Native Swahili from Buyenzi (Bujumbura); preliminary results from a fact finding fieldtrip to Burundi

Gerard J. Tolsma

Due to the asylum policy in our country, which offered a temporary asylum status to anyone fleeing from Burundi in a certain period (1996-2006), many asylum seekers come to the Netherlands and claim to be from Burundi. In Burundi, Kirundi is the national language, yet there are quarters in cities like Bujumbura (the capital city) in which Swahili is the main language and the mother tongue of many speakers. Quite a number of asylum seekers claiming to be from Burundi claim to come from such a neighbourhood, and speak only Swahili. For these cases, it is essential to know: (1) to what extent people from these Swahili speaking quarters may be expected to speak some Kirundi beside Swahili, and (2) how the Swahili which is spoken in these quarters differs from other kinds of Swahili.

As it turns out, opinions differ strongly on these matters. In a large number of cases, linguists specialized in Swahili disagree with native speakers who have been trained as language analysts on what constitutes evidence for a Burundi origin. Features which are claimed by one party to be typical of Burundian Swahili are said to occur in other varieties of Swahili by the other party, and features which are claimed to point to an origin elsewhere are said to occur in Burundian Swahili as well by the other party. Unfortunately, there are no published sources about this variety of Swahili which can settle these arguments.

In order to solve this problem, our office felt the need to make recordings of native Swahili from Burundi for future publication. Last March, I went to the Swahilispeaking quarter of Buyenzi in Bujumbura and made various recordings of native Swahili. In my presentation, I will present my preliminary findings regarding phonological, morphological and lexical features of this variety of Swahili and contrast these with the features that both linguists and trained native speakers have described as typical features of Burundian Swahili in individual cases.

Ultima modifica 24.11.2009

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