International Mother Language Day (21/02/2018)

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The online free dictionary defines mother language as first language - one's native language; the language learned by children and passed from one generation to the next. (find more information on : The significance of these languages can’t be ignored because mother tongue creates an individual personal, social and cultural identity and it brings about the reflection and learning of successful social patterns of acting and speaking.

According to Ethnologue, there are a total of 69 languages spoken in Kenya. Most belong to two broad language families: Niger-Congo (Bantu branch) and Nilo-Saharan (Nilotic branch), spoken by the country's Bantu and Nilotic populations, respectively. The Cushitic and Arab ethnic minorities speak languages belonging to the separate Afro-Asiatic family, with the Indian and European residents speaking languages from the Indo-European family. So far we have 42 known, documented and recognized tribes in the country. And each tribe speaks it's own language. Luckily, the tribes can roughly be summed up into 4 language groups: Bantus, Cushites, Nilotes and Semites. The Bantu Group is the largest.
The languages in a particular group can be very similar and it is very common to find that two members of different tribes in the same group, very close to each other (linguistically) communicating with spectacular ease, with few difficulties

As we celebrate International Mother Language Day. Lets list down some Kenyan Indigenous languages that are believed to be extinct;

  1. Elm Molo - It was spoken by the El Molo people on the southeastern shore of Lake Turkana. It became extinct during the 20th century. Nevertheless, in 1994 a survey indicated that there were 50 Kenyans still speaking it
  2. Kinare - spoken around the eastern slope of the Rift Valley. In 1976 a few old men were found to be speaking it, who had apparently integrated with kikuyus.
  3. Kore -  these  were  a small people living on Lamu Island on the northern Kenya coast. In 1985 they were between 200 - 250 people (Curtin 1985). Their history before 1870 lies with the other Maa peoples in central Kenya
  4. Lorkoti - Lorkoti, a dialect of the Maa cluster (Nilotic) or part of the Nilo-Saharan. There exist a tribe referred to that name in the Leroghi Plateau, but speak a different Maa dialect
  5. Sogoo - known as Okiek, is also no longer in existence. I n 1970 there about 60 people speaking this language, but were assimilated by the Maasai community resulting in their extinction
  6. Yaaku - also known as Mukogodo

(Find more information on,,

Kenyan should ensure that all our mother languages do not get extinct because it forms a vital part of our society, it enables people to communicate and express themselves. When a language dies out, future generations lose a vital part of the culture that is necessary to completely understand it. There are several factors that could contribute to a language getting extinct;

  1. When a language is no longer being taught to the children of the community, or at least to a large number of the children. Usually the remaining fluent speakers of the language are the older members of the community, and when they pass on, the language dies out with them.
  2. Relocated of children to another area where it is not spoken
  3. In some cases  when a country or territory is successfully invaded, the population may be forced to learn the invader's language
  4. A language can also become associated with a lower social class. In this instance, parents will encourage their children to use the language used more often in society to distance themselves from the perceived lower class. Within one or two generations of this occurrence, the language can easily be lost.
  5. Genocide of people speaking the language
  6. Forbidding people from speaking their mother tongue
  7. Urbanization – movement of people from rural to urban areas create a mixed society, people meet and speak one unifying language like English.

As Kenyan we should all we can to preserve our mother tongues by;

  1. Encouraging our  younger generations to speak the language as they grow, so that they will then teach their children the language as well
  2. The internet can be used to raise awareness about the issues of language extinction and language preservation. It can be used to translate, catalog, store, and provide information and access to languages. New technologies such as podcasts can be used to preserve the spoken versions of languages, and written documents can preserve information about the native literature and linguistics of languages.
  3. Using written documents to preserve information about the native literature and linguistics
  4. Technology can also be used to preserve the integrity of spoken versions of languages e.g. reel-to-reel audio tape recordings, along with video recordings, and new technologies like podcasts to record spoken.(find more information on

It is our responsibilities to ensure that our mother tongue do not get extinct. Each parent and members of various Kenyan community should encourage our young generation to learn and communicate in these languages. Perhaps, it is also vital for us to document these languages by developing dictionaries and text that will preserve them. It is believed that in every 14 days one indigenous language in the world disappears. UNESCO lists five levels of language risks as;

  • Safe: Widely spoken
  • Vulnerable: Not spoken by children outside the home (600 languages)
  • Definitely endangered: Children not speaking (646 languages)
  • Severely endangered: Only spoken by oldest generations (527 languages)
  • Critically endangered: Spoken by only a few members of the oldest generation, often semi-speakers (577 languages)!