Understanding grammatical structure and identity of Sheng
This dissertation is twofold: first, it aims to provide a grammatical descriptive analysis of one of the urban vernaculars spoken in the Eastland slums of Nairobi known as Sheng. Second, it seeks to explore how this variety has evolved, especially in the millennial period, to assume new social functions and identities. I draw on the grammaticalization approach (Heine & Kuteva 2005) and the Matrix Language Turnover Hypothesis (Myers-Scotton, 2002) to characterize grammar and grammatical development of this variety as an urban mixed contact language. I also embed sociolinguistic approach to investigate how the urban youths of Nairobi are using this variety to enact, construct, perform, and contest both old and emerging identities. The findings reveal that Sheng grammatical structure consists of a composite grammar combining elements from Swahili, English and other substrate languages in a novel way. That is, its matrix frame displays system morphemes from languages other than the lexifier/matrix language, an indication that the restructuring of morphosyntactic frame is underway. Evidently, the Sheng grammatical frame include late system morphemes from other substrate languages. Further analysis demonstrate that this variety has assumed new social functions in the postmillennial period, that is, the urban youths in Nairobi are using Sheng as a means to articulate, (re)shape and project newer identities that were previously not available to them.