A Standardized Vernacular or a Vernacular Standard? The Position of Swahili in the Early Twentieth Century

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Abstract Summary
This paper explores a 1925 meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, during which the British colonial administrations of eastern Africa agreed upon the dialectical basis for Standard Swahili. If examined from the standpoint of the 1920s, this decision seems a typical story of imperial appropriation and imposition, a moment in which the colonizer decided what language was ‘best’ for the colonized. By placing this decision in the context of the longer social and intellectual history of Standard Swahili, however, we can see that it is just one pivot of many between ‘vernacular’ and ‘official’ knowledge production—a process that had taken place over the course of many decades, and that would continue for many decades to come. Building upon the idea of ‘linguistic ecosystems,’ the paper brings to the fore the host of interlocutors involved in the lead-up to 1925 and its reverberations across the region. Exploring this single shift between 'vernacular’ and 'official’ knowledge production sets us up to understand how quickly proponents of the latter (in this case, the British colonial regime) lost control of the process. Over the course of just two decades, Standard Swahili, once a tool of colonial rule, became the language of Tanganyikan nationalism and independence. Even more importantly, the paper demonstrates how ‘vernacular’ and ‘official’ knowledge production often work in tandem, arguing that they can be mutually constitutive.
Abstract ID :
HSS462
Submission Type
Abstract Topic
Chronological Classification :
20th century, early
Self-Designated Keywords :
linguistic ecosystem, linguistics, Standard Swahili, East Africa, vernacular knowledge, official knowledge

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