Bantu is the language base for approximately 535 languages in Central and Southern Africa. At least 250 of these languages are mutually intelligible. Of the Bantu languages, Swahili has the largest number of total speakers.

Bantu languages compose their grammar around 8-12 different semantic noun word classes. Syntax is mostly agglomerative, there are no determiners, and affixes are attached to the noun to denote grammatical relations as modus, tempus, and number. Personal pronouns are attached as prefixes to the noun. Tense markers change the whole verb stem morphemes (as irregular or “strong” verbs in Indoeuropean languages do as well).

For example, in Luganda:

  • to work = omukola
  • I work = nkola
  • you work = okola
  • I worked = nnakoze (near past) and nnakola (far past)

Adjectives and verbs almost always carry the same prefix as the noun. Examples:

  • the human = omuntu
  • the humans = abantu
  • the white human = omuntu omweru
  • the white humans = abantu abeeru
  • the white human works = omuntu omweru akola
  • the white humans work = abantu abeera bakola

Morphology of words is different from most Indoeuropean languages as there are almost no monosyllabic words, and monomorphematic words consist of two or more syllables. Thus we cannot apply some of our treatment strategies of cuing words. Cuing a word via the initial sound does not lead to the desired effect. Cuing the word via the first letter is another challenge as many people do not know how to read or write their tribal language or English. Further, many East African languages do not have a single orthography:

  • “Pineapple” can be “enanansi,” “ennanansi,” “enannansy,” and so on.

Often, Ugandans write as they hear the word (a phonetic strategy some Europeans tried to implement in their schools with sometimes rather curious results).

English orthography is often not phonetic, and Ugandans' writing sometimes reflects phonetical translations of English words. “Facial” can become “fashial,” “books” “buks,” and one of my physiotherapy students who assessed a patient with dysphagia wrote, “the woman joked on her food” when the patient aspirated her porridge (“choked”).

With patients with aphasia, the assessment and treatment of writing can be a problem, as it may not be clear whether the spelling is idiosyncratic, phonetical, a functional dyslexia, an acquired dyslexia, or lack of formal education.

The sounds /l/ and /r/ are interchangeable in some Bantu languages. “Makerere” and “Makelele” denote the same object. A clinician needs to know if this is a language feature or a phonetical or a practical problem in order to decide whether to treat it or not. The interchange is also sometimes a social class feature. Some Ugandans consider using /l/ for /r/ as a sign of lesser education.

For the SLP Clinician

Treating bilingual and multilingual patients can be difficult if the clinician does not know the languages of the patient. For example, the patient may name a picture in a language the clinician does not know and the accompanying caretaker might tell the clinician that the word is right, not wishing to embarrass the patient or the clinician.

Expatriates providing language treatment are heavily dependent on interpreters (normally a family member of the client). Often the clinician has to check and re-check if the interpreter translates advice and tasks correctly and the clinician also has to make sure that tasks are understood correctly in the beginning by the interpreter before being translated.”

Excerpted from: Jochmann, A. (2006, Feb. 7). Speech and language treatment in East Africa. The ASHA Leader, 11(2), 8-9, 32-33.