Gikuyu - Gĩkũyũ

< Gbe | Major Languages | Gogo >
Categories: Languages, Kenya

1.  Classification / Classification

Gikuyu (technically Gĩkũyũ, but often also written Kikuyu or Kĩkũyũ) (Guthrie E51) belongs to the Kamba-Kikuyu subgroup of Bantu. (Webbook?, with modifications)

Ethnologue? lists the classification as: Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Narrow Bantu, Central, E, Kikuyu-Kamba (E.20)

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

It is spoken in an area extending from Nairobi to the southern and southwestern slopes of Mt. Kenya, in Kenya. (Webbook)

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

5,347,000 (1994 I. Larsen BTL) (Ethnologue)

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

Heine (1980) notes six mutually intelligible dialects. (Webbook)

According to Ethnologue:

  • Southern Gikuyu (Kiambu, Southern Murang'a)
  • Ndia (Southern Kirinyaga)
  • Gichugu (Northern Kirinyaga)
  • Mathira (Karatina)
  • Northern Gikuyu (Northern Murang'a, Nyeri)

Lexical similarity 73% with Embu, 70% with Chuka, 67% with Kamba, 63% with Meru. (Ethnologue)

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Gikuyu is an important regional language. It is broadcast on the Voice of Kenya. (Webbook)

There is a notable amount of literature published in Gikuyu by authors such as Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Mwangi wa Mutahi, Gatua wa Mbugwa. Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Mũrogi wa Kagogo (Wizard of the Crow in English) is said to be the longest book written (composed) in an African language.

There is also a Gikuyu language journal of arts and culutre called Mutiiri.

Literacy rate (according to Ethnologue, accessed 2007):

  • L1: 30% to 60%
  • L2: 75% to 100%

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

A standard orthography exists, using the standard Latin alphabet with a diacritic. Two vowels, /i/ and /u/, can be marked with a tilde above for tone.

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

According to information from the Gikuyu alphabet is:
a b c d e g h i ĩ j k m n o r t u ũ w y
The letter v is apparently used for one dialect. Six letters in the English alphabet, then are "not used" in Gikuyu: f l p q s z

Alphabet as reported by Hartell (1993) and presented in Systèmes alphabétiques:

Omniglot has a page at

Sample text in the "Language Museum"]

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

The vowels /i/ and /u/ with a tilde above are available as precomposed characters? in Unicode, in the Latin Extended A? range. Specifically, U+0168/U+0169 and U+0128/U+0129 are the codepoints for Ũ/ũ and Ĩ/ĩ (U/u and I/i with tilde above).

There exist several free and open-source Unicode fonts that contain these glyphs: Free Font and Gentium ( Some fonts in Windows systems also include these.

A special 8-bit font for Gikuyu was created by Gatua wa Mbugwa in 1999 at This is no longer available but in any event the character requirements are met by larger Unicode fonts with the two diacritical characters necessary.

7.2  Keyboard layouts / Dispositions de clavier

We are not aware of any. Since Gikuyu needs only two diacritical characters, a layout facilitating these should not be complicated. There are characters that are not used in Gikuyu, therefore, are ommited from such a keyboard layout.

7.3  Content on computers & internet / Contenu en informatique et sur l'Internet

Gikuyu (Gĩkũyũ) poetry journal project

Blogs in Gikuyu:

Wikipedia in Gikuyu at (371 articles as of 11-2015)

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

We are not aware of any localised software.

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue

  • ISO 639-1: ki
  • ISO 639-2: kik
  • ISO 639-3: kik

7.6  Other / Autre

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

Collaborated on the Diacritic Placement utility (see 8c):

  • Peter Waiganjo Wagacha, School of Computing and Informatics, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya, waiganjo(a)
  • Guy De Pauw, CNTS - Language Technology Group, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium, guy.depauw(a)
  • Pauline W. Githinji, School of Computing and Informatics, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya, pnishus(a)

Web content authors:

  • Gatua wa Mbugwa, University of Wyoming

8.2  Institutions / Institutions

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

Diacritic Placement for Gĩkũyũ - Demo of online utility (on the AfLaT site)

9.  Comments / Remarques

Gikuyu would seem to have significant language resources that could be applied to localisation projects and research.

Would it be possible for a localisation strategy to treat Gikuyu and the several languages that are closely related as a group? Namely Embu, Chuku, Kamba, Meru (per #4 above). This could mean one of several options in the case of software localisation and content translation:

  1. Developing localised versions of software that are recognisable by speakers of all these related languages. IOW terms would be generalised to the extent possible.
  2. Using Gikuyu translations/versions of software and content for development of versions in the related languages.
  3. In the case of software, use Gikuyu as a main version with dictionaries in the other versions incorporated. For example, a Gikuyu wordprocessor that could be used for production in closely related languages.

10.  References / Références

Chanard, Christian (2006), Systèmes alphabétiques des langues africaines, LLACAN, CNRS,

Dwyer, David (1997), Webbook of African Languages, (page on "Kikuyu," )

Hartell, Rhonda L., ed. (1993), The Alphabets of Africa. Dakar: UNESCO and SIL. (The French edition, published the same year, is entitled Alphabets de Langues Africaines).

Omniglot, "Kikuyu (Gĩkũyũ),"

SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Gikuyu,"

SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables,"

U.S. Library of Congress, "ISO 639.2: Codes for the Representation of Names of Languages: Alpha-3 codes arranged alphabetically by the English name of language,"

Wikipedia, "Gĩgĩkũyũ,"ĩgĩkũyũ

______, "Kikuyu language,"

< Gbe | Major Languages | Gogo >

Categories: Languages, Kenya