“But you guy, when will you ever stop cowardising? stop beeping that potential side-dish and go bench her”
“Man you’re lost. Long time no see”
“Let me first go to the toilet and make a short-call before we go eating money now-now”
“I was busy taking my dry tea trying to forget what that de-toother had done to me but Seya killed me when i heard him on radio spewing buffaloes. It made my day!”
“Anti for us, okiraba, the problem is nti okudevelopinga will take us long because of politicians eating all the money, lack of transparency like the issue of lacking kisanja in the constitution” (quoted from Uglish Dictionary)
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Uglish (pronounced as You-glish). This is the Ugandan form of English influenced by local dialects, which has produced hundreds of words with their own unique and identity meanings. It is mainly dependent on sentences being literally translated, word for word, from local dialects with little regard for context, while vocabulary used is derived from standard English.
Cultural critic Benard Sabiti, came up with “Uglish: A Dictionary of Ugandan English,” a guide to the understanding our English which went on sale in bookshops across Uganda late last year and is soon opening its markets to the rest of the world.
The dictionary contains hundreds of popular Uglish terms mostly used by the youth with some dating back to the colonial days. It has been widely appreciated and reviewed by World class news agencies like for example Guardian, Yahoo News, BBC, Radio France and NPR.
English remains the official language in Uganda. It is the medium of instruction and communication in schools, workplaces and business. The problem comes in when illiterates and literates mix to understand each other giving rise to Uglish.
But is our Uglish wrong?
Many countries have changed the proper words of foreign languages to suit and ease communication between indigenous people. In Singapore, “Singlish” is a mixture of chinese, malay and Tamil, Namibia also has Namlish and not forgetting the usual suspect, Nigeria with her pidgin English.
Pidgin English is extremely popular in most parts of Asia and Africa. In West Africa, it has been accepted as the de-facto language of blue collar trade and merchants. Pidgin remains the “great” equalizer – a way of communicating on a base level that cuts through bullshit. With roughly 250 tribes speaking 521 languages and dialects, English is Nigeria’s official business language.
For citizens without easy access to higher education and white collar jobs, picking up a few words of English and mixing it with elements of their native tongues has been the default way of communicating across tribal cultures.
In an interview with Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire in This Is Africa, Sabiti stated that Uglish is legitimate pidgin Ugandan English in the same league as Nigerian pidgin and Kenyan Sheng, which both infuse indigenous language influences with English. Therefore To subtly ridicule Ugandans for creatively weaving various linguistic influences in how they speak and creating their own variety of English is not only unfair but disrespectful.
Kitsa Kisa Alexander commenting on the same in Daily Monitor, also stated that it is pride in elevating our own local languages rather than struggling to understand English. According to her, Uglish comes in to strike a balance and goes ahead to ask in if in any case a white minds about how best he or she speaks an African language.
Therefore, Uglish is just not a funny dialect ‘murdering’ the queen’s language, but a mode and medium of communication only unique to Uganda. It is easier to understand someone when speaking it mostly the youth and thus not wrong but just exposing creativity of Ugandans. Today, there is a Twitter, Blog and Facebook page dedicated to people who love Uglish to interact, engage and share more words thereby gradually turning into a culture.
The development of such words has been attributed to musicians like Dr. Hilderman and recently local rapper Gravity Omutujju who came up with a song “Broken English” discussing the above matter showing pride in it and can be viewed here below.
However, in another interview with Malay Mail, Sabiiti admitted that Uglish is greatly a symptom of a serious problem with the Ugandan education system which he claims has been deteriorating since the 1990s. Most people do not read widely and the system is also largely based on a white man’s curriculum.
As he also notes, there comes a point when Uglish stops being funny. Even with the introduction of free elementary education In 1997, our literacy levels remain low and therefore Uglish is not something that should be encouraged, particulary among the young who should learn the proper standard English.
However, even with criticism from proper standard English speaking people, Uglish remains an identity attributed to only Ugandans. From Parliamentarians, to teachers, farmers and students, almost every Ugandan is ‘guilty’ of having spoken Uglish somehow. Some words which we think are proper for example ‘dirten’, do not exist in standard English but only Ugandan English.
Whatever it is, the expression has attained idiomatic status in Ugandan English and should probably be patented and exported to other parts of the English-speaking world as Ugandan linguistic invention in English.
Here are some of Uglish words and their meaning to help you understand more. (They first appeared in The Guardian)
Learn some Uglish
- Avail – to make something available
- Beep – to call someone once and hang up before they pick up
- Benching – Stopping what you’re doing or dropping in on someone you might have a romantic interest in
- Bounce – to arrive somewhere and find someone there or to be turned away from an event
- Broken English — Incorrect English
- Buffalo – someone who uses incorrect or inarticulate English words
- Bullet – a leaked exam paper
- Campuser — University Student
- Cowardise – to behave timidly or like a coward
- Dirten – to make something dirty
- Dry Tea — Black Tea
- Kyana — Pretty woman
- Live sex – to have unprotected sex
- Mazongoto – a big bed
- Muzigo — One bedroomed house
- Pensioner — Old person
- Rolex — Chapatti with rolled eggs
- Side dish – somebody’s mistress
- Special – an individual taxi (special because a 14 seater taxi is the most common form of transport)
- Vacist – a student on holiday
- Waragi – popular Ugandan crude gin with high concentrations of alcohol. Also used derisively about a drunk person
- Wiseaching – acting like a wiseacre
- Wolokosso – loose talk
You know more Uglish words? Share with us.