Gikuyu language

Gikuyu language

Infobox Language
name=Gikuyu, Kikuyu
region=Central Province
speakers=about 5,347,000 (1994 I. Larsen BTL) [ Accessed 2007/07/09] .
fam7=Narrow Bantu
fam8=Zone E

Gikuyu (sometimes written Kikuyu), pronounced "gĩkũyũ" [ɣēkōjó] , is a language in the Central Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo family spoken primarily by the Kikuyu people of Kenya. Numbering about 6 million (22% of Kenya's population) [CIA Factbook [] retrieved on October 16 2007] , they are the largest ethnic group in Kenya. Gikuyu is spoken in the area between Nyeri and Nairobi. Gikuyu is one of the five languages of the Thagichu subgroup of the Bantu languages, which stretches from Kenya to Tanzania. The Gikuyu people usually identify their lands by the surrounding mountain ranges in Central Kenya which they call "Kirinyaga".

Gikuyu has four main mutually intelligible dialects. The Central Province districts are divided along the traditional boundaries of these dialects, which are Kirinyaga, Muranga [Maragua] , Nyeri and Kiambu. The Gikuyu from Kirinyaga are composed of two main sub-dialects - the Ndia and Gichũgũ who speak the dialect Kĩ-Ndia and Gĩ-gĩcũgũ. The Gĩcũgũs and the Ndias do not have the "ch" or "sh" sound, and will use the "s" sound instead, hence the pronunciation of "Gĩcũgũ" as opposed "Gĩchũgũ". To hear Ndia being spoken, one needs to be in Kerugoya the largest town in Kirinyaga. Other home towns for the Ndia, where purer forms of the dialect are spoken will be in the tea growing areas of Kagumo, and the cool Kangaita hills. Lower down the slopes is Kutus, which is a bustling dusty town with too many influences from the other dialects to be able to differentiate.

The unmistakable sing-song Gichugu dialect (which sounds like Embu, a sister language to Gikuyu) can be heard in the coffee growing areas of Kĩanyaga, Gĩthũre, Kathũngũri, Marigiti. The Gichugu switch easily to the other plainer Kikuyu dialects in conversation with the rest of the Gikuyu.

The Mwea division, which is part of the Kirinyaga District, is an amalgam of Gikuyu, mostly from Kirinyaga, settled in the mid to late 1960s, soon after independence, by displaced Gikuyu whose lands had been taken by the colonialists.


Symbols shown in parentheses are those used in the orthography.



The nasal sounds indicated by the raised letters are often not pronounced, so that nd is heard as [d] , etc.


Gikuyu has two level tones (high and low), a low-high rising tone, and downstep. [Kevin C. Ford, 1975. "The tones of nouns in Kikuyu," "Studies in African Linguistics" 6, 49-64; G.N. Clements & Kevin C. Ford, 1979, "Kikuyu Tone Shift and its Synchronic Consequences", "Linguistic Inquiry" 10.2, 179-210. ]

Written Gikuyu


Gikuyu is written with a modified Latin alphabet. Compared with English:
*It does not use the following letters: f l p q s v x z
*It denotes seven vowel sounds with an i-tilde and u-tilde in addition to a e i o u

The alphabet letters then are:a b c d e g h i ĩ j k m n o r t u ũ w y

Some sounds are represented by digraph combinations such as ng for the velar n (IPA|ŋ).


There is a notable literature written in the Gikuyu language. For instance, author and professor Ngugi wa Thiong'o's "Mũrogi wa Kagogo" ("Wizard of the Crow") is the longest book written in a sub-Saharan African language. Other authors writing in Gikuyu include Mwangi wa Mutahi and Gatua wa Mbugwa.



*Armstrong, Lilias E. 1967. The Phonetic and Tonal Structure of Kikuyu. London: Published for the International African Institute by Dawsons of Pall Mall.
*Barlow, A. Ruffell and T.G. Benson. 1975. English-Kikuyu Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
*Barlow, A. Ruffell. 1951. Studies in Kikuyu Grammar and Idiom. Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons,
*Benson, T.G. 1964. Kikuyu-English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
*Gecaga B.M. and Kirkaldy-Willis W.H. 1953. English-Kikuyu, Kikuyu-English Vocabulary. Nairobi: The Eagle Press.
*Leakey L.S.B. 1989. First Lessons in Kikuyu. Nairobi: Kenya Literature Bureau.
*Mugane John 1997. A Paradigmatic Grammar of Gikuyu. Stanford, California: CSLI publications.

External links

* [ Ethnologue entry]
* [ Gĩkũyũ in the Language Museum]
* []
* [ PanAfrican L10n page on Gikuyu]
* [ Gikuyu blog]

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