Let’s speak Luganda!

This time I’d like to talk about one of the most important elements of every culture in the world – the language.

Uganda is quite unique in this sense since it’s a truly multilingual country. The whole of Uganda speaks in about 40 indigenous languages which fall into main language families – Bantu, Nilotic and Central Sudanic and Kuliak. Nevertheless, this is English, due to the colonising power of the Great Britain and its deep roots in public administration, media and education, remains the main official language of Uganda that unifies linguistic differences between different tribes. Swahili is regionally important, however, it’s not commonly spoken in Uganda to the same degree as in Kenya or Tanzania. Perhaps because of its political connotations to Idi Amin who pushed for Swahili as an official language of administration of its regime. The table below shows the main language families in Uganda.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Uganda#/media/File:Languages_of_Uganda.png


I want to talk about Luganda as this is the main Bantu language in Uganda. Spoken mainly by the Baganda people in the central region, it’s, without a doubt, the second biggest tongue in this country. Even though Luganda is widely spread across the country (about 5m users), it’s not the official language. Why? The other tribes, being afraid of the Baganda’s dominance, opposed to have Luganda as an official language of Uganda. As a result, English has become the only linguistic compromise.

It’s enough to be said about the theory. Let’s learn some words in Luganda! Before we go into the meanders of African sounds, I just want to say I’m not an expert. Actually, I haven’t learned anything in Luganda apart from some basic, small talk. The only sources I’m using are the Internet, the word of mouth occasionally, advertisement on the streets and taxis.


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Every morning in Uganda starts like this:

-Wasuze otya nno?

*Bulungi! Wasuze otya nno? 

As you can guess, this is simply a talk of ‘good morning/how are you’. Wasuze otya nno literally means: how was your night. The person answers fine and repeats the question like a mantra.


Once we get this easy small talk, we should learn how to introduce ourselves to our fellow Ugandans. This is the challenge which I’ve taken. And below this is the result. Linguistically very poor result. I haven’t even managed to get used to verb conjugation in a sentence…

Erinnya lyange nze Michał. Nina emyaka abiri. Ndi muyizi. Ndi nnakyewa. Ndi mukatuliki. Siri mufumbo. Sirina baana. Ndi musanyufu. Oluganda mmanyi lutonotono. Otegeera?


This is what I learned so far by heart. Let me translate this short introduction right now for you.

So, I’ve said above everything what Ugandans really want to know about each new person they meet. I said my name and indicated my age (still abiri: 20). Then I said I’m a student and a volunteer. I described myself as a Catholic (mukatuliki), single (siri mufumbo) man with no children. Generally speaking, I think I’m happy with my life (musanyufu). In the very end of this elaborate introduction, I warned my Ugandans of my poor Luganda (lutonotono means little). And I double checked that they understood me (Otegeera?).

You might be surprised though that I told them so many personal details. Well, you should know that Ugandans, in contrast to most Europeans or Westerners, care a lot and ask – without any embarrassment – about very personal things like marital status, religion and even a number of children. For instance, it’s not improper here in Uganda to give a long, 20-minutes introduction about yourself at a business meeting and talk about your WHOLE life, your family and children. These aspects are considered as a part of your personality at work. The worlds of work and family are not as separated here as in the West.


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To sum up, let me give you a list of the most useful expressions in Uganda so you know them before you come here:) Perhaps don’t try to remember them at once, you won’t manage. Or perhaps I underestimate your linguistic capabilities.

* * *

Wasuze otya nno? – Good morning, literally How was your night?
Ossibye otya nno? – Good afternoon/Good evening, literally How was your day?
Bulungi – Fine
Kale – OK, You’re welcome

Weebale – Thank you
Weebale mufumba – Thanks for cooking (especially useful at host homes)
Ki kati! – Hi! (informal)
Oli otya? Gyendi – How are you? Good
Siiba Bulungi! – Have a nice day!
Weeraba/Mweraba – Goodbye (singular or plural)
Mwattu – Please
Nsonyiwa – I’m sorry
Tunaalagabana – See you later
Sula bulungi – Good night
Ssebo/Nnyabo – Sir (also simply man)/Madam

Erinnya lyo ggwe ani? – What’s your name? You respond: Erinnya lyange nze…

Olina emyaka emeka? – How old are you? The response is: Nina emyaka… 20 is abiri, 21 is abiri gmumu. Don’t ask me for other numbers. Numbers in Luganda are very hard to learn; they change according to the noun’s gender etc.

Okola mulimu ki? – What is your job? The possible answer is: Ndi muyizi – I’m a student.

Olina bagandabo oba bannyoko? – Do you have any siblings? This is a quite important question here. The possible answer is: ANY SIBLINGS. Ugandans are quite disappointed or surprised when they hear you’re the only child. For them it’s very rare. Mukulu wange – Older sister/brother. Interestingly, linguistically there’s no difference when it comes to the gender of older siblings.

Finally, some useful, brief statements:

Ndi musanyufu – I’m happy
Mpulira ebbugumu – I’m hot
Enjala ennuma – I’m hungry
Ennyonta ennuma – I’m thirsty
Nkooye – I’m tired
Omanyi olungereza? – Do you speak English?
Oluganda mmanyi lutonotono. – I speak very little Luganda.
Otegeera? – Do you understand?

* * *

Weebale for following my blog and reading this post. Siiba Bulungi! Have a nice day!

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