A guest post by Edward Freeman
I feel I must chime in on the subject of Scots language deniers, who are, I think, usually in that group of people we can call “proud Scots but”. I am a trained United Nations translator, with degrees in languages, linguistics and whatnot (especially whatnot). I am now retired, but I routinely translated into English from Russian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, and I can cope with Dutch and German (having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria). There are various others in the Romance and Slavic groups that I can cope with too. Shove in Latin and ancient Greek as well - I had a peculiar education. It is certainly true that the more languages you learn, the easier it gets. It is also true that language is the thing that distinguishes humans from other animals, and is probably our supreme intellectual achievement as a species.
I also spent years in Kenya, where English and Swahili are the official languages, though English is preferred for official business and Swahili is more widely used for interethnic communication, except with us wazungu. There are 47 tribes in Kenya, a few of them very small - and not counting the wazungu - and basically they all have their own languages, though languages shared between different tribes bring the total down to about 42. (I'm keeping this as simple as I can.)
Swahili has many native speakers, though not as many as in neighbouring Tanzania, where it is - or rather, was - the sole official language. In origin, Swahili is a creole between a Bantu substrate and the Arabic used by the Arab traders and slavers who travelled up and down the African east coast in sync with the monsoon winds. Its pre-eminence as a trading language allowed it to penetrate far into the interior, as far as modern-day Rwanda and even the eastern DRC.
It is probably worth pointing out that the Europeans did not exactly “discover” Africa; the locals knew it was there all the time, and other outsiders frequently “discovered” it before Europeans ever did.
English, obviously, is a much later linguistic add-on, but it is actively kept up because it is so useful, internationally, and for the formal (as opposed to the traditional) legal system, because it is based on English common law. English is also used in education and general official business, of course.
There is a distinctive form of Kenyan / East African English - which I really enjoy, frankly - an example would be "the cahs clashed buttock to buttock" = the cars reversed into each each other at speed. It remains English, though, as English as American and Indian and Downton Abbey English. And, of course, Scottish English.
Most of the tribal, home-grown languages are Bantu-based, including Swahili, which has many native speakers - down on the Coast in particular - whereas the others are Nilotic, except, of course, English. The Bantu-based ones maintain varying degrees of intercomprehensibility - Kikamba and Kikuyu are pretty close, for example, and contiguous geographically, and as people in those tribes / groups live in such close proximity to each other (not to mention intermarriage), there's a high degree of interoperability, if you can call it that. If I do mention intermarriage, it will be to say only that exogamy is very widespread, and the UK's Royals should probably have done a bit more of it.
There is a great deal of harmless amusement derived from people's varying accents in Swahili and so on, depending on their own native languages, and the funny ways they speak the closely related Bantu languages. Kisii and Embu come to mind in that respect (Embu has front rounded vowels, like French (3) – or Glaswegian (1) – unless I’m confusing Embu with Meru).
If you want to get a better idea of the complexity involved in all this, have a look at this short article in Wikipedia. If you look at the table on the right of that page, you will see the language “Gikuyu”. This is Kikuyu, and the reason for the G is because the language is currently undergoing an active process of dissimilation. I know about this because I gave one of my colleagues at the UN in Nairobi, a native speaker of Luganda (Buganda), the majority (Bantu) language of Uganda, some assistance with her linguistics MA dissertation – she ran her English-language examples by me, and explained what she was up to with the rest of her dissertation in return.
The Nilotic group of languages are a different kettle of fish entirely. Completely different, and rather difficult to get one's head around, for me, anyway. I am most familiar with Maa, as spoken by the Maasai, though one of my foster sons is Luo.
The Nilotic group and the Bantu group are in different categories of language entirely, like Arabic and English. English - Kiingereza in Swahili - is in a completely different language group from either. Swahili is a creole of Bantu and Arabic, as I said, and the Bantu languages and Arabic again are in two completely different language groups. English and Russian, in contrast, are in the same, Indo-European group, as are Greek, Hindi, and Farsi (Persian/Iranian). That’s right, I said “in the same” language group. As is Gaelic.
So, my "houseboy" Ntosho (Alex) Ole Kisaika, a Maasai (as is obvious from his name), grew up speaking Maa and Swahili and English, all three of them refined at school – primary school only - picked up more Kikuyu when he came to live in Nairobi, and could communicate with my Kamba guy Augustine in English, Swahili and Kikuyu. Meanwhile, Augustine was cheerfully picking up more Kikuyu himself, and some Maa from Alex and my Maasai foster son Lekishon.
It is far more common, worldwide, to be at least bilingual than it is to be a monoglot. Of course, it is far easier when you grow up with it. Many Scots are at least to some degree bilingual between Scottish English and Scots, but because it comes naturally to them, they don't even realize it. Bilingualism is very good for the brain - all the studies show it. Multilingualism is even better, in my view. Monoglots, alas, even the ones who only think they are monoglots, are the only ones who do not recognize this, because they simply do not know from experience, or do not realize that they do. Doubting Thomases! Take my word for it, you monoglots, or call me a liar!
Nairobi urban dialect is known as Sheng, a composite of Swahili and English favoured by smart young things who want, like all young people, to bamboozle their fuddy-duddy old parents. Of course, all my guys could use that as well. Example: "sasa" in Swahili means "now". Spoken with extended first vowel, short second, and rising intonation, accompanied by quickly raising the chin, in Sheng it is a greeting which I gloss as "Wassup?" Sheng is not a creole, or a pidgin; I don't think it ever can be, actually, not least because in order to use it you have to be heading towards bilingualism already, so you don’t actually need to put together a new language to communicate.
Note to readers - this is from Wikipedia: "Creoles also differ from pidgins in that, while a pidgin has a highly simplified linguistic structure that develops as a means of establishing communication between two or more disparate language groups, a creole language is more complex, used for day-to-day purposes in a community, and acquired by children as a native language. Creole languages, therefore, have a fully developed vocabulary and system of grammar."
The exception to the rule of multilingualism in Kenya is - you guessed it - the native English speakers among the white tribe. One of the reasons I got to be so well liked among the non-wazungu was because at least I tried! So, monoglots, next time you hear someone furren not getting their English quite right, do please think before you sneer?
My guy Alex never spoke English with a native speaker until he was well into his 20s, Augustine a bit earlier. Both are very smart cookies. I am proud that we can call each other friends. Rafiki.
Remember: Maa, Swahili, English - are in three different, unrelated language groups entirely, with Swahili partially composed of a fourth - like English, Chinese, and Arabic, with a bit of an admixture of Algonquian into one of them. My guys spoke all three of those, and learned them without the aid of bilingual dictionaries, because such things are rare, not very good at all, or far too expensive for poor Kenyans living in rural areas. Or they simply do not exist, because no one has ever compiled them. Pretty amazing, eh, to learn another language when the only book you have in common is the Bible, originally translated more and less badly or well by non-native-speaking European missionaries?
And yes - Scots IS a separate but closely related language to English. I just wish I were more fluent in it.