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Shembeteng! The Siege of New Sheng in Town Propagates Violence. Scholars Now Warn!

The sheng' world has done it again!

If you thought there would be an 8-4-4 curriculum for understanding mbogi genje, kanairo, kujinauwo, shock unto you! There is no breather or tuition in mastering sheng. Kenyans are literally biting their tongues, trying to chant the new sheng slogans in town, kulombotove, shembeteng and others. The slogans came into the know, after a video of a music group from Kayole by the name Jeshi Jinga aka Jembeteshi Jimbitinga, went viral on social media. The group was directing their jibes to Madocho and Gotta City, the inventors of mbogi genje, kunauwo slang, in an attempt to humiliate the latter, in what seemed to be Eastlands youth battles of superiority.


The proliferation of a myriad of Shengs seems to only propagate rivalry between young people mostly from the Eastland in Nairobi, which eventually leads to violent crimes, aimed at gaining superiority.


The conversation goes beyond the entertainment aspect of such slogans, to the wider scope of the evolution of sheng as a language. Many scholars have recognized sheng as an actual language with grammatical structure and a unique lexicon that can be unintelligible to non-speakers. It is argued that it meets the standards of derivational morphology, in word formation, in which words are formed on the basis of other words or morphemes. For instance, the word shembeteng is a combination of sheng and mbete, Jembeteshi: jeshi and mbete. A fast review shows that the phrases and words used are constructed by including the phrases, mbata, mbete, mbiti, mboto and mbutu in already existing English or Swahili words.

Some of the words include:

1.Wambatangu-Mine/Wangu

2.Yambatako-Yours/Yako

3.Lumbutuku-Drip/Luku


While many scholars openly object the use of sheng, saying it is only a way of corrupting and distorting English and Swahili language, some suggest that it is an important symbol of and desire to bridge the ethnic divide in Kenya. History suggests that it was first endorsed as a means to alleviate ethnic hostility among the urban Kenyans. Much as this fact is embraced, there is a new twist.


Nairobians and Kenyans must ask some deeper questions about the creation of sheng slogans. Is it a question of seeking identity and meaning in life? Probably yes, if the tough life of the young people growing up and living in slums is anything to go by. These young people many times seek to be uniquely identified, whether for a positive or negative course.

Chomsky, argues that language is biologically inherited whereas Skinner's theory is based on how a child learns to talk through the use of positive reinforcement from adults who already speak a language fluently. Therefore, with many children born to sheng-speaking families, Sheng might become their native language.

Should sheng then be recognized as a national language? Well, with proper structuring and guidance, it is imminent. Nevertheless, young people should not invent and recreate it to insult each other or propagate ethnic hostility, especially in such a time of political volatility.

Whether sheng is totally accepted yet, is a matter of time and relevance.

The fact remains, shembeteng is here to stay, but it will not replace kizumbutungu.

Video Credit: Plug TV


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