Languages of Kenya

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Languages of Kenya
Official languages Swahili
Main languages Swahili (Lingua Franca)
Regional languages Kalenjin, Kamba, [Somali language
Sign languages Kenyan Sign Language
Common keyboard layouts
KB United States-NoAltGr.svg

Kenya is a multilingual country. The Bantu Swahili language and English, the latter of which was inherited from colonial rule (see British Kenya), are widely spoken as lingua franca. They serve as the two official working languages.


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).

Most languages spoken locally 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 Afroasiatic family, with the Hindustani and British residents speaking languages from the Indo-European family.[1]

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. English is widely spoken in commerce, schooling and government.[2] Peri-urban and rural dwellers are less multilingual, with many in rural areas speaking only their native languages.[3]

Language families

Major languages

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

SIL Ethnologue (2009) reports the largest communities of native speakers in Kenya as follows:

Minor languages

Languages spoken by the country's ethnic minorities include:


  1. Ethnologue - Languages of Kenya
  2. Proquest Info & Learning (COR) (2009). Culturegrams: World Edition. Proquest/Csa Journal Div. p. 98. ISBN 0977809161.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. E. K. Brown, R. E. Asher, J. M. Y. Simpson (2006). Encyclopedia of language & linguistics, Volume 1, Edition 2. Elsevier. p. 181. ISBN 0080442994.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


External links