Sociolinguistic Variation of Written Vowels (Ĩ) and (Ŭ) in Gĩkũyũ Texts in Mũrang’a County, Kenya.
Mwangi, Lydiah Wanjiku
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Variation in language occurs at all levels. This sociolinguistic study investigated variation in the orthographic representation of two linguistic variables: vowels (Ĩ) and (Ŭ) in the written Gĩkũyũ texts of residents of Mũrang'a East sub-county in Mũrang'a county, which has a population of 101,606, according to the results of the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census conducted by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Variable (Ĩ) was found to have three variants: [ĩ], [e] and [i] just like (Ŭ) which had [ŭ], [o] and [u]. Kikuyu is nationally the largest ethnic group with a population of 8,148,668 translating to 17.6% of Kenyans according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics Census results of 2019. The study identified the varying orthographic representations then determined the relationship between the variation and social variables of sex, education level and age. The study was premised on the importance of orthography to any language and was guided by the Language Variation Theory, as propounded by Labov (1972). Through judgment sampling, the researcher selected a sample of 32 informants consisting of 16 males and 16 females from the accessible population who are first language speakers of Gĩkũyũ. The informants were accessed through the social network approach of a friend of a friend. The researcher then administered questionnaires to the informants to obtain written data. The data collected was quantitatively analyzed to observe the patterns of variation in the writing of graphemes representing vowels (Ĩ) and (Ŭ) in Gĩkũyũ. These patterns were observed after calculating percentage scores of the informants. The study was anchored on the assumption that the Gĩkũyũ vowels (Ĩ) and (Ŭ) vary in their orthographic representation and hoped to find an explanation in social factors. The research findings revealed that orthographic representation of Gĩkũyũ vowels (Ĩ) and (Ŭ) varies. The variation was found to correlate with social factors of age, education level and sex. Female respondents had higher scores for the conventional variants [ĩ] and [ũ] compared to their male counterparts. The older population had higher scores for the standard variants [ĩ] and [ŭ] as compared to the youth. Respondents with basic education had higher scores for the conventional variants [ĩ] and [ũ] compared to their counterparts with tertiary education which shows a correlation between changes in respondents‟ social network as they advance in education level and patterns of linguistic variation in which case the educated tend to lead linguistic changes. As a recommendation of this study, further research can be done on other types of variation in the Gĩkũyũ language. It would be interesting to unearth more phonological, morphological, lexical, syntactic and pragmatic variations in Gĩkũyũ.