Cognitive efficiency: The Sheng phenomenon in Kenya

Frederick Kang’ethe-Iraki


Sheng is a variety of Kiswahili that is spoken by young persons, especially from the economically challenged neighbourhoods of Nairobi. The emergence and pervasiveness of the idiom can be explained by cognitive as well as social parameters. Confronted with several languages in Nairobi, a young mind is likely to weave a compromise idiom from the linguistic inputs available. This might be an explanation for the emergence of Sheng. Once acquired, the language could now be used to include or exclude. This discussion attempts to provide an overview of the linguistic structure of Sheng and hypothesize on reasons for its emergence.

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