Kikuyu language

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Native toKenya
RegionCentral Province
Native speakers
6.6 million (2009 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-1ki
ISO 639-2kik
ISO 639-3kik
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CountryBũrũrĩ Wa Gĩkũyũ

Kikuyu or Gikuyu (Gikuyu: Gĩkũyũ [ɣēkōjó]) is a Bantu language spoken by the (Agĩkũyũ) of Kenya. Kikuyu is spoken in the area between Nyeri and Nairobi. 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 Kĩrĩnyaga, Mũrang'a, Nyeri and Kiambu. The Kikuyu from Kĩrĩnyaga 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, Baricho. Kagio 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 dialect is also prevalent in the rice growing area of Mwea.

The unmistakable tonal patterns of the Gichũgũ dialect (which sounds like Meru or 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 prenasalized consonants are often pronounced without prenasalization, and thus /ᵐb ⁿd ᶮdʒ ᵑɡ/ are often realized as [b d dʒ ɡ].


Kikuyu has two level tones (high and low), a low-high rising tone, and downstep.[3]


The canonical word order of Gĩkũyũ is SVO (subject–verb–object). It uses prepositions rather than postpositions, and adjectives follow nouns.[4]


Kikuyu is written in a Latin alphabet. It does not use the letters l f 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[5]

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

Sample phrases[edit]

English Gĩkũyũ
How are you Ũhoro waku or kũhana atĩa?
Give me water He maĩ
How are you doing? Ũrĩ mwega? or Wi 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/Tigwo na thaayũ
I love you Nĩngwendete.
Come here Ũka haha
I will phone you Nĩngũkũhũrĩra thimũ
I give thanks Nĩndacokia ngatho
Am blessed Ndĩmũrathime
Give me money He mbeca
Stop nonsense Tiga wana
Don't laugh Tiga Gűtheka
You are learned Wi műthomű
Thank you Ni ngatho


There is notable literature written in the Kikuyu language. For instance, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Mũrogi wa Kagogo (Wizard of the Crow) is the longest known book written in Kikuyu. Other authors writing in Kikuyu are 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 Mutahi also sometimes wrote in Kikuyu.

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1983 movie Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, the character Nien Nunb speaks in the Kikuyu language.[6]


  1. ^ Kikuyu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Feldmann, Compiled From Wire Service Dispatches With Analysis From Monitor Correspondents Around The World,Edited By Linda (28 July 1983). "In Kenya, audiences roar at language in 'Jedi' film". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 24 June 2017.


  • 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]