areas establishes that
community-wide grammatical norms (i.e., stability) exist in Sheng. Over two
decades without institutional support for Swahili provided a niche in which
Sheng, a non-standard language variety, flourished and a new urban identity

Eastlanders walk a linguistic tightrope, balancing between the labels
mshamba ('rube') and Mswahili ('slick talker'). However, Sheng provides a
sociolinguistic embodiment symbolizing what nuances their existence. Over
time, speakers formed a new identity group, whose language was initially
'off target' (1899-1963) but subsequently became deliberate postcolonially.
Finally, the name of the language itself (Sheng < LiSheng < lish-eng <
English) results from and is symbolic of this social transformation.

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