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.


Languages of Kenya

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 Afro-Asiatic family, with the Hindustani and British residents speaking languages from the Indo-European family.

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. Peri-urban and rural dwellers are less multilingual, with many in rural areas speaking only their native languages.

Language families

Major languages

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

  • Niger-Congo
    • Bantu
      • Kikuyu 7.18 million
      • Kamba 3.96 million
      • Ekegusii 2.12 million (2006)
      • Kimîîru 1.74 million
      • Oluluhyia ?
      • Kamba
      • Kipokomo
      • Kigiryama 0.62 million (1994)
      • Kiembu 0.43 million (1994)
  • Nilo-Saharan
    • Nilotic
      • Dholuo 4.27 million
      • Kalenjin > 1.6 million
      • Maasai 0.59 million
      • Turkana 0.45 million (2009)

Minor languages

Languages spoken by the country's ethnic minorities include:

  • Afro-Asiatic
    • Cushitic
      • Oromo
      • Rendille
      • Somali
    • Semitic
      • Arabic
  • Indo-European
    • Indo-Iranian
      • Hindustani
    • Germanic
      • English


Languages of Kenya


  • Ethnologue page for Kenya

External links

Languages of Kenya
  • Ethnologue page for Kenya
  • National Public Radio story about Kisii language from All Things Considered program, April 29, 2006
  • PanAfriL10n page on Kenya

Languages of Kenya

Post a Comment