Language Tag Registration Form - sw-sheng

ejp10 ejp10 at
Mon Sep 27 16:33:05 CEST 2010

Speaking from a linguistic perspective, the description of the submission makes Sheng sound like a language (especially with terms like L1/L2), especially if they are really establishing radio broadcasts. If the submission really means this, then a language code would be more appropriate. 

A reference from Penn about Sheng does argue that it's a separate language - (actually Swahili syntax with many more foreign borrowings).

But the Wikipedia description ( makes it sound like a variant of Swahili with lots of additional vocabulary not found in Swahili (but little mention of alternate grammar structures). The dissertation from Penn on Sheng is very ambivalent about classifying Sheng -

The question I would have are these -  Are there monolingual Sheng speakers? If so, are they unable to understand standard Swahili?

The difficulty I am having is that Sheng reminds me somewhat of Spanglish, which is a distinct linguistic form, but it is not clear if there are monolingual Spanglish speakers...yet. Most Spanish speakers are able to at least understand standard English or standard Spanish (usually both).

But I am by no means an expert, so additional data is more than welcome.

Elizabeth Pyatt

> The description makes this sound like it perhaps should be considered a distinct language as opposed to a dialect of Swahili. If that?s true, it should be considered for addition to ISO 639-3 rather than coding a variant. Can you please comment on this and clarify its linguistic status wrt Swahili.
> Thanks
> Peter
> From: ietf-languages-bounces at [mailto:ietf-languages-bounces at] On Behalf Of Denis Gikunda
> Sent: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 1:46 PM
> To: ietf-languages at
> Subject: Language Tag Registration Form - sw-sheng
> Hi,
> Find below the registration form submission for new language variant, sheng. Also find attached a PDF copy of the same.
> Denis Gikunda.
> ---
>  1. Name of requester: Denis Gikunda
>  2. E-mail address of requester: dgikunda at<mailto:dgikunda at>
>  3. Record Requested:
>     Type: variant
>     Subtag: sheng
>     Description: a ?creole? language based on swahili-KE grammar and a vocabulary derived from Swahili, English, and several other Kenyan languages.
>     Prefix: sw
>  4. Intended meaning of the subtag:
> The subtag represents the social code ?sheng? or colloquial identifier for the variant.  sw-sheng language tag should denote that it is a derivative of sw-KE.
>  5. Reference to published description of the language (book or article):
> -- Nathan Oyori Ogechi. Trilingual Codeswitching in Kenya ? Evidence from Ekegusii,
> Kiswahili, English and Sheng, Hamburg 2002
> -- Clara Momanyi, Ph.D.  The Effects of ?Sheng? in the Teaching of Kiswahili in Kenyan Schools, The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.2, no.8, March 2009
>  6. Any other relevant information:
>  *   Sheng contains words and influences from English and several other Bantu and Nilotic languages e.g. Luo and Kikuyu. It began around the late 70s in Nairobi, but is now spoken in every urban town in Kenya (Kisumu, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret, Meru).
>  *   Estimated L2 speakership:  >1.6 M. Some L1 speakers emerging urban and peri-urban settlements / slums. Usage is growing towards rural youth. At this size it is 7th most widely spoken language in Kenya, behind Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin, Kamba & Somali.
>  *   1 radio station that broadcasting entirely in Sheng: Ghetto Radio:89.5
>  *   All leading print, TV & outdoor media use campaigns primarily in Sheng.  Notably mobile operators#, Banks, and NGOs have used sheng in their outdoor display advertising.
>  *   MyGamma<>, a popular global social network, registered Sheng as the fastest growing language on  its mobile portal.
> --
> Denis Gikunda | Localization Manager - Africa | Google |
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Elizabeth J. Pyatt, Ph.D.
Instructional Designer
Education Technology Services, TLT/ITS
Penn State University
ejp10 at, (814) 865-0805 or (814) 865-2030 (Main Office)

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