Languages of Kenya

Kenya is a multilingual country. The Bantu Swahili language and English, the latter being inherited from colonial rule (see British Kenya), are widely spoken as lingua franca. They serve as the two official working languages. Including second-language speakers, there are more speakers of Swahili than English in Kenya.[2]

Languages of Kenyan
OfficialEnglish and Swahili[1]
MainSwahili (lingua franca)
RegionalKikuyu, Luhya, Luo
SignedKenyan Sign Language
Keyboard layout


Page from the Kikuyu publication Muigwithania (1929).

According to Ethnologue, there are a total of 68 languages spoken in Kenya. This variety is a reflection of the country's diverse population that includes most major ethnoracial and linguistic groups found in Africa (see Languages of Africa).

Most languages spoken locally belong to two broad language families: Niger-Congo (Bantu branch) and Nilo-Saharan (Nilotic branch), spoken by the country's Bantu and Nilotic populations, respectively. The Cushitic and Arab ethnic minorities speak languages belonging to the separate Afroasiatic family, with the Hindustani and British residents speaking languages from the Indo-European family.[3]

Kenya's various ethnic groups typically speak their mother tongues within their own communities. The two official languages, English and Swahili, are used in varying degrees of fluency for communication with other populations. English is widely spoken in commerce, schooling and government.[4] Peri-urban and rural dwellers are less multilingual, with many in rural areas speaking only their native languages.[5]

Language families

Major languages

Lord's Prayer in Swahili, a Bantu language that alongside English serves as a lingua franca for many in Kenya.

SIL Ethnologue (2009) reports the largest communities of native speakers in Kenya as follows:

Minor languages

Languages spoken by the country's ethnic minorities include:


  1. ^ "The Constitution of Kenya" (PDF). Kenya Law Reports. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Ethnologue - Languages of Kenya
  4. ^ Proquest Info & Learning (COR) (2009). Culturegrams: World Edition. Proquest/Csa Journal Div. p. 98. ISBN 0977809161.
  5. ^ E. K. Brown, R. E. Asher, J. M. Y. Simpson (2006). Encyclopedia of language & linguistics, Volume 1, Edition 2. Elsevier. p. 181. ISBN 0080442994.

may may spoken elwak habasweine and mandera


External links

Burji language

Burji language (alternate names: Bembala, Bambala, Daashi) is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken by the Burji people who reside in Ethiopia south of Lake Chamo. There are over 46,000 speakers in Ethiopia, and a further 10,400 speakers in Kenya. Burji belongs to the Highland East Cushitic group of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.The language has the SOV (subject–object–verb) word order common to the Cushitic family. The verb morphology distinguishes passive and middle grammatical voice, as well as causative. Verbal suffixes mark the person, number, and gender of the subject.

The New Testament was published in the Burji language in 1993. A collection of Burji proverbs, translated into English, French, and Swahili, is available on the Web.

Daasanach language

Daasanach (also known as Dasenech, Daasanech, Dathanaik, Dathanaic, Dathanik, Dhaasanac, Gheleba, Geleba, Geleb, Gelebinya, Gallab, Galuba, Gelab, Gelubba, Dama, Marille, Merile, Merille, Morille, Reshiat, Russia) is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken by the Daasanach in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Kenya whose homeland is along the Lower Omo River and on the shores of Lake Turkana.

Ilwana language

Distinguish the Ilwana dialect of Konongo.Ilwana (Kiwilwana), or Malakote, is a minor Bantu language of Kenya. Arends et al. state that it is a mixed language from c. 1650 of Bantu Ilwana and Cushitic Oromo.

Kenyan English

Kenyan English is a local dialect of the English language spoken by several communities and individuals in Kenya, and among some Kenyan expatriates in other countries. The dialect contains features unique to it that were derived from local Bantu languages, such as Swahili.

Kenyan Sign Language

Kenyan Sign Language (English: KSL, Swahili: LAK) is a sign language used by the deaf community in Kenya and Somalia. It is used by over half of Kenya's estimated 600,000 deaf population. There are some dialect differences between Kisumu (western Kenya), Mombasa (eastern Kenya) and Somalia. (See Somali Sign Language.)

Khayo language

Khayo (Xaayo) is a Bantu language spoken by the Luhya people of Kenya.

Logooli language

Logoli (Logooli) is a Bantu language with several hundred thousand speakers in Kenya and a few hundred speakers in Mara Region, Tanzania. It is spoken by the Maragoli, the second-largest Luhya tribe, but is not particularly close to other languages spoken by the Luhya.

Marachi language

Marachi is a Bantu language spoken by the Luhya people of Kenya.

Nilotic languages

The Nilotic languages are a group of Eastern Sudanic languages spoken across a wide area between South Sudan and Tanzania by the Nilotic peoples, who traditionally practice cattle-herding.

Nyole language (Kenya)

Nyole (also Olunyole, Lunyole, Lunyore, Nyoole, Nyore, Olunyore) is a Bantu language spoken by the Luhya people in Vihiga District, Kenya. There is 61% lexical similarity with a related but different Nyole dialect in Uganda.

The Nyore people border the Luo, Maragoli and Kisa Luhya tribes.

Omotik language

Omotik (Sawas) is a moribund Nilotic language of Kenya. It is spoken by the hunter-gatherer Omotik people of the Great Rift Valley among the Maasai; most of the Omotik population has shifted to the Maasai language.

Orma language

Orma is a variety of Oromo spoken by the Orma people in Kenya. It may be a dialect of Southern Oromo.

Pokomo language

Pokomo (Kipfokomo) is a Bantu language spoken primarily along the East African coast near Tana River in the Tana River District by the Pokomo people of Kenya. Kipfokomo language originated from "Kingozi" the language, which Kiswahili was built from. "Kingozi" language is the precursor of Kiswahili. Pokomos are the only tribe in the world that speak "Kingozi" and sometimes are referred to as wangozi because they used to wear skins (Ngozi). All adult speakers of Pokomo are bilingual in Swahili, East Africa's lingua franca.

There is high of lexical similarity between other languages like Mvita (63%), Amu (61%), Mrima (60%), Kigiryama (59%), Chidigo (58%) or Bajun (57%).

Samburu language

Samburu is a Maa language dialect spoken by Samburu pastoralists in northern Kenya. The Samburu number about 128,000 (or 147,000 including the Camus/Chamus). The Samburu dialect is closely related to Camus dialect (88% to 94% lexical similarity) and to the South Maasai dialects (77% to 89% lexical similarity). The word "Samburu" itself may derive from the Maa word saamburr for a leather bag the Samburu use.

Samia language

Samia (Saamia) is a Bantu language spoken by the Luhya people of Uganda and Kenya. Ethnologue includes Songa as a dialect, but it may be a separate language.

Taita language

Taita is a Bantu language spoken in the Taita Hills of Kenya. It is closely related to the Chaga languages of Kenya and Tanzania. The Saghala (Northern Sagala, Sagalla) variety is distinct enough to be considered a language separate from the Daw'ida and Kasigau dialects.Daw'ida and Saghala contain loanwords from two different South Cushitic languages, called Taita Cushitic, which are now extinct. It is likely that the Cushitic speakers were assimilated fairly recently, since lateral obstruents in the loanwords were still pronounced as such within living memory. However, those consonants have now been replaced by Bantu sounds.The Taveta language was mistaken for Daw'ida by Jouni Maho in his (2009) classification of Bantu languages. However, it's a distinct language, lexically and grammatically closest to Chasu (Pare).

Turkana language

Turkana is the language of the Turkana people of Kenya. It is spoken in northwestern Kenya, primarily in Turkana County, which lies west of Lake Turkana. It is one of the Eastern Nilotic languages, and is closely related to Karamojong, Jie and Teso of Uganda, to Toposa spoken in the extreme southeast of South Sudan, and to Nyangatom in the South Sudan/Ethiopia Omo valley borderland; these languages together form the cluster of Teso–Turkana languages.

The collective group name for these related peoples is Ateker.


The Waata (Waat, Watha), or Sanye, are an Oromo-speaking people of Kenya and former hunter-gatherers. They share the name Sanye with the neighboring Dahalo.

The current language of the Waata may be a dialect of Orma or otherwise Southern Oromo. However, there is evidence that they may have shifted from a Southern Cushitic language, a group that includes Dahalo.

Yaaku language

Yaaku (also known as Mukogodo, Mogogodo, Mukoquodo, Siegu, Yaakua, Ndorobo) is an endangered Afroasiatic language spoken in Kenya. It is Cushitic, but its position within that family is unclear. Speakers are all older adults.

Languages of Kenya
Official languages
Sign languages
Urban languages
Sovereign states
States with limited
Dependencies and
other territories

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