What’s That You Hear on Uganda’s Streets?

Uganda has the world’s youngest population, with over 78% below 30 years of age. PHOTO: campustimesug.com

Uganda has the world’s youngest population, with over 78% below 30 years of age. PHOTO: campustimesug.com

Uganda is a ‘young’ country if the above numbers are anything go by. And that makes the nation’s present population one that is acclimatized to he ways of the English language. A consequence of it is the development of a new language  – Luyaaye. Designated an Urban Youth Language (informal varieties, the new variant is a combination of mostly English, Sheng (a Swahili-based cant, originating among the urban underclass of Nairobi, Kenya), and other Sudanese languages. Now, why should anybody pay attention to this nascent dialect, that is less rigid than traditional languages and mainly involves word play? And should its dark past be forgotten, the one about the language helping criminals do their business?

“Programmes have been carried out to spread information about AIDS but even with increased dissemination there was a decrease in the take-up of that information,” she said. “When asked what would help, people said ‘speak our language’.

Originally a “secret language” spoken by criminals, Luyaaye has grown in popularity because it’s seen as more playful and less traditional by many of its speakers, with its “joyful” use of English, Luganda and other languages. Many of those who use Luyaaye are concentrated within Kampala, the capital city of a country that faces many challenges, including serious health problems. To combat these threats to health – and to get other social messages across – the government must communicate with its population effectively. This means using Luyaaye alongside the official languages, argue researchers from Africa and Cambridge who are working collaboratively as part of the Cambridge-Africa Partnership for Research Excellence.

Read more on the case to document Luyaaye here.

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