Viewing Sheng' as a Social Dialect: A Linguistic Approach
Thisarticle addresses the linguistic status of Sheng', and argues a casefor defining Sheng' as a socialdialect of Kiswahili. It adopts Critical Discourse Analysis, as a theoretical orientation with the capacity to integrate grammatical knowledge and sociolinguistic information under the umbrella of functional linguistics. Functional linguistics provides a theoretical framework within which findings of sociolinguistic research may be related to situational communication constraints, and the theory of language as a formal and semantic system. Thearticle presents a systematic analysis and description of Sheng' as a variety of Kiswahili, based on correspondence in the formal grammatical constraints at the levels of phonology, morphology, and syntax, but differences in semantic properties. It evaluates some views of languagescholars who have defined Sheng' as a pidgin, broadly labeled it a code, or somehow negatively as an argot, providing principled arguments that discredit these views. Notably, thefirst definition fails to take into account the proliferation of synonymy, the grammatical inflection, and the historicity of Sheng', while the second view can be considered too general to be definitive, and the third view fails to take into consideration elements of prestige in some Sheng' varieties, including tactical use by social organizations in addressing the youth. A casefor the more flexible but definitive status of a social dialect is argued, based on a consideration of the symbolic function of Sheng'. This claim derives support from certain studies touching on the sociolinguistics, pragmatics, semantics, and semiotics of Sheng. The rationale for these studies is assumed to depend on the psychological value of Sheng as a socialcategory of language, a symbol of group identity, and an index of self-definition. Since most of the available studies relate to Sheng' rather indirectly by default, this paper winds up by observing a need for more deliberate studies that will systematically address the range of issues involved.