This is the fourth piece on a series on the dialects of the Gikuyu language. Today we focus on the defining features of the Nyeri dialect.
1.” Sh” and “ch” sound and ‘t’ sound
The Nyeri dialect is marked by a distinct ‘ sh’ or ” ch” sound.For a Nyerian,” tea” is ” chai” while other Gikuyu dialects say ” cai”.
That ” ch” sound is more pronounced in Mathira and Tetu- and gets less pronounced as you go to the fridges of Nyeri like Othaya and Mukurwe-ini.
2.’ Th’ and ‘ s’ sound
Some speakers replace ” th’ sound with ‘ s’ sound. For example,”githomo” is articulated as “gisomo”. At times it comes out as ‘ gizomo’.Again,this unique pronunciation is quite distinct in Mathira- a part of Nyeri known for its early education.
3. Double negatives
Nyeri speakers tend to use double negatives in their language. Just like African Americans, in their English which is often referred to as Ebonics, use double negatives like ” I got no nothing in my pocket”.
An example is ” Ndingìkùnyita ndingìkùhùra”. Which literally translates to ‘ if I dont catch you I wont beat you”.But to Nyeri speaker it means ” if I catch you I will beat you.”
This sounds confusing to other Gikuyu speakers.
Common Nyeri male names begin with the prefix”wa”.Wahome,Wang’ombe,Waiganjo ,Wanjau etc.
Nyeri has also unique female names like Nyakinyua,Wahito,Wothaya,Watetu etc.
The region also has substantial Maa/Dorobo names owing to historical relations with the two tribes.
It has always baffled me why Nyeri Gikuyu never became the standard Gikuyu.
In the 1930s,Nyeri already had a flourishing printing press that was churning out Gikuyu literature.
The pioneering Catholic priest- Fr Cagnolo, issued his book ” The Akikuyu” in a Nyeri press in the 1930s.
Most of the pioneering Gikuyu writers like Gaakara wa Wanjau came from Nyeri.This is in spite of Kiambu and Murang’a having received missionaries who were responsible for education much earlier.
The Nyeri Gikuyu also took to academia and civil service much more than the Kiambu and Muranga Gikuyu.
Inspite of all that,the Nyeri dialect has always remained sidelined from Standard Gikuyu.
Being the most polite dialects of the Gikuyu,Nyeri dialect is marked by a frequent use of euphemisms. Its almost impossible to hear sentences like ” ndathiì kìoro”. A Nyeri speaker would find that scandalous and will prefer the more polite ” ndathiì kahinda”.
7. Sense of pride
Amongst all the Gikuyus,Nyeri speakers are the most proud of their tongue.Due to its uniqueness, they are able to pick each other out in a crowd and ask one another “Wì muhoro” ? Which brings me to the next point….
The Nyeri Gikuyu have the most elaborate and respectful greetings among the Gikuyu.
A young man cannot great an elder his father’s age the same way he greets his agemates.The vice versa also applies. Such elaborate greetings marked by genteel politeness are also common among the pastoral Maasai and Somali.
9. Sense of belonging
The Nyeri Gikuyu are the most wired to their region. Owing to their language, they have a strong attachment to their folks and their homes.
Such that on any weekend, its not uncommon to find a homesick Nyeri man go down to Tea Room stage to ask any person who speaks Nyeri accent:
” gwaitù Rware kwì na mbùra?”
Nyeri is not just a place but home.