Data Collection


My dissertation was based on data that I collected in Nairobi, Kenya.  I initially conducted a pilot study (funded by a  Ford Foundation pre-dissertation data collection grant administered through the African Area Studies program at UCLA) in 1997 in which I collected 3 months of data from a single child in the Kibera area of Nairobi.  She was 2;0-2;3 during this time, and I was able to collect data once or twice per month for the three months I was in Kenya.  I analyzed the data I collected (I wrote one of my qualifying papers at UCLA based on this data) and decided it was worth returning to Kenya for an extended period of time to collect more data.

The Children

In 1999 I returned to Kenya, this time for 11 months.  I located three children and began audio recording them every two weeks.  The first child (Mus) was 2;0 at the beginning of the collection period.  He was an abandoned child found by his adoptive parents in a field near the family home in Komarock.  He was taken in and raised as their own child.  He remained in the study for the duration of the time I was in Kenya.

The second child (Haw) lived in Kangemi just outside Nairobi.  She was 2;0 at the beginning of the collection period, but unfortunately had to withdraw five months later.  Her mother and father separated and her mother took Haw up-country to live with the mother's family.

The third child (Fau) joined the study a little late, but remained in the study until I left Kenya.  She lived in a communal area in the Majengo (Pumwani) area of Nairobi.  The fourth child (Has) also lived in this area (in fact, the two children were related).

All four children were spoken to primarily in Swahili.  Other languages that they heard were (in descending order of frequency):




None of these children showed any speaking knowledge of any of these languages except for some commonly borrowed words from English (e.g., ice-cream, instead of barafu).

Sheng or Kiswahili?

A common response that I get from most people who know anything about Swahili in Kenya is that what is spoken in Nairobi is not Swahili, but rather something called Sheng.  Sheng is a dialect of Swahili that has been described by various authors (e.g., Ali Mazrui), but which is looked down upon by most educationalists.  It is spoken on the streets of Nairobi (and in many up-country areas), and is significantly different from Standard Kiswahili.  I avoid any discussion of whether the language of these children is Sheng or Swahili, instead focussing on whether the language that each child speaks is significantly similar to the language spoken by the other children.  In other words, do they all speak the same dialect of Swahili?  In my dissertation I discuss this point and conclude that they do indeed speak the same dialect of Swahili.

Still, some argue that it is not Swahili that they speak, but something else (i.e., Sheng).  Sheng is used as a derisive term for whatever deviates from the more formal, accepted forms of Kiswahili.  By this definition, a Nairobi speaker of Kiswahili would never be qualified as a Kiswahili speaker (in fact, many would agree with this notion).  Instead of getting into this debate, I define the language spoken by these children as Nairobi Swahili.  I define it as different from Standard Swahili, and so no claim is made vis-a-vis the syntax of the major dialects of Swahili.  I describe the relevant aspects of Nairobi Swahili in chapter 2 of my dissertation, and it is those facts that I go by. 

Transcription and Analysis

I transcribed most of the data while I was in Kenya.  All transcription was done in CHAT format (MacWhinney & Snow, 2000).  I added coder tiers for all child utterances so as to use CLAN programs for analsis.  I also coded parental tiers in some (not all) of the files in order to establish a baseline for child-directed speech.  

The data are currently in analogue form, but I am in the process of digitizing the data.  I plan to submit the data at some future point to the CHILDES website.


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