How can a language with 7 million speakers be endangered?

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The stable trilingualism characteristic of older Kenyans is not shared by many young Kenyans. The shift away from Kenyan indigenous languages is affecting even large languages such as Gĩkũyũ. Where other scholars have been dismissive, claiming there is no threat to Gĩkũyũ, Jane Hill has strongly supported this research and has noted that the case of Gĩkũyũ shows the prescience of Krauss’s (1992) point that the only safe languages are those that have institutional support. Using Lieberson and McCabe’s (1982) domains of use in an analysis of Kenyan language ideologies in the discourses of nationalism, education, and development, I show how constellations of language repertoires that exclude indigenous languages have contributed to the striking shift to bilingualism among young Kenyans. Keywords: indigenous languages; language endangerment; languages of Kenya


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