Nicholas Carlie – Host
Elita – from Tanzania – Elita
Anne Dahl, professor at NTNU – AD
The English language – in Tanzania Africa
Host: Hi, my name is Nicholas and I'm a former journalist for NRK. I was born in Belgium, to Swedish parents who raised me in over 20 countries in Europe, Asia and South America. English is not my mother tongue. English is not my native language, and I didn't live in an English-speaking country until I was 16 years old. English is, however, my first language. But I often wonder; what is English? Why can I hear the difference between an Australian, a Londoner, a Bostonian or an African all sharing a common language? The English language has approximately four hundred million native speakers worldwide and is recognised as the single most widely spoken global language. In this podcast, we will explore the nuances of English accents and pronunciation, together with five native speakers from all over the globe and a Norwegian professor of this strange and wonderful global language. Who knows, maybe I'll learn something new about my first language.
Host: Today I will be speaking to Elita from Tanzania. Tell me a little bit about Dar es Salaam, where you were born.
Elita: Dar es Salaam is on the coast of Tanzania. It's a very beautiful city and it's a very busy city. So, living there gave me an experience of living with a lot of people. It's very diverse - we have people from different races there, we have people from different backgrounds. It's basically where everybody meets up, and it's an amazing blend of culture. And, yeah, it's an amazing place.
Host: So the city itself is very multicultural. Does that also reflect itself in the languages that are used there?
Elita: So, in Dar es Salaam we use Kiswahili (native term of Swahili), but there are also a lot of languages from the natives of the area. But I would say in terms of dialects, definitely. In different places in Dar es Salaam you will find people speaking different type of Kiswahili, but they would all like be ...Yeah, in Swahili ...
Host: Because Swahili is the official language, and this is also interesting. How do you pronounce that? You said Tanza-nia.
Elita: So, in Kiswahili we would say Tan-za-nia, but in English, it's Tanza-nia. That's basically it. But back home we say Tan-za-nia.
Host: OK, because in Norwegian we would probably also say Tan-za-nia. And that is the Swahili pronunciation?
Elita: Yeah. Yeah.
Host: How early are people in your country exposed to English?
Elita: In my country, English is the official language. But then in terms of education, students are introduced to English from the primary level, but they're introduced to English as a subject and not as necessarily a learning medium. That is for public schools. But then you can also opt to take English medium as your learning medium in primary, just as how I did. But it is compulsory to take English as the learning medium, when you are in the secondary level and high levels of education.
Host: Because there are so many cultures and languages in one area, could it be the case that English has become a common language for all these people to understand each other?
Elita: Yes. English has taken very large bites in terms of communication, because as much as we love Kiswahili, sometimes there is no translation for words from English to Kiswahili or from Kiswahili to English. There's also a huge rise of international relations and international organizations in the country. This is more likely to increase the demand of English. But we are trying our level best to also preserve the Swahili language, which has some challenges, but I think we are doing very, very fine with that.
Host: I haven't been to Africa myself, but I can hear when you speak English that you are from Africa. Is there any way that I could tell that you are specifically from Tanzania?
Elita: I guess the accent gives it away. I would say the pronunciation of /l/ and/r/ sometimes can be confused, because of the language that we speak, which is Kiswahili. So, I guess that will be one of the factors that will make it possible for you to at least guess that I come from Tanzania or the East Africa region at large.
Host: OK, so I could kind of place you in East Africa, maybe by decoding the /l/ and the /r/?
Host: So, give me an example. Let's say ‘laterally’ where there are /l/s and /r/s. How am I going to find out that you are from East Africa, by the way you say it? Give me an example, please.
Elita: Well, sometimes I personally have difficulties in pronouncing it. I would say ‘rutellerly’, or something like that. It's just like it's very hard for me to pronounce it. I guess I wouldn't say it applies to everyone from my country, but I have had some encounters with some of my friends who have the same problem. So, yeah ...
Host: That's interesting. Maybe it's just a little bit of the tongue tricking you?
Elita: Yes, exactly.
Host: When you're speaking to me, are you adapting your English? If you were speaking to somebody from the same area as you, would you be using more local words or maybe even some Swahili mixed into your English?
Elita: Definitely, yes. Interesting fact: Among the youth, there is a dialect called "Swanglish", where it's like a mixture of Kiswahili words and English words. So ideally, if I was to speak with a fellow Tanzanian, I would include Swanglish. I would talk to them in the dialect of Swanglish. I would be much more comfortable.
Host: Swanglish? That sounds really fun though.
Host: Are there any typical examples you can give me of a Swanglish sentence?
Elita: Definitely! The use of ‘yamani’. In case you would have asked me; "Did you drink tea today?" I would say "Yaa, nicha kona chai today ..." OK, that's a very complicated sentence! But I would say words like ‘yamani’, words like ‘nele koa’, I would put in some nouns also - if that makes sense. It's you know, it's an unofficial language so it's very hard. We don't even have rules to guide. The language is basically like you speak what you feel, and people just understand it, magically ...
Host: But that's fascinating because it means that the languages are alive and you're actually creating a new form of communication using multiple languages. And this just comes naturally?
Elita: Yeah, well, Kiswahili has a history of merging different languages. Just a brief history of Kiswahili: One of the theories of the origins of Swahili is that it's a mixture of Arab and Bantu languages, which was combined together to form Kiswahili during the trading times, which dates back to 200 B.C. There are also a lot of Arabic words in Swahili, like ‘shukrani’ and ‘bergeshe’. Yeah, there are like a lot of words in Swahili, especially nouns, that are directly taken from the Arabic language. And also, there are a lot of English words in Swahili, like ‘scetty’, I hope you understand, I mean ‘a skirt’. When I say ‘shati’, I mean "a shirt" – there are a lot of words. And we have some Portuguese words, we have some German words … Basically we have words from the different people who we interacted with during history, from the time of slavery, from the time of colonialism - it dates back. Even now, that we are making this new language because of the increase of the English language spreading in our country. So definitely, it's a natural process that has been happening for a long time and is basically how Kiswahili builds itself. It takes words from different languages - also from the Bantu languages which is the origin of Swahili - and forms them into the Swahili language that we all know of today.
Host: That's amazing. So, your language, your Swahili, your English and your Swanglish is almost like a representation of the history of your country?
Elita: Yes, definitely.
Host: If we were to look into popular culture, let's say Forest Whitaker playing Idi Amin or Eddie Murphy playing an African Prince or King, do you think these are good representations of your dialect, or do you sit and laugh at these Americans trying to speak your accent?
Elita: Well, with the Americans and the specific people who are acting this part, let's say the black Americans, they are basically Africans because they originated from this place. In a sense, if they want to express their being African, to embrace that, because their culture was basically stolen from them. So, if they want to express that, I have no problem with people expressing where they are from, their ancestry. But also, I appreciate their efforts, because when our language is spoken by Americans in different movies, let’s say "Coming to America" or "Black Panther", it's such an appreciation. I just feel so amazed about the fact that they are trying. But I would say that it's important to also have a representation of the actual people who actually grew up with the language, because sometimes the pronunciations of the words that they use are a little bit funny. But yeah, that's my stance on it.
Host: And you feel honored, but you would be able to catch them out as being, for example American, if you were listening closely, then?
Elita: Yeah, definitely. It's not only Americans, but also every other person who do not know Kiswahili - it's very easy to notice. Just like you say that you notice that I'm from Africa. That's how. When you speak my language, I notice that you're not from my country, because of the way you speak. And I just want to do a follow up to your previous question, about the accents and how people in the mainstream media might be doing these accents or making movies about this: I would say it's important to draw a line between mocking a person's accent and actually appreciating a person's accent. I think that there's some movies which have been manipulated into mocking of these accents, and it's not only mocking African accents, it’s also mocking other accents, like the Indian accent or, I don't know, a lot of accents. So, there is a fine line between mocking and actually appreciating someone's culture.
Host: Yes, I understand you completely, there is a difference between teasing somebody or trying to replicate an actual dialect. You mentioned Swanglish and the youth developing their own language. Can you tell what generation someone is, by the way they use English in Tanzania?
Elita: Oh, yeah. I would say the younger generation is adapting to the American version of English using of slang, you know. I could definitely differentiate them, and the older generation is mostly focused on the British version of English. There is a huge distinction between a person who is born in for example 2004 and a person who is born in 1980's.
Host: I see. So, like a move from the colonial English over to a more modern pop culture American version?
Host: Thank you so much, I have learned so much from you, Elita.
Elita : Thank you!
Host: Thank you to Elita from Tanzania. Now I will be speaking to Anne Dahl, Associate Professor from the Department of Language & Literature at NTNU, to try to get some more answers about African English in general. How are you, Professor Dahl?
AD: I am good, thank you!
Host: Perhaps the biggest ambassador for African English is South African, spoken by white people and made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie "Blood Diamond". Why is this dialect the most famous African English in pop culture?
AD: Oh, that's a good question, because of course, that's not the only South African English. There are a number of South African Englishes. Partly, I think the reason that we need that one is because we tend to only encounter white people in movies, and white South Africans will typically speak that variety. So South Africa has at least two major types of English. One is the one spoken by white people, mostly descendants of British immigrants, which is sort of a little bit similar to Australian or New Zealand English. And that's the kind of English that Leonardo DiCaprio speaks in that movie. But then the English that's spoken by people of African descent… So black people in South Africa tend to speak a very different variety of English, which sounds a bit more like other African Englishes. So South Africa is a special case. It has so many different groups of people that it actually has more than one English.
Host: So, what are some of the characteristics of South African English? What are we picking up on that makes us able to place it geographically?
AD: For that variety that we spoke about now, that Leo speaks, I think it's largely in the vowels. So, they tend to pronounce vowels in what we call a very narrow way. I'm not very good at doing it myself, but it is in the pronunciation. The letter A is often very E-ish instead of open A, and so on. If you listen to Australian and New Zealand English, you can pick up some of the same types of vowels.
Host: Can you say something about the other African English variants, how did they come about?
AD: Yeah, almost all of them came about as a result of the British Empire and colonialism. For many, many years, Britain had colonies in lots of parts of Africa. They introduced English, or imposed I should say, English as the official language in these areas and required that if you were to interact with the colonial government, you would have to speak English. And that also worked because most of these countries are very multilingual. So, it wasn't the case in most of these countries that everybody already spoke a different language. It's not like in Norway where almost everybody speaks Norwegian. It helped in a way to allow different people to speak one common language. And that's the reason I think today one might think, why didn't they get rid of English when they got rid of colonialism? But many countries have decided to keep English as the language in their country, because they don't necessarily have one big language that most people speak. But these other languages that were already present there, and that people still speak today, are the main reason why these varieties in Africa, aside from the one type of South African English, are so different from British or American English and might be difficult to understand if you're not used to them. Most speakers of English in Africa also speak at least one other language, mostly several other languages. And English has sort of been there alongside very close to other languages for a very long time. So, they've influenced each other.
Host: What about Tanzania?
AD: A country like Tanzania, for example, where Swahili is widely spoken, they use Swahili and English for their official business inside of Tanzania today. It's not just like in Norway, where we mostly use English across borders, right. But in these countries, it's used within the country's border as well, because a lot of people don't speak the same languages within the country aside from English. But they typically have at least one other major local language that they also use.
Host: How do you see African English represented in pop culture these days?
AD: Not very much, to be honest, which is why, of course, Black Panther really was a very new and unique thing because it had all African characters. Almost all the main characters are African and some of the main actors also were actually African. Most of the actors, such as Chadwick Boseman, were non-African in the sense that they were born somewhere else, but at least they had African heritage. Mostly when you watch at least mainstream sort of Hollywood movies, there aren't many African characters. And the few African characters that you see are very minor, don't really have a personality, and they tend to be stereotypes of Africans. They tend to be uneducated and just act as local assistance for white main characters. So, there isn't a lot of representation, and what is, is sort of a stereotype of some kind of primitive, uneducated language, which of course isn't what African English is at all.
Host: Thank you so much, Professor Anne Dahl.