April 12th, 2018


The Lugandan Not


I'm ashamed to say that that's the only word of Lugandan I know: it means "Hello there!", or similar. If Haawa, my mother's helper, greeted my that way I would understand her, but she always does so with the words "You're welcome!". This sounds a bit strange to my ears, as if I had just thanked her for something. Similarly, when I have a small mishap (e.g. dropping a potato I happen to be peeling), she'll say "Sorry!", which of course prompts me to assure her that it was my own clumsy fault. But in Ugandan English, "Sorry!" is just an expression of sympathy, apparently.

All this I knew already, but only yesterday did I learn that, almost 60 years after independence, Ugandan schools teach exclusively in English. Children are punished for speaking Lugandan, either in lessons or indeed any time they're on school property.

Shades of the Welsh not, as I remarked - and then I remembered that, only two days ago, while travelling on the Cardiff-bound train from London, I overheard a young Welsh woman discussing with her friends what to call her forthcoming (if that's the right word?) baby. "I don't want to give her a name like Sian or Blodwen, because with a name like that you're always stuck in Wales."

I wanted to tell her it was a shame, but then I remembered a passage in The Owl Service - a book almost as old as independent Uganda:

“There’s nothing wrong with the way you speak, except when you’re putting it on to annoy people.”

“But I’m a Taff, aren’t I?”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Alison. “I like it. It’s you, and not ten thousand other people. It doesn’t matter, Gwyn!”

“It doesn’t matter—as long as you haven’t got it!”

I don't really want to be like Alison, now, do I?

Bore da!