UgLish , decoded

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Release Date: October 31, 2014

Price: UgX 30,000


Listening to Ugandans speak English is a hilarious experience particularly to the uninitiated. This is because the variation of the language we speak is so unique, rare, and even weird that in several instances only we can understand each other. Also mockingly referred to  as Uglish (/you-glish/) by locals, Ugandan English is one of the funniest and strangest English varieties in the world.

Uganda was a British colony, or “protectorate” as the politics of the time compelled the Empire to call it, for 68 years, from 1894 to 1962 when the country gained its independence. What Schneider’s Dynamic Model of Postcolonial Englishes[1] would call “introduction” stage of English therefore happened around this time when the British set foot in Buganda kingdom and because they had to work with natives to spread their influence, they had to teach key people the language while learning the local Luganda language themselves.

Like everywhere else, the English spoken by Uganda has evolved over the years. During the colonial era, the British educated only those they wanted to serve their interests, mainly to assert their authority outside the capital Kampala, or the Buganda kingdom, through what came to be known as Indirect Rule. As a result, Buganda, placed strategically in the central region near the shores of the vast Lake Victoria, having emerged as the business and trade centre for Europeans, gained an advantage in early enlightenment and education. The Baganda immediately offered their services to the British as administrators over other smaller tribes across the country, an offer which was attractive to the economy-minded colonial administration. Baganda agents fanned out as local tax collectors and labour organizers in areas such as Kigezi, Mbale, and, significantly, Bunyoro. This subimperialism and Ganda cultural chauvinism were resented by the people being administered. Wherever they went, Baganda insisted on the exclusive use of their language, Luganda, and they planted bananas as the only proper food worth eating. They regarded their traditional dress—long cotton gowns called Kanzus – as civilized; all else was barbarian and backward. As a result, the language of the Baganda—Luganda—would later heavily influence the dialect and lexicon of the English spoken by Ugandans, or what is now informally known as Uglish.

 About the book

This book, the first of its kind in Uganda, will make for hilarious reading for many people but most importantly upon reflection, it gives the reader an insight into the socio-economic and political factors for the growth of this ‘strange’ variety of English. Besides the extensive glossary of Uglish words and phrases, their meanings and origins, the book takes the reader through the historical chronology of Uganda’s education system and subsequent changes in English usage, Factors that have given rise to “Uglish” and emphasises why for Ugandan readers at least, this English variety is not something to only laugh about but reflect on as well.

The book elucidates the importance of articulate communication in a country like Uganda where English is the official lingua franca and gives  detailed advice to Parents, students and educationists on how to improve pupils’ and students’ English communication skills. It also offers business people insights into how to better target their marketing with the use of appropriately worded advertisements to capture the interest of a significant section of the Ugandan society.

The book is the first of its kind that traces the evolution of Uglish, its lexico-grammatical and syntactic features and gives dozens of hilarious picture examples and a rich glossary of hundreds of Uglishes, their origins and meanings.

Order a copy today by sending me an email at

[1] Schneider, Edgar W (2010). English around the world: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press.

5 thoughts on “UgLish , decoded

  1. What you refer to as Uglish is actually broken English! It is more of a direct translation from Luganda to English. I doubt whether it can be comprehended by non Bantu speakers of Northern and Eastern Uganda. Calling it Ugandan English I believe is therefore a cross misrepresentation and another sinister attempt to entrench the domination of the Baganda over other tribes! It would have been better if this English was called Luglish (Luganda plus English).


  2. I have not read this book but the point raised by Allan Komakech is very important. Although Luganda and the Baganda to a great extent influence the variety of English mostly spoken in the Central region and the capital city of the country, Kampala, there ought to be a deep research to illustrate the extent to which other Ugandan indigenous languages influence the variety of English spoken in different regions in the country. Nevertheless, Sabiiti has done a great work to write this book.


    1. Hi Allan, Jude,
      Thank you both for your comments on this work. There is no doubt Luganda in the central region has had the biggest impact on the English we speak and write, given the region’s role in the history of Uganda, as well as it’s sociopolitical, demographic and geographic characteristics. The reasons are explained in the book in background chapters. This does not mean other languages have not had an influence phonetically, lexically, and otherwise. As you might know, there are about 43 languages and 65 ethnic groups in Uganda. While I won’t say that I effectively studied indepth the impact of other languages, there is a chapter on “features of Ugandan English” and some of these are universal. The Nilotic peoples in the North and East of Uganda also say “First come”, “You are lost”, etc. With the few resources I had, I was able to discover that actually UgLish itself has variations, according to region, tribe, and even gender. Some of the words specific to North/Eastern regions include to “enjoy” someone, and others that feature in the dictionary. Many of the signs and signposts I photographed and included in the book are from Northern and Eastern regions. The intense passions my book has generated concerning cultural, national, tribal and ethnic identity and pride, among other issues, have been among my most pleasant surprises since the media started reviewing the book. I hope I will be able to broaden my research in the future, and cater for all these issues in a second edition of the book. Regards


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