Society

What Languages Are Spoken In Kenya?

In the multilingual nation of Kenya, English and Swahili serve as the official languages of the country.

Kenya is an ethnically diverse country and is made up of about 40 main ethnic groups. This diverse ethnic composition makes the country a multilingual country with many different languages used within its borders. Of these languages, Swahili and English are the two official languages as recognized by law. There are other major regional languages in the country with two of the most widely spoken being Kikuyu and Luhya languages.

Official Languages Of Kenya

Swahili

Swahili is one of the major languages used in Kenya. The language is also recognized by law as the official language in the country. The Swahili language is also used as the lingua franca by most people in the country. Swahili is also recognized as the official language in the African Union and East African Community; regional bodies of which Kenya is a member country. The language is used natively by the Swahili ethnic group who inhabit the coastal region of the country. Swahili is a Bantu language which is categorized under the Niger-Congo language family. The earliest documents written in Swahili were letters written in 1711 using the Arabic script. There are numerous dialects of Swahili language which exist along the Kenyan coast including Kivumba (native to the southern coast), Mambrui (native to Malindi), and Kimvita (native to Mombasa). The Swahili language is incorporated into the Kenyan education system and is a mandatory subject taught up to high school level of education. The use of Swahili in Kenya is regulated by the “Chama cha Kiswahili cha Taifa,” a government body based in Nairobi.

English

English is the other language which is recognized by law as the official language in Kenya. English was introduced in the country after Kenya became a British colony in the 19th century. English is the primary language used in formal conversations in the country and is also the language used in the drafting of legal documents and during court proceedings. English has few native speakers in the country, most of whom are expatriates from England or the United States. However, the language is used as the lingua franca by millions of Kenyans most of whom reside in the country’s urban regions. English is also one of the main languages used in both print and electronic media. The Kenyan education system is primarily based on English with the language being used as the language of instruction in all the main subjects except Swahili.

Major Regional Languages Of Kenya

Kikuyu

Kikuyu is one of the major regional languages in the country. The language is the native language among members of the Agikuyu ethnic group who reside in the central region of the country. There are an estimated 7 million native Kikuyu speakers in Kenya who account for 22% of the country’s population. Like Swahili, Kikuyu is also categorized as a Bantu language under the Niger-Congo language group. The language is made up of four geographically-defined dialects which are the Kirinyaga dialect, the Kiambu dialect, the Murang’a dialect, and the Nyeri dialect.

Luhya

Luhya is another major regional language spoken in Kenya. Luhya language is native to the Luhya ethnic group whose members are predominantly found in the western region of the country. The total number of native Luhya speakers in Kenya is estimated to be 1.2 million people. There are six main dialects which make up the Luhya language, and these are Hanga, East Nyala, Marama, Kabras, Tsotso, and Kisa.

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