This funny thing Tanzanian folk do with their… their sentences.

At first I thought it was just an individual quirk, but they’re all at it. Theres probably a posh english word for it (prizes for the first to find it), a bit like the word ‘ululation’ – which folk here were surprised to hear existed when I told them one evening as we listened to the Catholic sisters going for it in celebration of the inauguration of a new bishop. For those who would have to look it up, ululation is the action of making a high pitched rapid ulululululululululu sound, hence the onomatopoeia (shit – this is turning into an English lesson), mostly by African women celebrating.

"That's ululating"

But back to the funny thing – it goes like this: Tanzanian folk (professional men particularly) get almost to the end of a sentence, raising their tone to signify a question ( a bit like the Auzzies do), then they stop for a pregnant pause of a couple of seconds leaving you hanging in the air trying to imagine what the last word is going to be, then they deliver it – as the answer to the implied question. The first time I clocked it I asked the guy ‘did you used to be a teacher?’ but my guess is that it comes from being a student rather than a teacher and copying perhaps a commonly adopted teaching style. It’s often employed where the final payoff word or phrase has been referred to before, so to people will have a chance of guessing it.

Some people fall for it / comply by guessing the ending and actually supplying it verbally – often in tandem with the speaker. Maybe it’s a way of making sure your audience / correspondent are paying attention, or maybe a type of ‘influencing style’ way of gaining consensus? I, of course, refuse to play, and look at them with a smile that says ‘did you really expect me to finish your sentence for you? I don’t think so’.

I thought maybe it was something they only did in English, but they do it in Swahili too. So if anyone knows more about the whys or wherefores of this – please let me? … let me know.


2 thoughts on “This funny thing Tanzanian folk do with their… their sentences.

  1. You made me laugh! As you can t..? you can tell i’m a Tanzanian, a chagga by tribe. Well i dont know the reason for that manner in speaking as such, but it is a habit previously it was mostly observed with chaggas and most of the natives from kilimanjaro nowadays some people from other tribes are joining the game. If you speak in a chaga dialect it makes the story pallatable according to my feelings. i cant do it so i like to listern to people who do it but only in chagga in swahili and english it kind of take away the anticipation mood of a story that is my opinion and feeling.

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