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This is the home page for the project on the Intonation of Kenyan English and Swahili funded by the World Academy of Sciences and DFG.

In a survey of the intonation systems across varieties of English, Grice, German and Warren (2021) note that the intonation of East African Englishes is understudied. This project, which includes analysis of Kenyan English starts to fill this gap, although, as Otundo (2017) shows, Kenyan English intonation is affected by the other languages spoken by the individuals. For more background see these two papers:

  • Grice, Martine, James Sneed German & Paul Warren (2021). Intonation systems across varieties of English, In Gussenhoven & Chen (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Language Prosody, Oxford: OUP.
  • Otundo, Billian K. (2018). Exploring Ethnically-Marked Varieties of Kenyan English: Intonation and Associated Attitudes. Berlin: Lit Verlag.

The current project concentrates on situations when speakers use both Kenyan English and Swahili and aims to further our knowledge of the intonation of the two languages. In particular, we are interested in what we find to be a shared intonational repertoire (rising-falling patterns) which constitutes one aspect of shared space within which intonation contours are associated with specific pragmatic meanings. Our point of departure is advice-giving.

In our first study, we examine salient prosodic features used in advice-giving in both Kenyan English and Kiswahili from a radio phone-in programme: The Breakfast Show, a Kenyan radio phone-in aired on Classic 105 fm. Although the programme is moderated in English, advice is given in both English and Kiswahili, since Kenya is highly multilingual with frequent code-switching. In this paper, we focus on the pragmatic strategies of expressing advice involving forms that furnish the recipient with little optionality in carrying out the suggested action, including, imperatives, declaratives with modal verbs, and conditional forms. In both languages, we observe a terminal falling intonation in advice-giving. However, whilst the global pitch contours in Kenyan English follow a marked downtrend for expressing advice in imperative, declarative and conditional forms, interpreted as a downstepping sequence of H* accents, those in Kiswahili have alternating rises and falls, suggesting a more elaborate intonational phonology. In instances of code-switching, imperative forms of advice generally reveal alternating rises and falls. This pattern is also found in declarative and conditional forms, although with a greater pitch range. These preliminary findings are useful in applications such as identification of language and variety, especially in multilingual interactions.

For more information see 

We are currently analysing a larger dataset together with Simon Wehrle, looking at global parameters that capture melodic aspects of the shared repertoire used in code-switching situations. These include spaciousness (pitch range) and wiggliness (dynamicity of intonation contours) as laid out in the following papers:

  • Simon Wehrle, Francesco Cangemi, Harriet Hanekamp, Kai Vogeley & Martine Grice (2020). Assessing the intonation style of speakers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody, Tokyo, Japan, 809-813.
  • Simon Wehrle (2022). A brief tutorial for using Wiggliness and Spaciousness to measure intonation styles. OSF; retrievable at osf.io/5e7fd.
  • Simon Wehrle & Christopher Sappok (2023). Evaluating prosodic aspects of oral reading proficiency in schoolchildren: effects of gender, genre and grade. Proceedings of ICPhS 2023, Prague, Czech Republic.
Example utterance (inter-pausal unit; IPU) with relevant parameters annotated. The grey speckles represent the original pitch track. The red line is the hand-corrected and smoothed pitch contour. The green line is the smoothed and corrected contour after stylisation to 2-semitone (ST) steps. The blue circles denote turning points in the stylised contour, used for calculating Wiggliness. The black arrows denote the two largest pitch excursions between turning points, used for calculating Spaciousness (see text for more details). This IPU has a Wiggliness value of 2.78 (8 turning points divided by a pitch duration of 2.88) and a Spaciousness of 5.81 (average of the two largest excursions in ST).