Why do some people pronounce the name of this East African country with a long e vowel? I’ve always said it with a short e, and I think the short-e-Kenya people are in the majority.
In every word in the English language I can think of, the vowel e followed by two consonants is always short. Now, I know that the name of Kenya is not English, but English is the only language that prounounces long e with the sound of “ee” as in “green.” Every other language pronounces it either as e in bed or é in café. That’s why I can’t think of any reason for the pronunciation “Keenya” other than the way English speakers have of completely mucking up the pronunciation of foreign names. For example, “You-ganda” instead of Uganda.
What is the native African name Kenya is derived from and how is it pronounced?
I have never, ever, heard my namesake Jomo Kenyatta’s name pronounced as *Keenyatta. That would be just plain wrong. Kenyatta definitely has a short e.
I don’t have a definitive answer here, but I would like to contribute the following observation: I hear the long “e” pronunciation used primarily by news readers on the BBC (which, when I was driving, I could listen to late at night on a public radion station). It used to drive me nuts*, but I always supposed that since the Brits owned the language, theirs must be the proper pronunciation.
I learned to discard that assumption when I noticed how they all pronounce “junta” (i.e., “DJUNN-tah”).
*[sub] Pirate joke I’ve been dying to tell anyone for weeks: A pirate hobbles into a bar with a steering wheel sticking out of the fly of his pants. Bartender says: “Hey, didja know there’s a steering wheel sticking out of your fly?” The pirate says: “Arrr, it’s driving me nuts.”
Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.[/sub]
I liked ‘radion’. I do not have a definitive answer either but I have heard Kenyans refer to their country as Keenya. That is not correct in Jomo Kenyatta (jO’mO kenyä’tu) 's native tongue (he was Kikuyu), but there is certainly enough ethno- and linguistic diversity in the Kenya/Uganda region that ‘Keenya’ might be appropriate in another dialect (Bantu?).
The other possibilities are that my Kenyan speakers used the pronunciation they heard or were taught; were speaking in a regional accent, y’all, or were lazy with the pronunciation.
Webster’s New Collegiate, admittedly not the font of worldly knowledge, gives both pronunciations.
*To the ancient Kikuyu and Kamba tribe members viewing Mount Kenya from a distance, the rocks and glaciers that form the peaks, resembled the black and white plumage of a male ostrich.
The Kikuyu named the mountain “Kirinyaga” that means “the area of the ostrich”.
The Kamba people have a slightly different accent and pronounce Kirinyaga as “Kiinyaa”. As the Kambas were the first people the European explorers encountered, their version became the one used by and so became Mount Kenya. The country was later named after the mountain.*
The reason the pronunciation changed from ‘Keenya’ to ‘Kenya’ was because of Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya’s first independent President) who happened to have a similar name. As is typical of most leaders in that region, his vanity caused him to change the pronunciation as a tribute to himself.
I still pronounce it as ‘Keenya’, just as I still call it the Ivory Coast and not ‘La Cote d’Ivoire’, despite the official language of that particular country having changed from English to French. Equally, it will be a long time before I call Bombay, Mumbai and I very much doubt that I will ever refer to Munich as Munchen (Florence as Firenze etc etc.)
However, I can accept that some people feel it necessary to change the names of certain cities/countries in order to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and do not, for example, refer to Zimbabwe as Rhodesia. The fact that Kenyatta actually changed the pronunciation so that it was less like the indiginous pronunciation (as is pointed out by Tamerlane above) is thoroughly irksome.
I have been fortunate enough to have spent some time in Kenya and I have noticed both black and white Kenyans pronounce the country both ways.