Uganda: (No longer) lost in translation

A little over a year ago, Ugandan blogger Country Boyi wondered why Ugandans weren't blogging in local languages. He wrote:

The power of indigenous languages to infiltrate the thinking of the local people cannot be underestimated.

[…]Do bloggers, like other writers, have a major stake in the development of writing and reading materials in the local languages, and what is in it for them considering the Ugandan society pays little attention to the written word?

The majority of Ugandan bloggers have yet to write in languages other than English, perhaps because four distinct language families, each with multiple languages, are represented in the country. Over the last year, however, several of Uganda's blogren have forayed into the world of local-language blogging via Luglish, a blend of English and Luganda. Luganda is the local language most commonly spoken in central Uganda, including the capital city Kampala.

In one of the first Luglish posts in the Ugandan blogosphere, Tumwijuke of Ugandan Insomniac writes:

Yesterday, I was privy to a series of conversations between three 8 or 9 year olds in my neighbourhood. As the boys fought and laughed and jostled for position in their small trio, I was struck by how little we change over the years. How much we are just little boys and girls trying our best to live in this big, big world.

(Please adopt a Luglish – Luganda/English – accent when reading the following dialogue. If you don’t know what that sounds like … um, sorry move to Uganda for the experience; it’s a beautiful place … sometimes.)

She goes on to transcribe the conversations, italicizing the Luganda portions but not translating them.

For those who haven't yet had the chance to experience Luglish first-hand, several Ugandan bloggers have posted guides. Seamless‘ 21-part “UGA-SPEAK [A foreigner's guide]” gives tips like:

2. extend- move/push up, create a little space for me

3. ziwereze- pay up!

#2 and #3 are for y'all who won't be using car rentals, or the awe-inspiring boda-bodas but will be trying out our good old taxis.

4. [boda-boda]/bajaj- crazy means of transport via motorbike, which involves clinging on for dear life. Also, the heady rush of speed, a brush with death and wind through your hair.

The blog Fresh Apples reposts a guide to Ugandan English that he found on the Facebook group I love Uganda. Some choice entries on geography:

Out – anywhere outside of Uganda ie. studying from out

This side – Uganda

That side – The West (North America)

After reading the entry on Fresh Apples, blogger Buttercookie adds:

Push me to the shop.- Accompany me to the shop.

U have taken a long time minus coming. (This one is a classic.) What would the opposite be, U have taken a long time plus coming?- Yeah, I know what u’re thinking. Some people really do say that.

Come and we go.-Let’s go together.

Luglish has also been a popular topic for expat bloggers living in Uganda. Paige Anderson Bowen notes:

the official language of uganda is english, but it’s not an english an american would necessarily recognize or understand. most languages (all?) spoken in uganda are bantu languages, so the pronunciation of spoken english here often has a heavy bantu inflection and sentences can be delivered in bantu grammar. the “properness” of a ugandan’s english increases with education level and exposure to native english speakers, but the average ugandan speaks a purely (and sometimes maddeningly) ugandanized english that includes:

- “ok, please”: interchangeably used for yes and no
– “i am on my way coming”: estimated time of arrival anywhere from 5 min to 2 hrs to never
– up/down instead of left/right when giving directions

In another post on the same blog, Paige's husband Phil links to the Wikipedia entry for Ugandan English. And the Uganda wiki, an online encyclopedia on Uganda, also has an entry on the same subject.

Finally, taking the posts on cross-cultural conversation one step further, blogger Chris Mason gives his readers a lesson in Ugandan non-verbal communication:

Boda-boda [Ed.: motorcycle taxi] driver: Raises his eyebrows while making eye contact with me.

Translation: “Would you care for a lift to your desired destination, sir?”

Chris: Raises eyebrows while making eye contact with boda-boda driver.

Translation: “That would be splendid.”

Chris, uttering the only words that would appear in this exchange: “Garden City”

Translation: “I am heading to Garden City. Let us now embark on a pleasant back-and-forth negotiation of this trip.”


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