?For the Ugandan readers, this book is about how to NOT speak English while appreciating the existence of this special variety (Uglish)?, Mr. Bernard Sabiiti says in the preface to the 2014 book, UgLish: A Dictionary of Ugandan English. Being a Ugandan, one whose first language is Rukiga, which heavily influences the English I speak and write, the preface deflated any hopes I had in the book as the reference point for Ugandan English. Mr. Sabiiti makes clear his intention when he writes in the introduction;

I hope this book will be taken seriously. The poor usage of English in this country should not be a laughing matter. The inability to communicate in the country?s lingua Franca affects a person?s development in several ways. This inability to communicate coherently in formal and Standard English blunts the originality and flow of thought, and has serious consequences to a person?s prospects for a job opportunity, winning an argument and making a convincing case in a number of situations. Therefore, while this should be read by some purely for pleasure and hilarity, to most of us, particularly my fellow Ugandans, my prayer is that the book helps us more to reflect than laugh even if a good laugh never hurt anybody.

In chapter one, Mr. Sabiiti gives us what he says is the history of Ugandan English, through the country?s major political eras, of colonialism, Milton Obote, Idi Amin and Yoweri Museveni. He outlines what he says are the features of Ugandan English in chapter two. These include direct translation, derivation, singularisation and pluralisation, article omission and substitution, using words from indigenous Ugandan languages as English words, tabloid influences, using brand names as nouns, ignoring prepositions, using Mr. on first names, using big words and expressions, and code switching. As opposed to describing what Ugandan English is, Mr. Sabiiti comes off as castigating Ugandans for not speaking British English.

Take this example on page 18. He tells us that a young Ugandan who says that, ?Anti for us, okiraba, the problem is nti okudevelopinga will take us long because of politicians eating all the money, lack of transparency like the issue of lacking kisanja in the constitution? is committing a mistake for alternating from the so-called standard English (by which he means British English) to slang and the use of words from indigenous Ugandan languages. But this is legitimate pidgin Ugandan English, in the same league as Nigerian pidgin and Kenyan Sheng, which both infuse indigenous language influences with English. To subtly ridicule Ugandans for creatively weaving various linguistic influences in how they speak and creating their own variety of English is not only unfair but disrespectful.

Chapter three of the book presents us a glossary of words, phrases and usages that Mr. Sabiiti explains, in the same judgmental tone. He tells us that in Uglish, campus means university, not the grounds of as the real meaning in ?standard English? (for him, what is British is what is standard). Can there be other standard Englishes? Yes. Is there a standard Ugandan English?

Uglish has grown into its own skin to even regard some cases of British English use wrong

Allestree Fischer in a 2000 article argues that standard Ugandan English re-analyses the grammar under the influence of indigenous languages, generalises rules across a wider range of categories and applies a more analytical type of language. Fischer goes ahead to argue that standard Ugandan English has grown into its own skin to even regard some cases of British English use wrong. Say the example of running mad versus going mad. The British English going mad will be considered wrong in Ugandan Standard English where running mad is the correct statement. But Bernard Sabiiti, in his Uglish dictionary is disappointed that Ugandans have the guts to even mark British English (what he calls the only Standard English wrong).

Mr. Sabiiti may not have written a scholarly text as the professional linguist Bebwa Isingoma would write and indeed there are many cases of omitted references to sources but we can shut one eye as he does not set out to write an authoritative academic text. But the claims he makes are too outlandish we must open both eyes! Some of the words in the glossary may not mean what he says they mean for all of us who use them. He for example says that mufarring (on page 29) means the phenomenon of a student asking his/her roommate to sleep elsewhere for a night to let him/her have the room to himself/herself and his/her visiting lover. This is not entirely accurate. Mufarring, to my knowledge, is the habit of staying at university illegally during holiday time, and the act of displacing one?s roommate is beaning (or making one climb a tree). One hopes that, put to academic publishing rigour, the glossary will improve and the author will choose either to write a general interest book (properly proofread) or an academic text.


The last part of the book is a laugh out loud collection of photos showing strange use of English. The signs and symptoms the author presents show the improper use of English, be it Ugandan English or any other. To define these as part of Uglish is not fair. Mr. Sabiiti is arguably the first author to write a somewhat comprehensive book on Ugandan English, as much of the literature on the subject comes in the form of short journal articles. He deserves credit for the effort. What I think Mr. Sabiiti does not do is tell his readers that there is a difference between Ugandan English (standard or pidgin) and wrong English. He does not tell us if Uglish in his view means standard Ugandan English (which is taught in schools, used in mainstream newspapers, official formal communication etc) or pidgin Ugandan English (the infusion of indigenous Ugandan languages with English) or the strange and incorrect usages of English that he shows with photos of signs.

It is inconceivable that a Ugandan would oppose the use of the word matooke to describe the banana-like fruit that is not exactly plantain or banana that other Englishes have no word for. This being Mr. Sabiiti?s first book, one is confident that he will consider all the concerns about his dismissive attitude towards a very strong variety of the English language as he works on a revised edition.

Source: Thisisafrica.com


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