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Represent 255: language, style and the construction of identity in Tanzanian English hip-hop

  • Nikitta Dede Adjirakor EMAIL logo
From the journal Linguistics Vanguard


From its encouraged and sustained use during colonial times, through to the creation of the Tanzanian state, the Swahili language has been consistently constructed as one of the key facets of Tanzanian identity. After the emergence of hip-hop in Tanzania, the shift from English to Swahili was instrumental to its widespread adoption, with English gaining a symbolic meaning as a status marker as well as a language for international positioning. This article argues that recently, a rising number of hip-hop artists style themselves as purely English-speaking artists to construct a Tanzanian identity that challenges the dominant positioning of Swahili. To this end, I explore through selected texts how English is used to construct a cosmopolitan niche and urban identity that serves as a counternarrative to the dominance of Swahili in the popular imagination. Through hip-hop songs, groups and performance events, I show how English is used to evoke experiences of belonging that are positioned as authentic narratives that juxtapose rather than contradict a Tanzanian identity.


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Received: 2019-06-29
Accepted: 2019-12-02
Published Online: 2020-12-05

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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