Kajambo! Learn Luganda

By Valtteri Nurminen, COCO volunteer

This is the fourth part of our blog series celebrating the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Here you can read the previous blogs and practice more Luhya, Luo and Maasai. For the previous weeks, the focus was on the languages largely spoken in Kenya. This week we will turn westwards to Uganda and introduce the Luganda language.

Luganda, also known as Ganda, is the language spoken by the Baganda people. Bagandans are the largest ethnic group in Uganda and they live in Uganda’s largest sub-kingdom, Buganda. While Luganda is mostly spoken in the Eastern and Central parts of Uganda, including the capital Kampala, it is understood almost everywhere in Uganda. It is also widely spoken in the Kenya-Ugandan border area.

Luganda is the official language of the Buganda sub-kingdom but has no official status in the whole country of Uganda. Despite this, Luganda is the second most-spoken language after English in Uganda and is even more spoken than Swahili, the country’s second official language. Thus, Luganda is not going to disappear any time soon as a language but it is still constantly losing ground for English and Swahili, which are the languages of the public life – business, education and governance.

As a spoken language, Luganda has a long tradition and history but it was not written until the end of the 19th century. At the time of establishing its written format, there were huge challenges with spelling as each individual spelt the words differently based on what they heard. The entire phonetic system of Luganda had to be created from ground zero.

Luganda is very rich in metaphors, folktales and language games. For example, Bagandans have folklore explaining why the bat sleeps all through the day and only goes out at night. There is also a language game where you need to add letter z after every syllable including a vowel, followed by the vowel that was in the syllable. Thus, “omusajja” (man) becomes “o-zo-mu-zu-sa-zajja-za”. Now I’ll let you try to play the game with “omwana” (baby).

Once you manage to solve this, we can move on to words and sayings in Luganda:

Hello – Kajambo

How are you? – Oli otya?

Great – Kyisufu nyo

Thanks – Neyanziza nyo

What is your name? – Amanya go gwe ani?

My name is – Amanya gange yenze…

Yes – Eyye

No – Nedda

Water – Amazzi