Saturday, April 12, 2008

Basics: English

English is the official language here in Uganda, as I think I’ve mentioned before. The strange thing about it, I realized, is that everyone learns the official language at school; to the best of my knowledge no one speaks it at home.

This means, of course, that English is a second language for absolutely everybody. The fluency seems to depend upon the amount of schooling a person has received, though I’m sure ability and other exposure play into it. Those from rural areas in general seem to have less English than those native to Kampala.

Although there certainly is an imperialist history to the use of English, I can also see how it would be a more neutral choice than any native language here. So far, I have encountered at least three ethnic groups with three different languages: the Buganda (for whom Uganda is named) who speak Luganda; the Acholi, from northern Uganda and southern Sudan, who speak Acholi, a Luo dialect; and folks from the West Nile region who speak an entirely different dialect of Luo. To make any one of those (or others I don’t know about) the official language might set that group up as superior. And then I suspect there would be real trouble.

I’ve been fascinated by the amount of interpretation required here. At the Bible study on Monday night, Joseline interpreted between English and Luganda—and not just for my benefit. At the meeting with the Life in Africa members, Grace needed to interpret into Acholi, not just for me, but for Peter who is from the West Nile and whose native language is not understood by the Acholi.

It is simply a peculiar thing to realize that everyone here speaks a foreign language because in some ways that is the best way to get along.

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