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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Jul 11, 2020

Dholuo in western Kenya has evolved an idiosyncratic use of double barrel in the last syllable of some words to create new words. In some cases, if you remove the doubled syllable then the new word is either different from the parent word or has no meaning at all in Dholuo. As much as the root is still found in Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eastern Congo and partly in Hebrew, Kenya Dholuo has been immensely enriched over time space of 1,000 years.

Take for example the word Adhiambo. This is the name given to a female child born in the afternoon, i.e. between 2.00 o’clock and sunset. However Adhiambo-Adhiamba is derision like saying “just” Adhiambo or a mere Adhiambo. In a sentence, “Adhiambo-Adhiamba is not faster than you” means “Adhiambo is not faster than you and can possibly not beat you”. Like Serena Williams would say of Sharapova “Sharapova-asharapova!” Or Alego girls would deride or Gem or Ugenya girls, “nyaGem-agema, nya Ugenya-agenya”.

Further still there is another application of double barrel in adhiambo- adhiambo (note the dropped “A” for “O”). Here the meaning is anything of mixed colours like psychedelic. Similar pattern is observed in aor-aor or osur-sur where the name Aor (Awuor) changes to a type of crawling insect. So the first word alone has a meaning different from the double barrelled word. In osur-sur, the first word “osur” alone has absolutely zero meaning in Dholuo. And Further still, Aor-Aor in kidology is a meteorite. How we have moved from a girls name to an insect to astrology is a long story.

In comparative usage of Dholuo double barrel there is now a variation as the main word generally stands alone to have the initial non comparative meaning. A peculiar and ridiculous difference from English comparative adjective is that in Dholuo, the comparative adjective lacks an advantage over the initial stand-alone adjective. The status of the equivalent ‘than’ here is ‘tending to’ and not better than; probably arising out of African socialism where one can have several mothers as opposed to one mother and several aunties. It is more in the tone of propounding diversity in a community or as aptly put in Dholuo, “kata lith lweto dhano opogore to rom”.

The table below is a key-hole peek of such Dholuo double barrelled idiosyncrasy.


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