chapter  11
15 Pages

East and West African Englishes: Differences and commonalities

ByHans-Georg Wolf

African English – that is, the second-language varieties of English spoken in Sub-Saharan Africa – can be divided into three distinct regional varieties: West African English, East African English and Southern African English. This chapter focuses on West African English (WAE) and East African English (EAE), while Southern African English, represented by English in Botswana, is dealt with in a separate chapter (Smieja and Mathangwane, this volume). Although all of the national varieties of WAE have a number of features in common, WAE is more heterogeneous than EAE. WAE comprises, moving from west to (south) east, Gambian English, Sierra Leonean English, Liberian English, Nigerian English and Cameroon English. While the varieties of WAE show more linguistic diversity amongst themselves, WAE is a geographically and notionally better delineated theoretical entity than EAE. In the so-called ‘heartland’ of EAE – Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania – a relatively homogenous variety is spoken. Yet the EAE varieties on the fringes are either not sufficiently described (e.g. the Englishes spoken in Somalia and Ethiopia – and for some initial findings on Sudanese English, see Peter 2003) or are part of a transition zone to Southern African English (especially Malawian English). The discussion of EAE will concentrate on the English spoken in the heartland. This chapter is structured in the following way. First, the historical development of

English in West and East Africa is briefly considered. It is argued that British colonial policy contributed significantly to the sociolinguistic and, indirectly, even to the structural similarities and differences these varieties exhibit. While colonial policy provided the political framework for the emergence of the regional and national varieties in question, a number of other factors contributed to their characteristics. These factors are introduced and exemplified. Then the discussion moves on to give a short overview of the two regional varieties and the national varieties of WAE. As already indicated, it is found that, although united by common linguistic features, WAE is far more heterogeneous than EAE, and the national varieties of WAE need to be seen in their own right. Focusing primarily on phonetic but also on lexical features, the section summarizes and contrasts the main diagnostic and distinctive features of the two regional

varieties, and details the peculiarities of the national varieties of WAE. However, despite their structural differences, WAE and EAE are rooted in a shared ‘African culture’. Another section introduces recent studies in which the expression of culture in African English is investigated from a cognitive sociolinguistic perspective, and conceptual and linguistic patterns common to both regional varieties in question, in contrast to American English and British English, are highlighted.