Editor's note: From April 28, 2022, Shagz Chronicles will be managing the @DigiAfricanLang Twitter account to share their experiences with the revitalization and promotion of African languages. This is part of an ongoing social media campaign to celebrate linguistic diversity online. Read more about the campaign here.
Shagz Chronicles is a podcast where the hosts reminisce about growing up in the 1990s in rural Kenya and told in Gĩkũyũ (Kikuyu) — the country's third most spoken language. Hosted by Wathiomo and Jehudi (not their real names), the duo state in the show's blurb:
We were intrigued by a lot that was happening around us. This (podcast) is borrowed heavily from being young, curious, imaginative, our banter and appreciating the environment around us.
As part of our ongoing series highlighting the work of activists promoting African languages in digital spaces, we reached out to the podcast hosts.
Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work?
Shagz Chronicles (SC): Shagz Chronicles is a podcast that is out to make people fall in love with the Gĩkũyũ (Kikuyu) language and using language as a stepping stone toward understanding their culture. We aim to teach, learn, and relate with others who chime in to be part of the conversation. We make the language fun to learn through stories, commonly used sayings, proverbs, etc. The stories that we share are from our upbringing within an Indigenous setup as a way of promoting our language within the digital space.
RV: What is the current state of your language both online and offline?
SC: We have had some good gains in both offline and online. The language is often spoken offline and it has made strides in terms of people young and old using it to communicate especially in business due to the bias “Mkikuyu ni wa biashara” (a Kikuyu person is only concerned with making money/running a business).
As for online, there have been notable contributions towards the language from around the world. This is through podcasts and poetry. On YouTube for instance, you’ll find many story-telling channels such as Jeff Kuria TV, Kikuyu digital TV, among others. This shows the potential for growth. Thanks to the internet, you can get a feel of being at home from anywhere in the world.
RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online. Is there a lack of proper framework from a policy-making perspective:
SC: A good number of people within the digital space have negative attitudes towards the use of Indigenous languages since they associate it with tribalism.
RV: Describe some of the technical and or technological challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online.
SC: Translation of the language. Only a handful of online users understand the language. If native languages were given an opportunity to be translated just like Kiswahili, it would make a huge difference and impact. It would ensure growth of the language.
RV: What are some of the reasons you chose to use the podcasting medium over platforms such as blogging, vlogging, or others?
SC: For us, we chose podcasting because it allows our listeners to immerse themselves fully into the shows. Our listeners can be able to listen to us anywhere be it in Kenya on a train or anywhere else in the world at the beach since podcasting also allows listeners to tune in passively.
RV: What are some of the assumptions that you had made that were either dispelled or affirmed? Also, any surprises?
SC: Our assumptions were that we would naturally take a while to have an impact given that we’re such a niche. Also that we would upload content at our own pace. Little did we know that our content was one of a kind and we had to increase the pace of churning out this content.
We were surprised by the uptake of our content. Our fans engage with our content and even share it further and wider. It’s humbling to know that we’re making impact from our passion.
Another surprise is that we’re talking to three generations, as in our folks [gen X], millennials and, gen Z.
RV: What technological steps do you think, by either internet companies or digital platform owners, can encourage more usage of the language online?
SC: Digital platforms can begin by designing digital tools in native languages and also continue supporting accessibility and connectivity.
RV: The current growth of the language online and offline leans more towards the oral/audio aspects of the language, what effect might this have on the written/read aspects of it.
SC: Due to the education and social systems the majority naturally lean towards audio more than written. Written has been an aspect primarily reserved for scholars.
The growth of oral language has a positive effect on written aspects of the language because it provides a much-needed foundation for writing skills
The lean towards oral also means we have a big opportunity to convert oral speakers into writers
RV: Is this a concern to some of the language speakers that you encounter online and offline? If so, what can/is being done to ensure that users of the language or those who want to learn do not just focus on the audio?
SC: Majority of language speakers are concerned that we have fewer and fewer people who can write the language. We need a platform that develops both oral and written aspects of the language e.g. poetry, for us, cuts across both written and oral skills
RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?
SC: Using our language in everyday activities. Existing and thriving in everyday spaces. Teaching and passing language in a way that young people understand.