Monday, September 4, 2017

Kenyan English

Kenyan English is definitely different from what we're used to in the States. I know from previous travels (*cough* Trinidad *cough*) that English can vary wildly even between places where it's the main language.

Some of the things that stand out to me about Kenyan English are simply British English - holdovers from the colonial era. Here are a few examples of the ones that still make me chuckle:

  • Crosswalks here are "zebra crossings." I mean, they have black and white stripes, but still.
  • "In future" and "in hospital" are perfectly acceptable, as in "I hope to be a doctor in future" or "My mother is in hospital." In the U.S., we'd never say these phrases without "the" in the middle.
  • "Chips" are fries, "crisps" are chips, and "football" is soccer.
  • Spellings are British: "colour" instead of "color" and "defence" instead of "defense," etc.

Others don't seem to me to be particularly British but are rather uniquely Kenyan. (Any readers in the UK, please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.) Here are a few of note:

  • In Kenya, "you're welcome" is used just as "you are welcome here" might be in the U.S. For an American who is used to only hearing "you're welcome" after "thank you," this is really disorienting. Every time we go out to eat at a restaurant, the server says "you're welcome" unprompted once we've been seated. It's so confusing, because we didn't say anything - let alone "thank you" - beforehand! It's a lovely sentiment, though.
  • I've heard "Tusker" (a famous Kenyan beer) used as shorthand for not only beer but an alcoholic drink in general.
  • "Are you getting me?" means "Do you understand?" I don't think it's casual or rude, because I hear it at work.
  • "Even me" is more common than "me too," but I have no idea why.
  • "Bob" is slang for shillings, which are like cents here.

One of the best parts about this job is the opportunity to learn languages and be exposed to different linguistic varieties of the same language. I hope by the time we leave Kenya we'll be able to get through the basics of not just Kenyan English but also Kiswahili.


  1. 'Bob' might also be a British holdover - people here still say 'a few bob' meaning a few pounds/a bit of money. Probably dates back to when we also had shillings...bit before my time

    - Jocelyn

  2. I really enjoy how some Kenyans sometimes respond to "thank you very much" by saying "you're welcome very much". I'm hoping that phrase will become trendy when I go back to the U.S. and start using it ;)