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01 September 2010

The Death of Shona As We (Should) Know It

This serves to mourn the death of Shona in Zimbabwe. The everyday language being spoken these days does not deserve to be called Shona. It doesn’t really make any sense anymore.

Ok. Before you all go all crazy and start shouting about unpatriotism and ignorance and hate speech, let me make a few points clear before I proceed. First point: I love Shona, otherwise I wouldn’t use it to talk. In fact, this very post proves I am a Shona lover, as you shall see. Second point: I believe that all languages have their peculiarities and none is superior to another (off the record though, German sucks, French rocks, nothing personal). Third point: the only language I really know is Shona, so by default, it’s the only language I am qualified to comment on.

And I say it doesn’t really make any sense anymore. Case in point:

Archie walks up to Tatenda and asks, “Uri kutambira nhamba ani?”

Tatenda looks back with a blank stare for a split second before smiling back and answering, “Ndiri kuDefense.”

Archie nodded, seemingly in understanding, and comments, “MaOne.”

If you are the type that is always up to date with the latest trends in the world of conversations, you might have no trouble understanding the interchange above. I, on the other hand, am one of the conservative types and when I heard it, I found it kind of puzzling; especially considering none of the participants above ever walked a soccer pitch in their lives.

Shona is getting chaotic by the day. Slang used to form only a small fraction of the whole language, but it now seems to rule. Proper words have all been morphed up into abbreviated and twisted substitutes that lack the beauty of the original form and sound. Contrast the nice sounding baba (father) with the modern blunt form mdhara. You got to admit, the original sounds beautiful and the modern is ugly.  The other relations have not been spared this brutality, such that we have a whole ugly line up: blaz, sistren, ninez, gulez, kulez

The beautiful vocabulary of expressive words has probably suffered the most. For instance, just one word bears the mammoth task of summarizing just any emotion, or concluding any sentence under the Zimbabwean sun. It doesn’t matter if someone has asked you how you are feeling, how the party you attended was like, or how business is these days. You simply answer: MaOne. Given the economic circumstances in the country, some might add, or substitute with the gloomier zvakadhakwa.

Just a few examples, but I hope they have proven my point.

 I blame the kombi guys for this trend. See, these are the people that seize the latest and juiciest phrases and start throwing them all around until they find their way into ordinary respectable conversation. A huge portion of the Zimbabwean population commutes using the kombis so the language easily spreads around. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear, a couple of years from now, a preacher in church sternly advising the congregation: “Hama neshamwari munaKristo, nekudhakwa kwaita upenyu musasatambire defense kunaMwari.”

I got to ask Tatenda, much later on, what the whole conversation with Archie was supposed to mean. The answer I got? “I have no idea, I just played along.”

Well, at least it proves I’m not the only one lagging behind.

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