Sheng is a Swahili and English-based cant, perhaps a mixed language or creole, originating among the urban youth of Nairobi, Kenya, and influenced by many of the languages spoken there. While primarily a language of urban youths, it has spread across social classes and geographically to neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda.
Etymology and history
The word "Sheng" is coined from the two languages that it is mainly derived from: Swahili and English. The "h" was included from the middle of "Swahili because "Seng" would have sounded unusual. The term is first recorded in 1965.
Originating in the early 1950s in the Eastlands area of Nairobi (variously described as a "slum", "ghetto" or "suburb"), Sheng is now heard among matatu drivers/touts across the region, and in the popular media. Most of the Sheng words are introduced in various communities and schools and given wide exposure by music artists who include them in their lyrics, hence the rapid growth. It can be assumed to be the first language of many Kenyans in urban areas.
Like all slang, Sheng is mainly used by the youth and is part of popular culture in Kenya. It also evolves rapidly, as words are moved into and out of slang use. It found broad usage among hip hop artists such as Kalamashaka and G.rongi in the African Great Lakes region in the '90s, both mainstream and "underground" (whose music helped spread the language and contribute to rapid changes or shifts in Sheng vocabulary), as well as among virtually all university and secondary-school students, the language was not always associated with people who cannot do much for the society until when the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation noted the rise in both class and diversity. Radio presenters John Karani, Jeff Mwangemi and Prince Otach, and many more, took it to the mainstream by presenting the first radio shows using Sheng phrases on the national broadcast. By 2010 almost every media show had some sort of sheng it.
Although the grammar, syntax, and much of the vocabulary are drawn from Swahili, Sheng borrows from the languages of some of the largest ethnic groups in Kenya, including Luhya, Gĩkũyũ, Luo and Kamba. Words are also borrowed from languages that are neither a local language nor English – such as the Sheng word morgen "morning" – a Sheng word used in some areas with a similar meaning in German.
Sheng vocabulary can vary significantly within Kenya's various subdivisions and the larger African Great Lakes region, and even between neighbourhoods in Nairobi. Many youth living in the capital often use the argot as their everyday mode of communication rather than Swahili or English.
Sheng in literature
The written use of Sheng in literature is still a minor phenomenon. Some poems in the African literary magazine Kwani? have been published in Sheng, but the first and only book in this language is "Lafudhi hip hop poetry in Sheng" (2015), written by G.rongi.
|babi, barbie||person who doesn't speak Sheng, person from a wealthy background|
|bonga (bong-gah), Roroa||talk|
|bonga mavi||talk smack|
|dungia (doong-gi-ah), gawia, chapia, vutia||hit up (call someone)|
|apantambua||no respect to that (don't recognize that)|
|deng'a, thwau, bunde, mchuma, mtoo, ridhe, fee, toka||gun, firearm|
|chapaa, munde, mundez, niado, ganji, doe, keroma, cheddar/chedaz, mkwanja, makwarkwar||money|
|so, kioo, exsoo, red||one hundred shillings|
|finje, chuani, pachas, hamusini||fifty shillings|
|mbao, blue||twenty shillings|
|ashuu, shoe, kindee, ikongo, das||ten shillings|
|ngovo, kobole, guoko||five shillings|
|rwabe, doso, jill||two hundred shillings|
|punch, jirongo||five hundred shillings|
|thao, jii (like the letter G), kapaa, ngiri, ngwanye, ndovu, azar, K, muti, bramba||one thousand shillings|
|fala, mwere (mweh-reh), dwanzi, zuzu||stupid person, idiot|
|ocha, moshatha||up country, rural home/area|
|noma, niku hatata, wa gwan||in a mess, trouble|
|Oposh, momo||Fat person|
|ingiza njeve||get scared, be afraid, chicken out|
|Kanjo||city council officer|
|msee, kizee, mdhii, mguys, mzeiya, mtungwaz, mzaee||guy, dude|
|dame, mresh, supuu, msupa, manzi, shore (sho-reh; from "shawty"), msusu, mroro, mshee, totoh, yeng, mdenge||girl, chick|
|buda, mzae, arinzu, mzing||father|
|gweng, gwan||hard (difficult)|
|zii, nada, do, nah||no|
|mathree, mat, jive, jav, buu, nganya||matatu|
|ngwai, Tire (Tea-Reh), kithuke, vela, ndom, aroma, shashi, kenti, mashashola||bhang|
|deree, kigonyi, vandere||driver|
|konkodi, makanga, manumber, donda||bus/matatu conductor|
|fegi, mozo, ngale, fuaka||cigarette|
|karao, gova, sanse, beast, afande||police|
|keja, hao, mbanyu, base, digs, ndaki||house, home|
|matha, mathe, mthama||woman|
|mboch, chinebo||housegirl (maid)|
|mbwenya, jako, blazer||coat|
|mdosi, sonko, sos, penki, donga, bombay, bola||Rich person|
|msoto, sufferer||poor person|
|sota, chupri||go bankrupt/become poor|
|mdosi, fathe, mbuyu, buda, arinzu||dad|
|masa, mathe, mnyaka, mokoro, moda, mthama||mum|
|msapere||an individual belonging to Kenya's Kikuyu ethnic community|
|Mkao, mcambodia, mnduli||an individual belonging to Kenya's Kamba ethnic community|
|mjaka||an individual belonging to Kenya's Luo ethnic community|
|mlunje||an individual belonging to Kenya's Luhya ethnic community|
|mkale||an individual belonging to Kenya's Kalenjin ethnic community|
|Arges||an individual belonging to Kenya's Somali ethnic community|
|Kasee||a male person from the Kamba ethnic community of Kenya|
|Baite(pronounced vaite)||a male person from the Meru ethnic community of Kenya|
|nare (nah-reh)||fire, matches|
|ndai, moti, murenga, dinga||car|
|ngata (ng-gah-tah), gede (geh-deh), irori||fuel|
|nguenos, ngwex, mwewe, ngwetes, ngokos||chicken|
|njumu, njuti, ndula, magwanda,manduleng', chuja||shoes|
|veve, mbachu, shamba, mogoka||miraa|
|kuber (koo-beh-r), kubz||(chewing) tobacco|
|chapa, donje, kiatu, forbes, kiraka, kubeat||ugly|
|chipo, chibaz, njiva, vanga||chips|
|fika, ishia, jikata||to go somewhere|
|mavi, mafi, shonde, shoi, shoste||faeces|
|mtaa||city, town, streets, neighbourhood|
|majuu, mayolo, chambele||Western world|
|mngoso, mlami||white person, Caucasian person|
|mtiaji, msororaji, mrazi||snitch, tattletale|
|kauzi, thegi, gondi, dingo, obe (ob), gwangi||thief, thug, mugger, burglar|
|karokota, doze||take a nap, sleep|
|nyaku, waka, washa, gwezere, malaga||drink (alcohol)|
|kalesa, pace||walk a distance|
|tenje||Radio/ music system|
|Nangos/ Phone||Cellphone/ mobile phone/ telephone|
|N.B. Words in brackets in the Sheng column show how the word is pronounced.|
|Sheng||Standard Kiswahili (translation)||Standard English (translation)|
|Huu msee ni fala!||Huyu mtu ni mjinga.||This guy's an idiot!|
|Si unidungie chuani?||Unaeza nipa shilingi hamsini?||Can you please give me fifty shillings?|
|Acha kubonga mavi mdhii.||Acha kuongea vibaya, kaka.||Stop talking smack, brother.|
|Ukivuta fegi utajiletea noma.||Ukivuta sigara utajiletea shida.||If you smoke cigarettes you'll get yourself in trouble.|
|Ule dame amechapa!||Yule msichana ana sura mbaya.||That girl is ugly!|
|Maisha ni gweng bana.||Maisha ni ngumu kaka.||Life is hard man.|
|Kuja utugawie hizi njiva.||Kuja utugawie hivi vibanzi.||Come and share your fries with us.|
|Budake alishikwa na makarao.||Babake alikamatwa na polisi.||His dad was caught by the police.|
|Aliibiwa mbota na mboch.||Aliibiwa saa na mjakazi.||His watch was stolen by his housegirl.|
|Aliona magondi akaingiza njeve.||Aliona mhuni akahisi woga.||He got scared when he saw some thugs.|
|Niko mbioni.||Niko na haraka.||I am in a hurry.|
|Budake ni mzii.||Babake ni mkali.||His father is tough/bad.|
|Mokoro aliniwai rwabe nikamchekie ka kwota.||Mamangu alinipa shilingi mia mbili nikamnunulie kilo nusu ya nyama.||My mother gave me 200 shillings to go buy a quarter kilogram of meat.|
|Alirauka gware ndo asihate mat za kwenda kwao moshatha.||Aliamka mapema ili asikose matatu ya kuenda kwao kijijini.||He woke up early so as not to miss a matatu to his rural home.|
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