Is Sheng The New Mother Language?

According to the internet, International Mother Language Day (IMLD) is a worldwide annual observance held on 21st February to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and promote multilingualism. It was formally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in a resolution establishing 2008 as the International Year of Languages.

Kenya is a multilingual country with about 68 languages being spoken. Most of these languages are community specific with English and Kiswahili being recognized as the official languages. It is out of the convergence of English and Kiswahili that Sheng was born. Sheng is an urban language that came into being when young residents in urban areas needed to communicate with one another. They developed Sheng which cuts across communities and allows people from different regions to engage with one another.

Crossover Kenya had a chance to speak to Kenyan artists who have incorporated sheng into their rapping style to create what they call Shrap. Alliance Domini Family (ADF) is a musical collective and an independent record label that was formed in 2010. Crossover Kenya spoke to two of its members, Dope-I-Mean and K Green to find out what mother language is to them and why they chose sheng for their craft.

According to Dope-I-Mean, he doesn’t speak his mother language. He was brought up in the early 90s a time when the issue of ethnicity had a negative tint and his mother chose not to teach him his mother language so as not to alienate him from his peers. K Green on the other hand uses his mother language at home to communicate with his parents.

For the two artists, Sheng is the mother language of Kenya and specifically Nairobi. They use Sheng in their rap style because most people in the country speak it and they are able to reach a wider audience by using it. They incorporate Sheng to the western style beats that influences their music to come up with Shrap which is a uniquely Kenyan sound.

While speaking to the two artists who can be said to represent today’s youth, it is clear that Kenyan mother languages are slowly being discarded in favour of English, Kiswahili and Sheng; languages that allow people from different communities and regions to communicate with ease. It is possible that Sheng will graduate from being just an urban language and develop into the country’s sole mother language. Some might see this as a tragedy as the 68 plus mother languages fall by the wayside and become lost. However, others might see this as a positive development as a universal mother language may be the cure for the negative ethnicity that has been plaguing our country since before independence.

Catch the full interview with Dope-I-Mean and K Green by tuning in to the Crossover Kenya YouTube Channel. Watch it here: