Semantic Shift in the Kenyan Prison Argot
Communication and Linguistics Studies
Volume 5, Issue 1, March 2019, Pages: 23-29
Received: Mar. 29, 2019; Accepted: May 15, 2019; Published: Jun. 13, 2019
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Ogutu Peter Okoth, Department of Kiswahili and Other African Languages, Maseno University, Maseno, Kenya
Oluoch Stephen, Department of Language, Literature and Linguistics, Kisii University, Kisii, Kenya
Opande Nilson Isaac, Department of Language, Literature and Linguistics, Kisii University, Kisii, Kenya
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Prison argot is a language variety with great creativity manifested in its semantic richness. This variety of language has received the attention of many scholars in the western countries in different periods of time. Despite prison being a rich semantic vessel, prison lingo has not received the proper attention of linguists in Africa. The end result is that very few linguistic conclusions have been reached regarding this variety of language in Kenya. The main aim of this paper is to examine the semantic shift in the Kenyan prison argot based on the lexical pragmatic framework. The paper provides an overview of this subject matter by analyzing the various types of semantic shifts through definitions and example of the argot terms affected. The processes involved in the case of semantic change include lexical narrowing and lexical broadening with some of its varieties namely; metaphoric extensions and hyperbole. The study was carried out at Kibos and Kisumu maximum-security prisons in Kisumu County, Kenya. Forty respondents were selected to participate in the study. In lexical broadening, standard Swahili words were found to have been given additional meaning in the prison context. In lexical narrowing, the semantic meaning of some Swahili words were found to have been narrowed. The paper established that the inmates change the meaning of words in the prisons so as to hide secretes from the prisons officers.
Semantic Shift, Semantic Change, Lexical Narrowing, Lexical Broadening, Metaphoric Extension, Hyperbole
To cite this article
Ogutu Peter Okoth, Oluoch Stephen, Opande Nilson Isaac, Semantic Shift in the Kenyan Prison Argot, Communication and Linguistics Studies. Vol. 5, No. 1, 2019, pp. 23-29. doi: 10.11648/j.cls.20190501.15
Copyright © 2019 Authors retain the copyright of this article.
This article is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License ( which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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