If Kentai Can Tie a Tie


Interviewer: “Do you know any Kenyan riddles or jokes?”

Informant: “I don’t know about jokes, but there is this one tongue twister my parents learned in Kenya.”

Interviewer: “That’s perfect, let’s hear it.”

Informant: “Okay.. haha. They learned this in primary school in Kenya I think, from their instructors. Here it is: If Kentai can tie a tie, then why can’t I tie a tie as Kentai can tie a tie?”


The informant learned this tongue twister from his parents, who learned it in school in Kenya. He is unsure that it has any significance beyond the play on words between “can tie” and “Kentai,” which sound especially similar with a Swahili accent.


This conversation occurred when the informant and I were speaking about the class’ readings on the Maasai tribes since he is from Kenya. He mentioned he might know some Kenyan or Maasai folklore since he grew up under Kenyan parents and has visited the country before. At this point I started recording and asking him probing questions.


I thought this example was particularly interesting because the informant’s parents learned this tongue twister in primary school. I personally cannot remember being taught a tongue twister during any of my schooling years, except for maybe encountering one from a fellow student during recess. Also interesting is the fact that the informant’s parents learned an English tongue twister in Kenyan school. Perhaps tongue twisters such as these were employed in English classes in Kenya to familiarize students with speaking in English in a potentially fun way. Because there is far less emphasis in US education on learning a new language, especially in elementary school, we are not as familiar with the same strategies.