Jumping the language hurdle

Sunday August 25 2013

Jumping the language hurdle

Musician Jose Chameleone shares a moment with his wife and son. He is from the central while she is from the northern part of Uganda. Photo by Ismail Kezaala. 

By Roland Nasasira

Marriages today know no tribe or nationality as people have found love in partners from different areas. Once it mattered that one was from the west and the other the north. However, what matters most is that the two find a means of communication, either English as in most relationships, or another language.

Can’t a couple break the language barrier and adapt each other’s indigenous language? Francis Baryamwijuka, a businessman, says according to African culture, when women get married to a man of different tribe, they are compelled to learn the husband’s language though today this does not happen necessarily. Their environs may come in to play a part in the choice of their language of communication. “In case they set up their home in a neutral community where they both do not hail from, like Kampala where there is a mixed ethinicity, they may adapt a language spoken in the region like Luganda,” he says.

Alice Mwesigye, a book keeper with Aristoc Booklex, believes that in such a situation, it’s two way traffic. “The man learns the woman’s language and the woman also learns the man’s language. But in most cases, it begins with the man. If he really loves the woman, then he should go an extra mile and devise all possible means of making sure that the woman learns his language,” says Mwesigye. She suggests that relatives or friends who speak the languages of the respective couples can be instrumental in helping the other learn the language.

“However, discrimination and segregation should be avoided if the couple is to communicate easily. They should also buy language books that are written in different languages so that it’s easier for the couple to learn each other’s language easily since some of the books translate the local languages to English,” she says.

What the culture says
John De Coninck of Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda says culturally, it does not matter if a woman of another clan or tribe marries a man from a different clan or tribe. As long as she bears children with a man not of her culture, she is eligible to become part of the man’s clan and has no choice but to interact with each other and take it in her stride as part of the experience to learn the husband’s language. He further says that the two parties should seek commonalities to compromise and negotiate for inclusion in everything done as family.

“Unlike universal cultural principles, the diversity of ethnic beliefs and practices are a potential source of language difference requiring a great commitment to be managed. Nevertheless, the boundaries of ethnic identity are made porous by intermarriage and to an extent, prolonged exposure and interaction often lead to assimilation or adoption/adaptation of some practices, creating a closer link with the other,” says Coninck.


For the following generation, while the patrilineal system assures the dominance of the father’s ethnicity, allegiance to the mother’s widens the circle of acceptance and adopting different forms of communication that illustrate the understanding of each of the partners.

From a religious perspective, Denis Sentongo, a supermarket attendant and pastor says such a couple should put more emphasis on Bible reading. “What God has put together, he does it with a purpose and reason.

With time, the language barrier difference is dealt away with if God is put first,” he says. He refers such a couple to the book of Genesis 2:22-24.