image of Morphosyntactic retention and innovation in Sheng, a youth language or stylect of Kenya



This paper examines the morphosyntax of the East African Swahili-based urban youth language or stylect Sheng. Research on urban youth languages has often focused on these varieties as sites of rapid change and linguistic creativity. However, we show that many of the structural features which appear to make Sheng stand out when compared to (Standard) Swahili are widespread across East African Bantu languages. We examine nominal and verbal domains, as well as clausal syntax, and highlight areas in which Sheng exhibits features in common with its contact languages, as well as features which appear to reflect instances of independent innovation. The study shows that Sheng is not a “simplified” version of Swahili which deviates from the grammar of Swahili in a range of ad hoc ways. Rather, the language exhibits features of retention and contact-induced borrowing, as well as systematic changes which are reflective of variation across the Bantu languages.

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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keywords: Swahili ; language contact ; Sheng ; youth languages ; morphosyntax
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