You must have heard some ‘strange’ expressions such as itsanana, boo, nyatwa, kuipatsa moto and mofaya.
Such words constitute what Malawians call Chibrazi, the urban contact vernacular language of Malawi.
Chibrazi consists of the prefix chi-, which means ‘the language of’ and the word brazi borrowed from the English word brothers.
However, the ‘language of brothers’ transcends not only the gender divide, but also ethnic, linguistic, educational, geographical, socioeconomic and religious lines.
As such, the more accurate meaning of Chibrazi could be the language of brotherhood or sisterhood.
Interestingly, the word brazi can be used to refer to females as well instead of the default terms such as sista, sistes or thez.
Generally, Chibrazi is an emerging hybrid language that has evolved in urban Malawi among linguistically and ethnically diverse communities amid an exodus from rural areas and the country’s top-down language policy.
It is a language practice or speech style in which meaning is encoded by inserting vocabulary drawn from unique lexical items into the grammar of the ethnic languages of Malawi.
Chibrazi falls within new contact-induced language change, especially bilingual mixed language.
However, as Chibrazi is derived from numerous languages, it is more accurate to refer to it as a multilingual mixed language.
The languages from which Chibrazi borrows its elements are called source languages or donor languages while the foundation of its grammatical structure are referred to as its grammatical bases.
Chibrazi derives its vocabulary from foreign languages such as English, French, German, Portuguese, Chibemba, Chishona, Kiswahili and South African tongues.
English dominates Chibrazi mainly because it is the official language taught in Malawi’s school.
The other donor languages are brought into Chibrazi mainly through cross-border travel and interaction with people of other nationalities.
Chibrazi can be said to have different dialects on the basis of grammatical base.
For example, there is Chibrazi cha Chichewa; Chibrazi cha Chitonga; and Chibrazi cha Chitumbuka.
This indicates that while Chibrazi can be described as an emerging mixed language, it is essentially a body of terms ‘floated’ across traditional languages of Malawi.
This also demonstrates that it is only the vocabulary that makes Chibrazi different from other Malawian languages. That is to say that Chibrazi essentially thrives on borrowing or taking linguistic elements such as words or expressions from existing languages, both foreign and local.
However, there are indications that over time, Chibrazi might develop a grammatical structure of its own.
The borrowed linguistic elements undergo numerous processes before being embedded into Chibrazi.
The conscious language manipulation processes reflect the provocative attitude of the speakers and their jocular or lighthearted disrespect of the norms and purity of the original languages.
The manipulation strategies often involve full words or just their parts, sound, grammar or meaning.
All the language manipulation processes involve some metaphorical perception: looking at one thing in terms of another.
Among its speakers, Chibrazi creates a powerful icon of identity established through the reversal of norms and developed from an underdog-type of identity to one aimed at reforming society.
The language is used to assert resistance against societal norms widely deemed old-fashioned and oppressive.
With time, Chibrazi is spreading and gaining popularity and currency through improved transport infrastructure, mass media, mobile phones, education, advertisement, popular music and politics.
In the next century, the linguistic landscape of Malawi will be different and Chibrazi may become the new normal.n