Maa languages

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Kenya and northern Tanzania
Linguistic classificationNilo-Saharan?

The Maa languages are a group of closely related Eastern Nilotic languages (or from a linguistic perspective, dialects, as they appear to be mutually intelligible) spoken in parts of Kenya and Tanzania by more than a million speakers. They are subdivided into North and South Maa. The Maa languages are related to the Lotuko languages spoken in South Sudan.


In the past, several peoples have abandoned their languages in favor of a Maa language, usually following a period of intensive cultural and economic contact. Among peoples that have assimilated to Maa peoples are the Aasáx (Asa) and the El Molo, former hunter-gatherers who spoke Cushitic languages, and the Mukogodo-Maasai (Yaaku), former bee-keepers and hunter-gatherers (Eastern Cushitic). The Okiek of northern Tanzania, speakers of a Southern Nilotic Kalenjin tongue, are under heavy influence from Maasai.


A Maa dialect is also spoken by the Baraguyu people of Central Tanzania, in an area known as the Makata Swamp near Morogoro, TZ. Another Kenyan Maa variety once existed, Kore. After being defeated by the Purko Maasai in the 1870s, the Kore fled to north-eastern Kenya where they were taken captive by Somali people. After functioning for years as clients or slaves in Somali households, they were set free by British imperial forces around the end of the 19th century. They have lost their own language and speak Somali. Loss of cattle brought them to Lamu island in the second half of the 20th century, where they live nowadays.


Proto-Ongamo-Maa has been reconstructed by Vossen & Rottland (1989).[2]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ongamo–Maa". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Vossen, Rainer and Franz Rottland. 1989. The historical reconstruction of Proto-Ongamo-Maa: phonology and vocabulary. In Bender, M. L. (ed.), Topics in Nilo-Saharan linguistics, 181-217. Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag.
  • Heine, Bernd & Vossen, Rainer (1980) 'The Kore of Lamu: A contribution to Maa dialectology', Afrika und übersee, 62, 272–288.
  • Vossen, Rainer (1982) The Eastern Nilotes: Linguistic and Historical Reconstructions. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag. ISBN 3-496-00698-6.
  • Vossen, Rainer (1988) Towards a comparative study of the Maa dialects of Kenya and Tanzania (Nilo-Saharan 2.) Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag.
  • Sommer, Gabriele (1992) 'A survey on language death in Africa', in Brenzinger, Matthias (ed.) Language Death: Factual and Theoretical Explorations with Special Reference to East Africa. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 301–417.

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