Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 14, No 3 (2020)

English, national and local linguae francae in the language ecologies of Uganda and Tanzania

Susanne Mohr, Steffen Lorenz, Dunlop Ochieng
Issued Date: 16 Dec 2020


With regard to eastern Africa, English is usually discussed as a language of urban metropolises, connected to global capital and high education. However, globalisation has created pockets away from these urban centres, where English is an important part of local linguistic practices, coexisting with rather local linguae francae. This study presents two examples of such places from Uganda and Tanzania, discusses the role English and local languages have there, and the attitudes people hold towards them. The Ugandan data stem from Gulu, a medium-sized city, and show English as an essential element of everyday interaction not only in interethnic communication or business encounters, but also in interactions among ethnic Acholi. This importance is reflected in the attitudes held towards English. The Tanzanian data were collected in Arusha, another medium-sized city. They show an equally favourable attitude towards English instrumentally, despite Kiswahili being more frequently used in everyday communication. It is especially this use of Kiswahili that divides these two language ecologies and questions the notion of the ‘heartland’ of East Africa based on sociolinguistic similarities. The examples show the importance of recognising the dynamics of language locally (Pennycook, 2010) in its concrete ecologies when assessing the role of languages in Africa.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £18.00 )

DOI: 10.1558/sols.38800


Barasa, S. N. (2015) ‘Ala! Kumbe? ‘Oh my! Is it so?’ Multilingualism controversies in East Africa. In D. Smakman and P. Heinrich (eds) Globalising Sociolinguistics 39--53. Oxon/New York: Routledge.

Blommaert, J. (2010) The Sociolinguistics of Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Blommaert, J. (2014) State Ideology and Language in Tanzania. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Bwenge, C. (2012) English in Tanzania: a linguistic cultural perspective. International Journal of Language, Translation and Intercultural Communication 1(1): 167--182.

Brock-Utne, B. and Holmarsdottir, H. B. (2004) Language policies and practices in Tanzania and South Africa: problems and challenges.  International Journal of Educational Development 24(1): 67--83.

Brock-Utne, B. and Qorro, M. A. S. (2015) Multilingualism and Language in Education in Tanzania . In A.Yiakoumetti (ed.) Multilingualism and Language in Education: Sociolinguistic and Pedagogical Perspectives from Commonwealth Countries, 19--31. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Dako, K. and Quarcoo, M. A. 2017. Attitudes towards English in Ghana. Legon Journal of the Humanities 28(1): 20--30.


Fleming, K. (2017) Hong Kong’s language ecology and the racialized linguistic order. Language Ecology 1(1): 25--43.

Haugen, E. (1972) The Ecology of Language. Essays. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Isingoma, B. (2017) Languages in East Africa: policies, practices and perspectives. Sociolinguistic Studies 10(3): 433--454.

Kachru, B. B. (1985) Standards, Codification and Sociolinguistic Realism: The English Language in the Outer Circle. In R. Quirk and H. G. Widdowson (eds) English in the World: Teaching and Learning the Language and Literatures 11--30.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kamwangamalu, N. M. (2013) Effects of policy on English-medium instruction in Africa. World Englishes 32(3): 325--337.

Legère, K. and Rosendal, T. (2015) National Languages, English and Social Cohesion in East Africa. In H. Coleman (ed.) Language and Social Cohesion in the Developing World 75--91. Colombo: British Council/Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit.

Meierkord, C. and Isingoma, B. (2016) Ugandan English – challenges to, and food for, current theories. In C. Meierkord, B. Isingoma and S. Namyalo (eds) Ugandan English 1--16. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Meierkord, C., Isingoma, B. and Namyalo, S. (eds) (2016) Ugandan English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Mohr, S. (2018) The changing dynamics of language use and language attitudes in Tanzania. Language Matters. Studies in the Languages of Africa 49(3): 105--127.

Mohr, S. and Ochieng, D. (2017) Language usage in everyday life and in education: current attitudes towards English in Tanzania. English Today 33(4): 12--18.

Mohr, S. and H. Steigertahl. (forthc.) African sociolinguistics between urbanity and rurality. Sociolinguistic Studies 14(1).

Namyalo, S., Isingoma, B. and Meierkord, C. (2016) Towards assessing the space of Uganda’s linguistic ecology: Facts and issues. In C. Meierkord, B. Isingoma and S. Namyalo (eds) Ugandan English 19--50. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Pawliková-Vilhanová, V. (1996) Swahili and the dilemma of Ugandan language policy. Asian and African Studies 5: 158--170.

Pennycook, A. (2010) Language as Local Practice. New York: Routledge.

Petzell, M. (2012) The Linguistic Situation in Tanzania. Moderna Språk 1: 136--144.

Rubanza, Y. I. (2002) Competition Through English: The Failure of Tanzania’s Language Policy. In K. K. Prah (ed.) Rehabilitating African Languages 39--51. Cape Town: The Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society.

Schmied, J. (1990) Language Use, Attitudes, Performance and Sociolinguistic Background: A Study of English in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. English World Wide 11(2): 217–238.

Schmied, J. (1991) English in Africa. London/New York: Longman.

Schmied, J. (2006) East African Englishes. In B. B. Kachru, Y. Kachru and C. L. Nelson (eds) The Handbook of World Englishes 188--204. London: Blackwell.

Schmied, J. (2008) East African English (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania): phonology. In R. Mesthrie (ed.) Varieties of English. Africa, South and Southeast Asia 150--163. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Schmied, J. (2012) Standards of English in East Africa. In R. Hickey (ed.) Standards of English 229--255. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Simons, G. F. and Fennig, C. D. (eds) (2018) Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Twentieth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Retrieved on 25 April 2018 from

Smakman, D.  and Heinrich, P. (2015) Globalising Sociolinguistics. Abingdon et al.: Routledge.

Uganda (2016) Uganda National Population and Housing Census 2014 – Main Report. Kampala: The Republic of Uganda.

Wee, L. (2003) Linguistic instrumentalism in Singapore. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 24(3): 211--224.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy