English, national and local linguae francae in the language ecologies of Uganda and Tanzania


  • Susanne Mohr Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • Steffen Lorenz University of Cologne
  • Dunlop Ochieng The Open University of Tanzania




language attitudes, language use, language ecology, Uganda, Tanzania


With regard to eastern Africa, English is usually discussed as a language of urban metropolises, connected to global capital and high education. However, globalisation has created pockets away from these urban centres, where English is an important part of local linguistic practices, coexisting with rather local linguae francae. This study presents two examples of such places from Uganda and Tanzania, discusses the role English and local languages have there, and the attitudes people hold towards them. The Ugandan data stem from Gulu, a medium-sized city, and show English as an essential element of everyday interaction not only in interethnic communication or business encounters, but also in interactions among ethnic Acholi. This importance is reflected in the attitudes held towards English. The Tanzanian data were collected in Arusha, another medium-sized city. They show an equally favourable attitude towards English instrumentally, despite Kiswahili being more frequently used in everyday communication. It is especially this use of Kiswahili that divides these two language ecologies and questions the notion of the ‘heartland’ of East Africa based on sociolinguistic similarities. The examples show the importance of recognising the dynamics of language locally (Pennycook, 2010) in its concrete ecologies when assessing the role of languages in Africa.

Author Biographies

Susanne Mohr, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Susanne Mohr is Associate Professor in English Sociolinguistics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway. She received her PhD from the University of Cologne for her work on Irish Sign Language. She has since been researching hunting signals used by hunter-gatherers in southern Africa, non-standard plural formations in African Englishes and language in tourism in Zanzibar. Her research interests include sociolinguistics, language policies, language documentation, corpus linguistics and morphosyntax. 

Steffen Lorenz, University of Cologne

Steffen Lorenz recently graduated with his PhD from the University of Cologne, Germany, in 2018. His PhD project dealt with language choices and attitudes in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu. He has further researched youth languages and politeness strategies in Uganda, noun morphology in Eastern Sudanic languages and humor, irony and sarcasm in the carnival festivities on the Cape Verdes. His research interests include linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, language policies and psycholinguistics. 

Dunlop Ochieng, The Open University of Tanzania

Dunlop Ochieng is a senior lecturer and head of Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies at the Open University of Tanzania (Tanzania). He received his PhD for his work on the influence of English on Kiswahili in Tanzania from TU Chemnitz. He has since been working on language attitudes and language use in Tanzania, and African naming practices and their relevance for the development of official documents. His research interests are sociolinguistics, communication studies and semantics. 


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How to Cite

Mohr, S., Lorenz, S., & Ochieng, D. (2020). English, national and local linguae francae in the language ecologies of Uganda and Tanzania. Sociolinguistic Studies, 14(3), 371–394. https://doi.org/10.1558/sols.38800