Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 10, No 1-2 (2016)

From slang to sleek: Changing language attitudes of urban youths in Tanzania

Uta Reuster-Jahn
Issued Date: 4 Jun 2016


Urban language in Tanzania is based on Swahili. It is a complex linguistic phenomenon which, depending on contexts, can be used as a sociolect, a register, or a speech style. As its creators and users are predominantly male urban youths, it shares many features with other urban youth languages in Africa. This urban language, in Swahili called lugha ya mitaani, has been described linguistically by Reuster-Jahn and Kießling (2006), who focused on its creative strategies of manipulation as well as on its semantic domains characterised by overlexicalization. This article examines the interplay between youth culture, in particular music, and urban youth language in Tanzania. It argues that the rapid development of youth language after the socialist era in Tanzania, which ended in the late 1980s, was closely connected to the rise of Bongo Flava, a hip-hop movement in the country which spread lexical creations and imbued youth language with prestige. Moreover, the article suggests a correlation between the transformation of Bongo Flava into commercial pop music since approximately 2010 and the decreased prestige of youth language. It is based on a preliminary survey among Tanzanian youths in Dar es Salaam.

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DOI: 10.1558/sols.v10i1-2.28023


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