Language and Culture.

by: John Ian Mutiro.









These are all ways of saying hello in a variety of the languages spoken here in Kenya and these are not representative of even quarter the languages spoken in Kenya. Kenya is a culturally diverse country with over 120 ethnic groups and sub groups. With the introduction of English and Kiswahili as the official national language, there has been an erosion of the native languages especially with the urbanised younger generations.


When I was growing up, there was a lot of literature on grandparents conveying stories to their grandchildren in their native languages. Many of my schoolmates then benefited from this and so many of these stories have now made their way into print.


Last month we tackled Language and Culture as our theme and interacted with Kiswahili books (which can be very daunting for most Kenyan children).


Language and culture share a symbiotic relationship; to understand the nature of one’s language one needs to evaluate their culture and vice versa. For example, in most native Kenyan languages it is very difficult to find native words for items like sausages which did not exist in their culture then.


Writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o or Haruki Murakami have written their works of literature in their native language; Kikuyu and Japanese respectively. Language is one of the most important forms of self expression and you can clearly see how the above writers are influenced by their cultures in their literature. While their works are translated eventually, some words are lost in translation. Some jokes are only funny in their native languages and may only make sense in that culture. In my native language we have a saying “Mwana mwega ni ndaa”. Loosely translated this means that a good child is his stomach but the saying was a reference to how a good child is one with a great appetite. 


Have you introduced your child to your native language?

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