Is there something wrong with speaking in your vernacular in a public place? What exactly makes it wrong? It is a language like any other. Personally, Kikuyu is the first language I learnt so I know it better. I love it.

I will even write in Kikuyu, which most people my age cannot for some reason. I will write it on social media. There those that get offended when this happens. I still do not get why they get offended. I am not speaking ill of anyone when I do.

In fact, that is where the problem lies. We tend to assume that when someone speaks in their vernacular, they are trying to hide something. The assumption is actually valid since there are many who do it to hide insults aimed at other citizens who will not understand them.

But we have to understand one thing, this is Kenya. It is a country where English is a second or even third language to majority of its occupants. It is not like some other countries where only one or two languages are known across its boundaries. We, therefore, cannot carry out communication like we live in one of those countries. Kenya is made up of over forty tribes which come with their own distinct language. I would like to believe that each of them is proud of their mother tongue and would not want to extinguish it in favour of another.

Loving your language is not being tribal. I am not saying that one should walk into a public office and speak to the receptionist in their mother tongue. First of all, there is no guarantee that she or he will understand you. Second of all, it is shows how narrow-minded you are. It is a shame to go speaking to everyone in the country in your language just because you think it is ‘the third national language’.

Coming from Kikuyu, I know first-hand how everyone assumes everyone in the place is Kikuyu. I would understand an elderly man or woman talking to me in their first language but not any other person. In the market, shops, churches there will always be that Kikuyu cropping up to pass the message better. I imagine how it feels like for another person who does not understand the language.

I quit imagining how it feels like to that person when I began my studies in Eldoret. Here, Kalenjin is predominant. There are times I sit in a matatu and feel totally lost because the radio is blasting out things I do not know and locals around are engaged in conversation I cannot understand. Even in the office scenario, I have experienced this. At the beginning, I used to get very uncomfortable and mad.

Then I remembered where I come from. This is exactly what goes on and since I am on the side that comprehends everything, I never find it awkward.

It is no longer 1800 where our forefathers spoke in their language because they lived in tribal villages with the occasional interaction with another community through the silent trade and such. It is the year 2012, where a lot of us have gone to school and have been taught that Swahili is the national language as well as the official one alongside English.

It is not wrong to talk to someone who understands what you are saying in whatever language. It is, however, wrong to use your tongue to harass another, just because you feel untouchable in the reality of their not knowing what it means until they source for translators.

It is not wrong to be proud of your language; it is, after all, part of your heritage. There is nothing wrong with updating your status or tweeting in it. It only becomes a problem when you realize that translating it to someone will unearth something you want to hide.

There are so many things that only come out best in your native language. That is something that will never change.

In this same nation, there are those of us who were born by two parents who speak two different languages and hence know neither or both. How beautiful, a mash-up of two native languages, right? Yes, it is 2012 and a child can live in a community without necessarily speaking their language because there are national languages to enhance interaction. (I smile when I think of my future children. I will certainly not let language, and more specifically tribe, dictate who their father will be.)

Unity in diversity is beautiful. That is what Kenya is. Beautiful because even in the midst of all those languages, we still interact peacefully and even learn other languages in the process. I know a few words in Kalenjin. It feels so nice because you realize that a language is not necessarily a barrier if you embrace it with a learning attitude.

I love my language. I love songs sang in my language. Songs are powerful. A song made me write this post. A song I found hilarious at first and laughed so hard because I thought it was stupid.

Then I remembered that music is powerful and there are specific people who listen to the song and continue keeping grudges because a musician they respect says they should. And let us not forget the politician who stands on a podium and insults a rival in his or her language when the rest of the speech had been made in Swahili.

They could do it to connect with the crowd, which is human. But misusing that connection is downright shameful.

Use whatever language you choose wisely. In any case, an insult in English is still an insult in Kikuyu. Mind your language.

Written by Shiku Ngigi

Mum and dad’s daughter. Shouting big sister. Learning to listen. Jesus freak. Recovering tomboy. Mouse potato. Bass addict. Waking up the writer in her.

    5 Comments

  1. Masinga July 2, 2012 at 10:46 am Reply

    Awesome write.

  2. Masinga July 16, 2012 at 2:12 pm Reply

    Welcome 🙂

  3. Gichu Wil August 11, 2012 at 1:27 am Reply

    Nice..but too bad for our children…they will never know the languages even if we tried…but good for them too.

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