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Is the Tanzanian Ngoni language threatened? A survey of lexical borrowing from Swahili

Journal article
Authors Tove Rosendal
Gastor Mapunda
Published in Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
Volume 35
Issue 3
Pages 271-288
ISSN 0143-4632
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Pages 271-288
Language en
Keywords Bantu languages, language loss, bilingualism, language contact, language vitality, indigenous languages
Subject categories Bilingualism


Tanzania’s post-independence language policy has promoted Swahili as a means of achieving national and linguistic unity. This policy has affected the Ngoni language in south-western Tanzania. Today, Swahili has permeated communication all over Tanzania, even in rural and remote areas. This paper discusses lexical borrowing and especially borrowing in the basic vocabulary, which is considered less susceptible to borrowing, to establish the vitality of Ngoni in this bilingual setting. In using a new method where locally produced photos are used for elicitation, and mirroring the data with socio-demographic metadata, the results contribute to the understanding of what borrowing implies regarding the future of the language. Age-related differences were found amongst Ngoni speakers, but the differences in language use attributed to sociodemographic factors were far fewer than expected. Borrowing is solidly established not only among the young in the Ngoni community. Both borrowing and codeswitching (CS) were also frequent in typically rural settings, among subsistence farmers, where Swahili was found to be penetrating deeply into oral communication. Not only gap-filling concepts related to modern life were borrowed from Swahili; even terms used in traditional life, like farming, were borrowed, as well as basic concepts. This indicates that the Ngoni language may be threatened.

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