Monday, April 5, 2010

Fun with Uganglish

(02/04/2010)

As you may or may not know, Uganda was a British colony until 1962. There are 56 local languages in this country, some of which have the same base (i.e. Bantu) while others are something completely unrecognizable to any but there native speakers. The one common language across the entire nation, luckily for me, is English. Unluckily for me, Ugandans don't speak American-English, and really they don't even speak British-English, but rather a derivitive of British-English that I've come to know and love as Uganglish. I find find Uganglish rather amusing, and I thought you might as well so I thought I would just share with you some of my favorite expressions.

*Note* I am in no way trying to put down Ugandan dialect. In fact, if you speak to me on the phone you will probably notice more than a few of these have already entered my speech patterns. It is simply a cultural difference, and that's kind of what this whole thing is all about.


The Mid-sentence What? The Mid-sentence Question - I have already talked a bit about this one in a previous post, but I thought it was list-worthy anyway. You hear this one quite a bit from anyone who is trying to teach something or from current students. There is even one what? one Trainee whose homestay brother will what? will ask questions how many times? up to three times in one sentence.

The Unnecessary Assurance - "I can assure you." It's said in America, but not with the same frequency or the liberal interpretation of what things a person may need reassurance on.
-"It has started to rain. I can assure you."
-"I know. I am standing outside with you."

"Somehow" - One of my favorites. In American-English, somehow means that an outcome has happened against some odds. "The Cavs somehow got the win." In Uganglish, however, somehow has a different meaning which I would say is much closer, although not limited to our own use of "kind of".
-"So your house is by the well?"
-"Somehow."

"Are You Sure/Positive?" - Again, another phrase you are likely to hear in American-English, but the here is different. In America, it is used to gauge somebody's certainty, while here it's simply a conversational filler. A somehow exclamatory remark that I would say is closest to "oh, really?" (you see what I did there with the "somehow"?).
-"I had rice and beans for lunch today."
-"Are you sure?"
-"Let me think about it... yep..."

The Apology - There is no word in any Bantu language for "sorry", however the word "bambe" is sometimes substituted for it locally. The problem with "bambe" is that it has many more meanings than just "I'm sorry". It can be used as not only an apology, but also a term of endearment and a term of pitying. This is just my theory, but I believe that it is because of this that everyone in Uganda is constantly apologizing to every white people. If you trip over your own feet on the street, you can be sure to hear a chorus of, "Oh, sorry!" as you go by.

"Toast" - Apparently the word "toast" means two pieces of bread in Unganglish. This type of "toast" has no prior toasting requirements, and in fact very few locals will even know that some foreign people actually toast their bread. I discovered this through my language trainer, Richard, and we were both equally outraged at the other's misuse of "toast".
-"Well how many pieces do you have to toast to make it toast?!"
-"Any amount! You can toast half a slice, or you can toast a whole loaf and it will -all be "toast"!"
-"What? That's crazy!"
-"We're the crazy ones?! You don't even toast your f-ing toast!"

The Assist - This one pretty much just means "give", and, as a Muzungu, I hear it all the time.
-"Muzungu, assist me with your money/bike."

Tones - So these aren't really Uganglish words, and it is done all of the time in both English and local languages, but people will use many tones as a way of communcation instead of words. Often, people set the pace of a conversation by "mmmmmmmm"-ing, and I can assure you, they do it often. "How are you, sir?" "Fine, madem." "mmmmmmm" (at least 3 seconds - this means you can move on and ask the other person how they are). Another one of my favorites is that "Ahhhhh-haaaaa!" It is used whenever someone is really in agreement with something that has been said. It's much higher in pitch and considerably more elongated than it's American counterpart. There are many others, but I won't get into them all here. I guess we have similar mannerisms, but none so formally a part of everyone's speech pattern. It takes some getting used to.

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