No idea what has got into me but I am in rant mode this week; I am blaming it on the Tia Maria shortage that has hit Lancaster. Anyway, yesterday I was harping on about ignorant black folk…today I am going to focus on Kenyans. I have no idea what it is about Kenyans but we have an obsession with accents.
I have lived outside of Kenya since I was knee-high to grasshopper and for someone who was 5ft 9in by the age of 15 that is a loooong time ago. Every time I go back home there is at least one person who comments on the fact that I don’t tweng i.e speak like a Jungu (white person). Actually it is usually more than a mere comment; it is often a question and/or exclamation:
“Haiya, yaani Kui you’ve lived in Brito all this time and you’re not twenging for us?
Had it not been for my time in Belize I would still be wondering how on earth to deal with these comments.
In Belize, most if not all Belizeans, when conversing amongst themselves, speak in Creole however when they speak to non-Belizeans they speak English. The very nature of Creole means that you can not speak it with what Kenyan’s would call a Jungu tweng. It just would not work. While Creole does have non-English words quite a few Creole words are actually English words and what makes those words cease to be English words is how they are pronounced.
Belizeans, from what I saw, didn’t seem to be obsessed with who was ‘dropping’ their accents for whom, certainly they weren’t as obsessed as my fellow wananchi( men/women). They seem to have grasped what some of our people are yet to understand; that firstly, in order to communicate effectively, especially with people you are not too familiar with, you have to speak in a way that can be understood and secondly you have to feel comfortable with the way you choose to express yourself.
The same logic should apply to our situation in Kenya. Most of us mix English, Kiswahili and sheng (Kenyan Creole?) when we speak with fellow Kenyans. No matter how perfect our English is, the minute we are in a group with the rest of our people, words and phrases like akina nani andati automatically become part of the conversation. Some of us can utter these words while speaking English like the Queen but I challenge any Kenyan to try and say sindio, alaa, ehee and woiye with a Jungu tweng.
So finally I have a response to the “twenging for us” question.
When I am in England, doing official work stuff, or speaking with my non-Kenyan friends, I do speak in what would be called a Jungu tweng. When I am in Kenya or speaking with Kenyans I speak what in Kenya would be described as kawa English.
Personally, I would regard both as my normal accents. It has nothing to do with me being a wanna-be, or wanting to dumb down my English for Kenyans. It just has to do with being comfortable in how I choose to express myself and being aware of the people I am conversing with.
Accents do not have a sell by date. Accents need not be static.
It doesn’t matter if I spent 2 months in India and then returned to Kenya speaking like George W Bush; if that is how I want to express myself…so be it.
I know that there is a deeper issue linked to our fixation with accents; the whole white is better belief that some Kenyans hold etc etc and I do intend to blog on this issue very soon but for now I just wanted it to be known that in most cases it just has to do with effective communication and feeling comfortable…