Kikuyu language

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Pronunciation [ɣēkōjó]
Native to Kenya
Region Central Province
Ethnicity Agĩkũyũ
Native speakers
6.6 million (2009 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ki
ISO 639-2 kik
ISO 639-3 kik
Glottolog kiku1240[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.




Kikuyu or Gikuyu (Kikuyu: Gĩkũyũ [ɣēkōjó]) is a language of the Bantu family spoken primarily by the Kikuyu people (Agĩkũyũ) of Kenya. Numbering about 6 million (22% of Kenya's population),[4] they are the largest ethnic group in Kenya. Kikuyu is spoken in the area between Nyeri and Nairobi. Kikuyu is one of the five languages of the Thagichu subgroup of the Bantu languages, which stretches from Kenya to Tanzania. The Kikuyu people usually identify their lands by the surrounding mountain ranges in Central Kenya which they call Kĩrĩnyaga.


Kikuyu has four main mutually intelligible dialects. The Central Province districts are divided along the traditional boundaries of these dialects, which are Kîrînyaga, Mûrang'a, Nyeri and Kiambu. The Kikuyu from Kîrînyaga are composed of two main sub-dialects – the Ndia and Gichugu who speak the dialects Kĩndia and Gĩgĩcũgũ. The Gicugus and the Ndias do not have the "ch" or "sh" sound, and will use the "s" sound instead, hence the pronunciation of "Gĩcũgũ" as opposed to "Gĩchũgũ". To hear Ndia being spoken, one needs to be in Kerugoya, the largest town in Kîrînyaga. Other home towns for the Ndia, where purer forms of the dialect are spoken, are located in the tea-growing areas of Kagumo, and the cool Kangaita hills. Lower down the slopes is Kutus, which is a bustling dusty town with so many influences from the other dialects that it is difficult to distinguish between them.

The unmistakable sing-song Gichugu dialect (which sounds like Embu, a sister language to Kikuyu) can be heard in the coffee growing areas of Kianyaga, Gĩthũre, Kathũngũri, Marigiti. The Gichugu switch easily to other Kikuyu dialects in conversation with the rest of the Kikuyu.


Symbols shown in parentheses are those used in the orthography.


Front Central Back
High i u
Mid-high e (ĩ) o (ũ)
Mid-low ɛ (e) ɔ (o)
Low a


Bilabial Dental/
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive Voiceless t (t) k (k)
Voiced prenasalised ᵐb (mb) ⁿd (nd) ᵑɡ (ng)
Affricate ᶮdʒ (nj)
Nasal m (m) n (n) ɲ (ny) ŋ (ng')
Fricative Voiceless ʃ (c) h (h)
Voiced β (b) ð (th) ɣ (g)
Liquid ɾ (r)
Approximant j (y) w (w)

The nasal sounds indicated by the raised letters are often not pronounced, so that /ⁿd/ is heard as [d], etc.


Kikuyu has two level tones (high and low), a low-high rising tone, and downstep.[5]


The canonical word order of Gĩkũyũ is SVO (subject–verb–object). It uses prepositions rather than postpostions, and adjectives follow nouns.[6]


Kikuyu is written in a Latin alphabet. It does not use the letters f l p q s v x z, and adds the letters ĩ and ũ. The Kikuyu alphabet is:

a b c d e g h i ĩ j k m n o r t u ũ w y[7]

Some sounds are represented by digraphs such as ng for the velar nasal /ŋ/.

Sample phrases[edit]

English Gĩkũyũ
How are you Ũhoro waku
Give me water He maĩ
How are you doing? Ûrĩ mwega?
I am hungry Ndĩ mũhũtu
Help me Ndeithia
I am good Ndĩ mwega
Are you a friend? Wĩ mũrata?
Bye, be blessed Tigwo na wega.
I love you Nĩngwendete.
Come here Ũka haha
I will phone you Nĩngũkũhũrĩra thimû


There is a notable literature written in the Kikuyu language. For instance, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Mũrogi wa Kagogo (Wizard of the Crow) is the longest book written in a sub-Saharan African language. Other authors writing in Kikuyu are Mwangi wa Mũtahi, Gatua wa Mbũgwa and Waithĩra wa Mbuthia. Mbuthia has published various works in different genres—essays, poetry, children stories and translations—in Kikuyu. The late Wahome Mũtahi also sometimes wrote in Kikuyu.


  1. ^ Kikuyu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kikuyu". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ CIA Factbook [1] retrieved on 16 October 2007
  5. ^ Kevin C. Ford, 1975. "The tones of nouns in Kikuyu," Studies in African Linguistics 6, 49–64; G.N. Clements & Kevin C. Ford, 1979, "Kikuyu Tone Shift and its Synchronic Consequences", Linguistic Inquiry 10.2, 179–210.
  6. ^
  7. ^ [2]


  • Armstrong, Lilias E. 1967. The Phonetic and Tonal Structure of Kikuyu. London: Published for the International African Institute by Dawsons of Pall Mall.
  • Barlow, A. Ruffell and T.G. Benson. 1975. English-Kikuyu Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Barlow, A. Ruffell. 1951. Studies in Kikuyu Grammar and Idiom. Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons,
  • Benson, T.G. 1964. Kikuyu–English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Gecaga B.M. and Kirkaldy-Willis W.H. 1953. English–Kikuyu, Kikuyu–English Vocabulary. Nairobi: The Eagle Press.
  • Leakey L.S.B. 1989. First Lessons in Kikuyu. Nairobi: Kenya Literature Bureau.
  • Mugane John 1997. A Paradigmatic Grammar of Gikuyu. Stanford, California: CSLI publications.

External links[edit]