The Observer (Kampala)

19 February 2013

Uganda: Mind Your Language

"Can you borrow me some money?" is a statement you have probably heard if a Ugandan has tried to borrow some money from you.

The first time I heard it, I frowned. Why would anyone replace "lend" with "borrow"?

I have heard it so many times that I have stopped frowning. There are a number of English statements and words that are distinctly Ugandan. Case in point is the "borrow me some" phrase. Another is "she lied me".

If you are not Ugandan or are not conversant with Uglish (Ugandan English), you might wonder: "She lied him? Did she lay him down, like some baby, and covered him up with blankets?" After a while, you will come to the realisation that in Uglish, prepositions are, sometimes, dropped. Instead of saying "She lied to me", Uglish users say: "Kyokka that ka-girl, she lied me".

Most of Uglish is influenced by Uganda's indigenous tongues. Individuals translate a statement from their mother tongue and deliver it, as it would have sounded in that language, in the English language.

You will thus hear someone say: "You are so lost" to imply that they haven't seen you in a while. They will have translated this from the Luganda phrase: "Ng'obuze nnyo".

You may be at a loss: "Why is this person saying I'm lost when I'm right here? Am I invisible? " You aren't invisible dear; it's the Uglish confusing you.

Why do people say "extend please" when they want space to be made for them on a bench or in a taxi? I bet you they wouldn't like it if someone really "extended" themselves because to extend, according to the Oxford Advanced Learner's dictionary, is to make "longer, larger and wider". "Move over" is the right term to use when one wants space to be made for them.

"She is putting on purple," you are likely to hear one person describe another's dress. What does that mean? It is Uglish for "She is wearing purple". To "put on" might describe the action of dressing up.

Thus, when you say that you spotted Diana at Speke road, "putting on" a purple dress, someone might be inclined to think that Diana dresses up in public!

Some Uglish words cannot be attributed to mother-tongue influence. For instance, where we substitute "salon" for "saloon". A salon is a place where "hairdressing is done" or "where expensive clothes are sold", according to the Oxford Advanced Learner's dictionary.

A saloon, on the other hand, is a "car with four doors and a boot" or a bar or "a large comfortable room on a ship, used by passengers to sit and relax in".

So, should you tell a non-Uglish speaker that you are going to the saloon and they see you hopping into the hairdresser's instead, they will wonder about you.

Did you know that the word "indisciplined", which we often use to describe unruly individuals, is nonexistent, save for in Uglish? Neither does "ramshackled" nor "tarmacked". The right words are indiscipline (or undisciplined) and ramshackle. If you can't believe it (the usage of some of these words is so widespread, you can't believe they do not exist), try looking them up.

Also, why do some Ugandans greet others: "Well done!" even when they find them doing nothing other than watching TV? Is the particular way I am watching TV so great that you have to compliment me about it?

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