The Word “Tense” in Kenya Essay

The Word “Tense” in Kenya Essay


When I visited Africa in 2013, I went to Nairobi, Kenya, where I noticed the difference in the usage of the word tense which was used by local people and belonged to their language. I first went to Kawangware, a slum region in the suburbs of Nairobi. I met a young man, Kevo, who pronounced a sentence that included the phrase tense yanguimeletangori. Literally, it meant some problems which were connected with his radio. Kevin told his friend Joe that his radio did not work. A few days later, still traveling in the slums, I heard another boy saying the phrase Jonte tenge yanqui meangukak wawode. He wanted to say that he had dropped his phone in the water.

Main Body

After this encounter, I went to Kawangware’s rich neighborhood Lavington and met two young men talking about their mobile phones and the place where they had bought them. This is how their conversation went:

  • The first young man: Manze tenje sizohunisumbua.
  • The second young man: Mbonazohukusumbua? Kwani we huzibuywapi?
  • The first young man: Mi hubuy tenje zotetaokwahi zomashopstu.
  • The second young man: Zohukua makes gani?
  • The first young man: Mi hukua fan wa Nokia mbayambaya. So, tenje zanguzotetangunimadechuozohukua Nokia tu.

This conversation was connected with the process of manufacturing these phones. The first man started the talk cogitating about his phones saying that they were always problematic. The second young man asked him where he bought his phone and also he was interested in the quality of this phone. The first speaker said that he loved Nokia and had always bought it. In this conversation, tenje was used as a word which meant a mobile phone.

However, I also traveled to Kitale, a rural town in Kenya. Being there, I admitted usage of the same word, however. with another meaning. A boy and a girl held a conversation that went like this:

  • Wepukhulu: Nasimiyu, janauliskiza tenje saatisa?
  • Nasimiyu: Zae. Sikuskiza.
  • Wepukhulu: Manzematheya mine aligotewakwa tenje.

In this conversation, the word tenje was used by this girl and boy to describe radio.

It is clear that the word tenje is a rich point. It demonstrates the disparity between people in rural areas and those in urban ones. Similarly, it shows the differences which exist between the rich and the poor and how they interact. It is also obvious that their language is always changing in terms of the meaning of words and groups that use them in certain periods of time. This transformation is dependent on the type of words, the proximity from the city, and the social class to which an individual belongs.

In the first case described here, a speaker uses the word tenje to describe radio and a set of things connected with it. It is possible to say so because very few people in the slum area owned mobile phones. However, at the same time, a young man from a rich neighborhood used the same word tenje to describe a mobile phone. These differences in the usage of the same word show the low level of interaction between representatives of different layers of society in this area.

Young people, who live in the slum region, might have heard this word from their rich neighbors, who listened to music on their phones, and thought that these devices were radios. This fact explains why they call their radios tenje. It always shows that young people do not interact with each other as they did not ask what kind of device rich people listened to.

There are some more facts which should be mentioned. The first young man described his radio with the help of the word tenje while the second one used the same word, though with another meaning. It means that the process of development of the Kenyan language is gradual. The terminology was adopted from the rich neighborhood and was initially used to describe radio. Slum residents, who noticed their mistake in the usage of the rich point, changed their point of view while those who did not continue using it to describe radio.

However, it was important to assure that the word tenje has two different meanings. That is why some investigation was made. I walked across the poor neighborhoods with the radio asking people to describe the device and the world tenje was used. However, the same experiment was repeated in rich areas, though with a mobile phone. People, who were asked to describe it, also used the word tenje. That is why it is possible to say that this experiment proved the polysemic character of the word. Additionally, some interviews with the representatives of two different neighborhoods proved my idea.


In conclusion, it is possible to say that the rich point tenje is used by Kenyan youths to describe two different things which are a radio and a mobile phone. Individuals, who live in rural and slum areas of the city, use it to describe a radio while the rich, who mostly live in estates in the suburbs of Nairobi while talking about the mobile phone. Differences in the usage of this word can show the low level of interaction between people from different areas.

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