Ugandan English, or Uglish ( ), is the variety of English spoken in Uganda. The term ''Uglish'' is first recorded in 2012. Other colloquial portmanteau words are ''Uganglish'' (recorded from 2006) and ''Ugandlish'' (2010).

Influence of indigenous languages

The speech patterns of Ugandan languages strongly influence spoken English. Uganda has a large variety of indigenous languages, and someone familiar with Uganda can readily identify the native language of a person speaking English. Ugandan speakers will alter foreign words to make them sound more euphonic. The Bantu languages spoken in southern Uganda tend not to have consonants sounded alone without a vowel in the syllable. Indeed, the Luganda word for consonant is "silent letter". Thus the letters ''l'' and ''d'' in ''Alfred'' will be given sound by the addition of , making the pronunciation of the word . Similarly, ''muscular'' is pronounced . Luganda never has an starting a word; it only appears following the letters and within a word. The sound, conversely, cannot follow these sounds. Thus the word ''railway'' gets its and its substituted, giving . Luganda does not permit the sequence ; any occurrence of this sound becomes . Thus ''cute'' is pronounced . The initial is dysphonic to the Luganda speaker but is perfectly natural to the speaker of Runyankole and Rukiga, which have few instances of the sound. Additionally, in Runyankole and Rukiga is more often heard as . The combination of the above three rules will transform ''calcium'' into .

Vocabulary and idioms

Some Ugandan English words have a peculiar meaning widely understood within Uganda but mystifying to foreigners. The origin of these usages may be obscure. The best known example is probably ''to extend'', which in Uganda means ''move over on a seat to make room for someone else''. Another example, "pop", is used to replace words like ''bring'' and ''come'' for example: ''Danny, pop that bottle here'' or ''Heno, pop to my house''.

Terms for buildings

Sometimes the usage has a traceable origin. A basement is called a ''godown'', but the usual meaning of ''warehouse'' is also known in Uganda as proper English. A building labelled ''hotel'', in a small town, is likely to be a restaurant.

Terms for clothing

The verb ''to put on'' is often substituted for ''to dress'', ''to be dressed'', or ''to wear''. One may hear remarks such as "That lady is rich, don't you see how she is putting on" and "The police are looking for a man putting on a red shirt."

Terms for communication

Mobile phone services are prepaid. A person finding himself with inadequate prepaid time to make a call will ring up the intended recipient of the call and hang up immediately. The receiver of the call, hearing the phone ring once and seeing the number, understands himself to have been ''beeped''. Alternatively, it is called being ''flashed'' on account of the brief flashing of the screen. The understood message is ''I wish to talk to you at your expense''.

Terms for education and training

In the worlds of business and development, the word "facilitation" or the expression "to facilitate someone" have fundamentally different meanings in Uganda from those in Europe or the US. In Uganda, it most often means paying them for something. It is often a payment in part to cover some expenses, but is expected to go beyond just the "out-of-pocket" costs the recipient has incurred. Sometimes it can amount to the equivalent of a week or two's wages just for attending a meeting for a day or two. In business in Europe or the US, it usually means to help organise progress amongst a group of people in some way and almost never involves paying them anything. This is rather about helping them by doing preparation and analysis; by chairing and minute-taking at meetings and by mobilising, coaching and advising.

Terms for family members

Children whose fathers are brothers are considered siblings in most Ugandan tribes. The English word ''cousin'' conflates them with the children of a maternal uncle or those of aunts, who in a patrilineal society belong to a different clan. Thus, the terms ''cousin brother'' or ''cousin sister'' are used to identify the "close" cousins. A dependant is a child who is not the biological offspring of the family with whom the child lives. Sometimes, dependants are referred to as sons, daughters, nephews, or nieces. The high number of children orphaned by AIDS and poverty combined with the communal culture of Uganda leads to an extremely high number of dependents and a great deal of confusion for an outsider trying to determine biological family structure.

Terms for food and farming

Drinking a beverage is often described as taking a beverage. A pop is a soda. tea is also called chai French fries in Uganda are called chips kind of like the British. chips= crisps Macrons means spaghetti, which is generally fried in oil. Irish potatoes are potatoes, while "potatoes" means sweet potatoes. Sukuma wiki means collard greens. Ovacado or Vacado means avocado. Posho refers to a dense mixture of cooked cornmeal and water also known as ugali. Farming is often referred to as ''digging'' and fields under cultivation, even large ones, may be referred to as ''gardens''.

Terms for language

The word ''vernacular'', rarely used in ordinary conversation in most of the English speaking world, is common in Uganda to mean ''local language''. It comes from the fact that in most primary schools, pupils are punished for speaking "vernacular", languages other than English. Since there are many local languages, they are usually classified as "vernacular". Colloquial language is also used. Among the youth, certain verbs are given different past participle tenses as slang for example, the word “flop” is used as “flap” instead of “flopped” in the past participle, pronounced as /flap/. In a sentence, “I flap the test” means “I didn’t do well in the test”. Other words used like this are game as ''gam'', fetch as ''fatch'' and chop as ''chap''. They follow the past participle rule of verbs like feed as fed and read as read.

Terms for money

When money is spent extravagantly on outings, shopping, recreations and the like, Ugandans are said to be "eating money." It is also a common phrase in reference to embezzlement, corruption, or misappropriation of funds: "The Minister ate the money," or "He was fired from his job because he ate money." This phrase also applies to ''living a lavish or abundant lifestyle'', hence "You are eating money", which commonly means one is successful and doing well. In Uganda the verb "demand" is often used instead of "owe", with inversion of subject and object. For example, ''I demand John ten thousand shillings'' meaning ''John owes me ten thousand shillings''. When out with friends to drink or shopping and someone takes the bill, the term ''house'' is used. For example, ''We went out with Kenneth last night and he housed us'', meaning ''We went out with Kenneth last night and he paid for the drinks''. Foreign currency is ''forex'', and currency exchange bureaus are ''forex bureaux''. In American and British English, a dishonoured check is said to ''bounce''; Ugandans have adopted this phrase to refer to the inability to the failure to meet with someone — with or without an appointment: "I came to your place and bounced."

Terms for quality

''Somehow'' is interspersed frequently, and means slightly, occasionally, or can imply doubt. When asked if you liked the food, and you enjoyed it slightly, you could simply reply 'somehow'. The word ''fake'' can be used to chastise a person about something. For example, if one's friend went on an exciting evening out without inviting the other friend, one might hear the latter complain, saying "Eeh, you man, you are fake!"

Terms for religion

A ''save-dee'' is someone who has found God, often referred to in other English-speaking countries as being saved. Individuals who would be referred to elsewhere as atheists and agnostics are referred to as pagans.

Words for social events and greetings

''Congs'' is frequently used as shortening of congratulations. ''Wel be back'' is a bastardised way of saying welcome back, but it used much more commonly. The word ''lost'' is used to mean that one has not seen the person in a long time. One would say "Eeeh, but you are lost." The phrase "ok please" is used to convey agreement or acknowledgement. It can also be used to signal a transition. For instance, if a person is preparing to leave, he might break a moment of silence with "ok please" and then announce that he is leaving. "Thank you please" has a similar meaning, but can also mean thank you. "Please" never means please. If Ugandans want something, they say "You give me..." Please is not required; the tone of the voice is normally enough to convey politeness.

Terms for transport and giving directions

Forms of transport are referred to as ''means''. For instance: 'I could not reach the party last night; I had no means'. A "taxi" is a van used like a bus, carrying many persons along a fixed route. A taxi taking one passenger at a time on a negotiable route is referred to as a ''special hire''. A tow truck is a ''breakdown''. A motorbike or bicycle used for the same purpose is a ''bodaboda''. The term originated at the Uganda–Kenya border crossing at Busia, where a kilometre separates the downtown area from the border post on the Ugandan side. Travellers dropped off at the bus/taxi station by buses or taxis, or those coming to Uganda from the Kenya side, were ferried over this distance by enterprising cyclists, who would attract business by calling "border, border". The title ''Captain'' is applied to all pilots, not just those in command of a plane. ''Pilot'' is often used to refer to the driver of a bus, (minivan) taxi or "special hire". When people walk they say they "foot". When giving directions, the following expressions are common: ''to slope'' means going in a particular direction which is not necessarily downhill; ''to branch'' means to turn. "To give someone a push" means to accompany a person home for some distance. When a car "sleeps" outside, it means it stays outside, not in the compound or in the garage.

Terms for witchcraft

A practitioner of witchcraft is referred to as a ''Witch doctor''. The origin is unclear, and is not a direct translation from a Ugandan language. A practitioner of witchcraft in Uganda is referred to as a ''Witch-doctor'', though this term is often also used to refer to practitioners of local medicines (e.g. herbal medicines). ''Nightdancer'', however, refers to a person who has been possessed by a spirit, causing them to dance naked in the wee hours of the night, and very often causing them to defecate and smear human excrement on people's door posts. This usage can be found throughout Uganda, regardless of tribal origin. It eventually became synonymous with witch-doctors, as they were usually possessed by these spirits. ''Nightdancer'', is also commonly used to refer to cannibals, not that this is a common practice. For example, a parent may say, ''You will become a nightdancer.'' to a child who is biting their fingernails. This implies that the child may eventually start eating human flesh instead of just fingernails.

Other terms

The word ''downer'' is used instead of ''lower'', used in opposition to ''upper''. For example: "I broke my upper leg, but my downer leg was paining, too." The word paining is often used in place of the word hurting to mean the same thing. "Sorry" tends to be used in different ways in Uganda and England. Ugandans are perfectly correct to use the word to express sympathy and sadness for something undesirable that has happened to someone by saying "Oh, sorry" or "I'm sorry". However, in England direct use like this is now usually an expression of regret with some responsibility attached - a form of apology. If they were not involved and just mean to express sympathy, they are likely to be less direct - "I'm sorry to hear that" or "that's really sad", or "that's terrible". ''Ever'' is used to mean ''often'', in the same way ''always'' is used in American English. It is the opposite of the exaggeration ''never''. For example, if someone is often late, a Ugandan might say "She is ever late." The Broadway play ''The Vagina Monologues'' had a brief, but notorious, appearance on the Ugandan stage before being banned by government censors. The brouhaha led to the entry of the word ''monologue'' into Ugandan English as a euphemism for ''vagina''. The newspaper ''Red Pepper'' popularised the use of the word ''kandahar'' and after the 2010 World Cup, ''vuvuzela'' for vagina, and ''whopper'' for penis. The adjective ''whole'' is used to emphasise disapproval of conduct unbecoming a person's rank or station. Examples: "How can a whole Minister go to that cheap nightclub?" or "How can a whole headmaster dress so badly?" The usage is a direct translation from several Ugandan languages. Among younger people, ''proggie'' (shortened version of programme) is common when referring to one's social plans, e.g. ''Susan, what's your proggie for the weekend, let's hook up.'' The word ''Zibbs'' is an often used word to mean problems. Example: '' I failed the exam, now those are other zibbs'' This term originates from the Luganda word for problems ''ebizibu'' The adverb ''Just'' is often used at the end of the statement to express obviousness. Example: During a phone call, one would tell a friend, ''I am at home eating food, just.'' The noun ''Gas'' is in some scenarios used to denote physical strength as opposed to an air like fluid or gasoline. Example: ''I have no gas to read for the exam.'' Among students ''Paper'' means exam. One can normally hear Ugandan students exclaiming, ''The paper was hard!'' to mean that the exam was difficult. The noun ''Mob'' does not necessarily denote a large unruly crowd of people but can also be used to mean objects. In some contexts, to Ugandans, ''mob'' can mean "a lot" or "a significant amount". For example, ''There are mob people in that building'' means that there are a lot of people in the building. The people represented in the example do not have to be unruly to be referred to as ''a'' ''mob''. Another example, ''We have mob food here'' means we have a lot of food. In the dialect of English used in Karamoja, to ''enjoy'' can be used as "to be married to", as in the sentence, "I used to enjoy Narot but now, since the divorce, I am enjoying Nakoto."

Borrowed terms

Ugandan words are often inserted into English because the English equivalent does not convey the sense the Ugandan speaker intends. The standard English term ''brother-in-law'' applies to both a spouse's brother and a spouse's sister's husband. A man's relationship with these two entails two quite different sets of obligations and norms in Ugandan society. Thus Luganda speakers will often use ''muko'' (wife's brother) and ''musangi'' (literally “one you met,” meaning you met at the girl's home while wooing her) to make the distinction. Sometimes only a prefix is borrowed. In Luganda the prefix ''ka-'' before a noun denotes smallness. A Member of Parliament, referring to a Finance Minister, said in a debate "the ''ka-''man is innocent." ''Ka-child'' and ''ka-thing'' are also common. Thus, in most cases it is used to refer to the size of an object. For example, many cell phones in Uganda have flash lights, or "torches," as an accessory of the phones. Ugandans refer to this light as the "katorchi" since the light emitted from the phone comes from a small bulb at the top. But it can also be diminutive, such as in the case when a woman is telling her friends how she was bothered by an overly flirtatious young man on the taxi, "Eh! this ka-boy really disturbed me on the taxi. He would not stop asking for my number." Here the ka is used not so much to refer to whether or not the boy was short or tall, but rather as a way to reflect how he bothered her.'' Ka-timba'', however, in the context of building construction refers to a thin piece of steel (such as re-bar), rather than the wood which one might expect. On the other hand, akatimba (obutimba, plural) is the name for a mosquito net. Thus, as is common in Uganda, one word will have multiple, if not numerous, meanings depending on the context in which it is used, as will the prefixes. The Luganda conjunction ''nti'' is often slipped into English sentences instead of ''that''. Thus, one will hear a quotation like "The Minister said ''nti'' corruption will not be tolerated." If the speaker is skeptical he will use ''mbu'' instead of ''nti'': "The Minister said ''mbu'' corruption will not be tolerated" implies that it's just talk; business will go on as usual. In some Ugandan languages, the same verb can be used express ''thanks'', ''congratulations'', and ''appreciation of a job well done''. It is normal for an African working in his own garden to be thanked for his work by a passing stranger. If one buys a new car in Uganda, or wins a race, one should not be surprised to find themselves being thanked. People are also thanked early in the morning as a form of greeting. Therefore, a Luganda speaker may translate "gyebale" by saying "well done". They are just greeting others by way of thanking them for their usual work, not necessarily for a particular task. The expression ''well done'' is extrapolated to specific actions. Examples include ''well fought'', to soldiers on the winning side after a war; ''well bought'', to someone with a new car or house; and even ''well put on'', to a well-dressed person.Note previous discussion on the interchangeability of ''to dress'', ''to wear'' and ''to put on''. Ugandans often create portmanteaus from Luganda English words. For example, "I am going to change into a dress" becomes "I'm going to ''ku-changi-nga''." In other cases, they add ''-ing'' at the end of a Luganda word; thus, a young girl can say "That gentleman was ''kwaana-ring'' me" to mean ''the gentleman was chatting me up''. Or still letter "-d" or "-ed" can be added at the end of a Luganda word. For example, "Brenda kwanjula-d Brian at her parent's home" to mean "Brenda introduced Brian at her parent's home"

Grammar differences

Ugandans will frequently combine two sentences into one using the word ''and''. For example, a barber will say "Sit down and I cut your hair," or a messenger might say "They told me to come and you give me the package." The usage makes sense in most Ugandan languages, but in these languages the word ''and'' is implied, not stated. The personal pronoun is usually added to imperative sentences. Thus, one hears the phrase "Go to Entebbe;" or "Please go to Entebbe" will become "You go to Entebbe." "Please come here" becomes "You come." "Let's go" becomes "we go".


Like many speakers of foreign languages, Ugandans change, add and omit prepositions that are normally used by native speakers. For example, Ugandans: * decrease on things, not decrease things * demand for things, not demand things * yield into things, not yield (produce) things or yield to (give way to) things


Ugandan pronunciation of English varies widely depending on the level of education of teachers and the exposure to English. Since native speakers, English recordings, and dictionaries with pronunciation guides are not readily available to most Ugandans, they rely on spelling to guess how to pronounce words. As a result, visitors will hear "spelling pronunciation". For example, in Kampala, "acacia" as in Acacia Avenue is pronounced /a ˈka sia/, not /əˈkeɪʃə/ or /əˈkeɪ sɪə/.


Standard English spelling rules are often flouted, even in official publications. For example, the word ''dining'' is frequently spelt "dinning," which to a native English speaker would be pronounced with a "short" ''i'' , as if it refers to making a loud noise (''din'') rather than referring to the room in which eating takes place (''dine''). Businesses that are labelled ''saloons'' are, in reality, western salons. Another frequent change is the confusion of ''u'' and ''a'' . An example would be the use of "batter" for "butter" (spread on bread).



Further reading


External links

Features of Ugandan English
and a listing of the more common expressions of Ugandan English. {{Uganda topics Category:Ugandan culture Category:English language Category:Dialects of English