English Speaking in Kenya

The English spoken in Kenya distinctly differs from the British English introduced in the early 1900s by the British Colonial authorities. Before and in the years following independence in 1963, English was taught by native British English speakers, essentially British English. Several decades later, the teaching and speaking of the language have passed on from early speakers through many Kenyan generations to the current speakers, with each generation modifying it from the previous one. The last twenty years have seen research work trying to define the English language spoken in Kenya, thus acknowledging the existence of a unique dialect.

The Irony of Teaching English for Use in Kenya

The reality that Kenyans will never go back to using the original British English accent has been with us for a while. Even though the teaching of English is still premised on the British English definitions, neither the teachers nor those taught ever speak the “taught” English outside the classroom for doing would only attract ridicule. The Kenyan Languages Lexicon contains illustrations of how words are pronounced. Therefore, it is expected to go a long way to cure this anomaly by making it clear how to communicate in English in Kenya. Why should a native Chinese speaker from Shanghai be prepared to visit Kenya by being taught British or American English?

Proclaiming the Kenyan English Dialect

In our work, carried out between 2004 to 2009, we built a Text to Speech System (TTS) for English as spoken in Kenya, and by so doing, adequately defined the essential features of the dialect, such as the sound system, developed a pronunciation dictionary and verified their correctness. The Kenyan Languages Lexicon extends that work and brings to the general public a product that will be useful in their day-to-day activities, whether learning or conducting business. The lexicon is the most comprehensive effort so far to package and present the features of the dialect; therefore, a proclamation of the Kenya English Dialect.

Features of the Kenyan English

The grammar and orthography of Kenyan English remain the same as in British English; both use the same alphabet, word spelling and grammar rules, as taught in school and as required in all official documents. However, it contains many borrowed words, such as people’s names and names of places with pronunciations derived from the local languages. In a nutshell, Kenyan English mainly differs from British English in pronunciation, and many borrowed words from the local languages. It requires a different sound system from British English, especially because they do not have one-to-one phoneme correspondence.


Mucemi Gakuru, “Development of a Kenyan English text-to-speech system: a method of developing a TTS for a previously undefined English dialect.”  INTERSPEECH 2009: 2063-2066

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