Languages of Kenya

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Languages of Kenya
Nairobi - Wikipedia Zero - 258A9673.jpg
English shop sign in Nairobi
OfficialEnglish and Swahili[1]
MainSwahili (lingua franca)
IndigenousBajuni, Digo, Embu, Gusii, Idaxo-Isuxa-Tiriki, Ilwana, Kamba, Khayo, Kikuyu, Kuria, Logoli, Luhya, Marachi, Mijikenda, Meru, Nyole, Pokomo, Samia, Suba, Taita, West Nyala, Aweer, Burji, Daasanach, Dahalo, El Molo, Orma, Oromo, Rendille, Somali, Southern Oromo, Waata, Yaaku, Kipsigis, Luo, Maasai, Naandi, Ogiek, Omotik, Pökoot, Samburu, Tugen, Turkana
SignedKenyan Sign Language
Keyboard layout

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


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).

Languages spoken locally belong to three broad language families: Niger-Congo (Bantu branch) and Nilo-Saharan (Nilotic branch), spoken by the country's Bantu, Nilotic populations and the Cushitic, Afroasiatic language family respectively. The Arab ethnic minority 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.

British English is primarily used in Kenya. Additionally, a distinct local dialect, Kenyan English, is used by some communities and individuals in the country, and contains features unique to it that were derived from local Bantu languages such as Kiswahili and Kikuyu.[4] It has been developing since colonisation and also contains certain elements of American English. English is widely spoken in commerce, schooling and government.[5] Peri-urban and rural dwellers are less multilingual, with many in rural areas speaking only their native languages.[6]

Language families[edit]

Major languages[edit]

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

The 2019 census reports the largest communities of native speakers in Kenya as follows:

Minor languages[edit]

Languages spoken by the country's ethnic minorities include:


  1. ^ "The Constitution of Kenya" (PDF). Kenya Law Reports. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
  2. ^ "Kenya - Languages | Ethnologue".
  3. ^ Ethnologue - Languages of Kenya
  4. ^ Nyaggah, Lynette Behm. "Cross-linguistic influence in Kenyan English: The impact of Swahili and Kikuyu on syntax". University of California. Archived from the original on 26 December 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  5. ^ Proquest Info & Learning (COR) (2009). Culturegrams: World Edition. p. 98. ISBN 978-0977809165.
  6. ^ E. K. Brown, R. E. Asher, J. M. Y. Simpson (2006). Encyclopedia of language & linguistics, Volume 1, Edition 2. Elsevier. p. 181. ISBN 0080442994.
  7. ^ "Languages of Kenya". Ethnologue.
  8. ^ “Orma”, Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  9. ^ “Rendille”, Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)

External links[edit]