It is no secret that technology is the 21st century has resulted in mass globalization for many western countries offering education, ideology and socialization. Considering its affordability, in 2010 Janet McIntosh wrote the article Mobile phones and Mipoho’s prophecy where she conducted ethnographic fieldwork in the town of Malindi, Kenya where she analyzes the sociolinguistics in the society when cell phones were introduced. McIntosh’s research has contributed to anthropology and economic development by exhibiting how cell phones globalized Kenyan culture for the better and for the worse through education of languages and creating better circumstances for those in need.
According to prophetess Mipoho, an elder of Malindi, foreign white people would come bringing traveling machines and craft that soared through the sky and would result in the youth disregarding traditions and losing respect for their elders (McIntosh 339). Not soon after, mobile phones were given to indigenous people from the small town in Kenya where the citizens had little to no possessions of their own. Also known as flying language, the phones created a fantasy world for the residents where time space compression is possible, short term jobs become instantly available, they can get medical assistance sooner and radically change social coordination for people generally aged 40 and under (McIntosh 341). Giriama peoples felt almost unworthy of such a privilege. This article introduces how language is used amongst residents and how it is used contextually in text messages. Thanks to the many unnamed, informed consented participants, McIntosh could produce an anthropological article concerning the language used in texting and how they use it.
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In Malindi, there is a language continuum. Their first tongue Kigiriama, which is the default for ordinary conversations, then Kiswahili, the national language for Kenya, Sheng which is a mix between English, Spanish and other urban languages and English (McIntosh 339-340). They use these dialects in different manners and code switch between all of them. “‘We use this double language to show we are in the system, the system of being in the technological world'” (McIntosh 343). Language is knowledge to the Giriama people. The cultural norms of the people were shifted from this new technology. It allowed for instant gratification and planning rather than taking weeks to put together a gathering (McIntosh 341). That is a huge cultural change in their society. In relation to sociolinguistics, the Giriama people take these languages and put them into different contexts. When the residents use English, it can be used as a form of youthfulness and flirtation. When they use Kiswahili and Kigiriama without code switching, it is generally face to face interactions with respect (McIntosh 339). As we can see the sociolinguistics is vibrant in this community.
There is also, however a further point to be considered. There have been many opportunities given to the people of Malindi that creates enculturation and globalization of Western cultures. The people in Kenya have been yearning to find ways into the global flow (McIntosh 339). Offering cell phones creates opportunities they would not have had before, having more accessibility to the modernized world. However, these opportunities are not all moral and good. With access to internet cafes, young Kenyans are becoming influenced by the sexual modernity of the West. With that knowledge, McIntosh discovered English is used as a sexual and flirtatious method of communication in this culture (McIntosh 345). This enculturation of the West is not a positive one in this aspect. As one resident states, “Well, you see, this is the power of love. When a lady communicates to you in English she tries to add value to herself” (McIntosh 343). It is in positive regards when trying to find a romantic partner, integrating English can make one sound sophisticated help one find a righteous partner. However, numerous young women are using English to try to entice vacationers who bring dreams of infinite wealth to come to form a romantic bond so that they can be taken to the salvation of the West for travel and opportunity (McIntosh 340). McIntosh makes it a point that this is an unfortunate flaw to globalization in Kenya making this a new cultural norm in the Malindi society.
McIntosh could conduct her results using qualitative data. She conducted various interviews with locals and was able to obtain dozens of messages between the residents from friends, to spouses, to formal messages between youth and elders. Her key informants gave great insight into their perceptions of texting which proves that McIntosh was proficient in creating an emic perspective showing the reader how the local people think and understand the world (Guest, 80). This data is important to cultural anthropology because the holistic approach demonstrated how one culture incorporates other cultures around them through the use of language.
Furthermore, there were limits to this study. In pertaining to the benefits of the use of cell phones, one limit was the resistance of the elders in the community. As stated in the article, “the poetic patterns pf text messaging are constructed as a special breed of witchery” (2010 McIntosh 337). So it cannot be claimed that the whole society is open to enculturation. It also does not bring awareness or solution to the poverty in Kenya. “access to mobile phones for instance, does not necessarily counteract inequality or alleviate poverty” (2010 McIntosh 337). The main focus of this article was clearly to address how Giriama text messages and rapid code switching. However, there was a lot that was useful from a cultural anthropological perspective. It proved that the indigenous people of Kenya are more than capable of enculturation.
McIntosh’s ethnographic research has demonstrated itself as exceptionally valuable for society and in relation to teaching cultural anthropology. The point of the technology was never to abandon the old ways of life but to bring modernization into the light of this rural society. It has been learned that cell phones create a great sense of time space compression, create a larger language continuum and that globalization has been achieved by the expansion of Western culture into Kenya from the accessibility from cell phones.
- Guest, Kenneth J. Essentials of Cultural Anthropology: a Toolkit for a Global Age. W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.
- Mcintosh, Janet. “Mobile Phones and Mipoho’s Prophecy: The Powers and Dangers of Flying Language.” American Ethnologist, vol. 37, no. 2, 2010, pp. 337–353., doi:10.1111/j.1548-1425.2010.01259.x.