[lg policy] How the language of shop signs reflect the Kenyan national language policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 18 14:34:30 UTC 2011

How the language of shop signs reflect the Kenyan national language policy

The Kenya national language policy, especially as applied in education
has for a long time
privileged the English language over the other languages. Up until
recently (2010), Kiswahili
has always been the national language with English being the only
official language. As a
national language, Kiswahili has only featured as a subject taught in
the schools, and
occasionally as a language of instruction during the first three years
of primary education in
some urban contexts. Beyond the lower primary school level, Kiswahili
surfaces simply as one
of the examinable subjects in the national examinations. In the rural
contexts, the policy spells
out that the ethnic language be used as a language of instruction
during the first three years of
school and then a transition to English in all other levels of
education. Although the government
is not responsible for the content and language of private
enterprises, the language policy is still
likely to have a considerable effect on languages preferred in the
choice of business names. This
study examines the language of shop signs of one rural shopping
center, where an ethnic
language is spoken almost homogenously, to determine whether the
pattern of language choice
has any relationship with the national language policy. This study
analyzes the use of the ethnic
language of the area, the national and now official language
(Kiswahili) and English the long
standing official and international language on business enterprise
signs. Data for this study was
collected from one small shopping center in Nyamira district. All the
names of the businesses
were collected and analyzed for language choice. Results show that
English is the language of
choice in naming most businesses, even in this rural context where the
targeted customers are not
necessary frequent users of English. Various business enterprise
owners consciously or
unconsciously reinforce the national language policy. The dichotomy in
the national language
policy is reflected in the choice of the language of shop signs.
English seems to be viewed as the
language of business and economic power even in this almost
linguistically homogenously


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