Playing with accents

On Ugandan Englishes and indexical signs of urbanity and rurality


  • Nico Nassenstein Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz



Ugandan English, accents, repertoires, enregisterment, urban vs. rural dichotomies, indexicality


While certain ways of speaking or varieties of English – such as American English or British English – evoke associations of modernity, higher education and urbanity in Uganda, others – such as Ugandan English with strong northern or western accents – stand for backwardness, social strata remote from education and ‘village identities’. Yet concepts of backwardness or modernity are not only based on linguistic criteria but also associated with a specific worldview, contributing to complex signs of higher-order indexicality. In contrast, speakers’ practices of enregisterment reveal how fluid and contextual these indices of urbanity and rurality actually are. Considering diverse repertoires of English accents and varieties used in Uganda, I suggest a turn toward a more fluid understanding of contextual practices of English as negotiations of urbanity and rurality, or as ‘indexical play’, instead of hypothesising fixed entities such as ‘Ugandan English’, ‘urban language’, or ‘rural language’.

Author Biography

Nico Nassenstein, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Nico Nassenstein is junior professor for African Languages and Linguistics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany. He holds a PhD from the University of Cologne and works mainly in the fields of sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. 


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How to Cite

Nassenstein, N. (2020). Playing with accents: On Ugandan Englishes and indexical signs of urbanity and rurality. Sociolinguistic Studies, 14(3), 347–369.