A morphosyntactic analysis of a regional variety of Kiswahili spoken in Kakamega County: a variationist sociolinguistic approach
Likuyani, Erick Muhati
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Kiswahili has historically been used as a lingua franca since pre-colonial times in Kenya. The attainment of independence over fifty one years ago saw the political recognition of Kiswahili as a national language. This has resulted in the progressive enhancement in status of Kiswahili, both as a compulsory examinable subject and lately, as an official language. As a result of its checkered past, and also as a consequence of language contact, Kiswahili is represented in two broad varieties in Kenya: the theoretical standard variety and the regional non-standard varieties which are a stark reality in the present day Kenya. It is from this background that the current study examined morphosyntactic variability in a regional variety of Kiswahili spoken in Kakamega County. The study was guided by the Labovian Language Variation Theory (Labov, 1972) and the Generative Morphological Theory (Katamba, 1993). This was a variationist sociolinguistic study that employed combined quantitative and qualitative methods. Qualitative linguistic descriptions were employed to examine variations in the use of verbal affixes in Luhya Kiswahili. This was complemented by quantitative analyses of the patterns of morphological variations which were correlated with social variables. The study targeted natives of Kakamega County who were first language speakers of Luhya and second language speakers of Kiswahili. They were rural men and women of ages ranging between 14 and 59 years old. Data were collected in sociolinguistic interviews from a sample of sixteen speakers who were identified using judgmental procedures from Khayega location in Kakamega East district. Three morphosyntactic variables were correlated with the social variables of age, gender and educational level. Findings show that the three linguistic variables exhibit clear and consistent differences between Luhya Kiswahili and standard Kiswahili. Variations in three linguistic variables suggest the possibility of substratum interference whereby Luhya linguistic structures seem to influence the Kiswahili linguistic structures. A principal claim of the study is that the verbal suffixes [-ANGA] and [-KO] represent stereotypes of Luhya Kiswahili. As regards the effect of the three social variables on the three linguistic variables, this study established that educational level was highly significant, while gender was shown to be minimally significant. Age, on the other hand, was not significant at all. A major implication of this study is that regional Kiswahili varieties like Luhya Kiswahili mark ethnicity.