Chichewa – The language of 4 countries

Many speakers of indigenous languages are reluctant to use their languages online due to the challenges they face, such as finding the proper terminology for computing terms and keyboard input. However, this has not deterred Edmond Kachale, a software developer based in Malawi. Edmond is determined to come up with software applications in Chichewa and has so far been involved in the translation of the Google interface into Chichewa. He tweets in English and Chichewa and runs a blog, where he updates his progress on the applications he is working on.

Chichewa is also known as Nyanja. It is a Bantu language spoken in Malawi. The actual name of the language is Chewa but the Malawians put the prefix Chi before all languages so the name of the language becomes Chichewa. Chichewa is spoken by 7-8 million people and is the lingua franca of Malawi and also one of the official languages in Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The Chichewa Board works towards the preservation of the cultural customs and traditions of the tribe, while the Center for Language Studies, in the University of Malawi plays a great role in the standardization and development of the language. 9 other Bantu languages are spoken in Malawi in addition to Chichewa and English, which are the national languages. English is the primary language of instruction and Chichewa is taught as a subject. Currently, the government is involved in a drive to promote different languages, which has led major to broadcasting stations presenting news in different languages such as Chichewa, Sean and Yao.

Dialectical differences provides a challenge for speakers to understand each other. In Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, Town Nyanja, which is an urban variety of Urban Nyanja is spoken. Town Nyanja has a large number of loan words from English and other languages spoken in Zambia. This has made it to be quite different from the Nyanja used to teach in schools. This has interfered with the literacy levels of school going children, as it has influenced their language acquisition negatively.

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