Maasai - ɔl Maa

1.  Classification / Classification

Maasai belongs to the southern Maa Group of Eastern Nilotic. (Webbook?)

Ethnologue? lists the classification as: Nilo-Saharan, Eastern Sudanic, Nilotic, Eastern, Lotuxo-Teso, Lotuxo-Maa, Ongamo-Maa.

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

It is spoken by the Maasai on the southern side of the Nairobi-Mombasa Road, in Kajaido, Narok, and Eastern districts in Kenya, and also west of Mount Kilimanjaro along the border in Tanzania. (Webbook)

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

It is spoken by approximately 500,000 Maasai, Samburu, Camus in Kenya, and about 500,000 Arusa, Kisonko and IlParakuyo people in Tanzania. (Payne 2008)

According to Ethnologue:

  • 453,000 in Kenya (1994 I. Larsen BTL)
  • 430,000 in Tanzania (1993)
  • Population total all countries: 883,000

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

The Maa language or language group has several varieties, all known as "Maa." (Payne 2008)

Dialect survey work has been carried out under the auspices of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, a group which sponsored a "language and dialect atlas of Kenya" survey from 1973-1977 .... Voegelin and Voegelin (1977) state that Maasai consists of one major dialect and two lesser ones. (Webbook)

According to Ethnologue:

  • Kenya:
    • Kaputiei
    • Keekonyokie
    • Matapo
    • Laitokitok
    • Iloodokilani
    • Damat
    • Purko [the largest dialect in Kenya and centrally located]
    • Loitai
    • Siria
    • Moitanik (Wuasinkishu)
    • Kore [the Kore now speak Somali as first language]
    • Arusa (Arusha)
    • Parakuyo (Baraguyu, Kwavi)
    • Kisonko
  • Tanzania:
    • Arusha (Il-Arusha, L-Arusha)
    • Parakuyo (Baraguyu, Kwavi)
    • Kisonko

The dialects listed in Tanzania have 82% to 86% lexical similarity with Kenya dialects. In Kenya, Purko has 91% to 96% lexical similarity with other Kenya dialects, 82% with Baraguyu, 86% with Arusha, 77% to 89% with Samburu, 82% to 89% with Chamus, 60% with Ngasa (Ongamo). (Ethnologue)

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Maasai is an important regional language. (Webbook)

Literacy rate among Maasai in Kenya (according to Ethnologue, accessed 2007):

  • L1: below 1%
  • L2: 18%

Ethnologue describes Maasai language use in Tanzania as "vigorous."

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

There is a standard Maasai orthography. (Webbook) It is Latin-based. It apparently uses one or more extended characters (see below).

(Is there any difference in use between Kenya and Tanzania?)

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

Status unclear.

According to Omniglot at , the letters and digraphs of the alphabet are:
a b c d e g i j k l m mb n nd ng nj ny ŋ o p r rr s sh t u w ww y yy

The Maa Dictionary online uses this alphabet (letters & digraphs) including 4 more extended characters (in addition to the "eng" ŋ) and some different digraphs, plus a tone mark:
a b c d e ɛ g h i ɨ j k l m n ny ŋ o ɔ p r rr s sh t u ʉ w wu y yi '

Wikipedia indicates (without citation, though perhaps derived from Maa Dictionary) that Maasai sounds "can be represented" by the following alphabet:
a b ch d e ɛ g h i ɨ j k l m n ny ŋ o ɔ p r rr s sh t u ʉ w wu (or ww) y yi (or yy) ' (or ʔ)
(ch & sh are considered variants)

A sample text is shown on the "Language Museum" site: (offline)

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

Unicode fonts with the Latin Extended-A? range (for the upper and lower case "eng" Ŋ ŋ ) may suffice. (seeking clarification re alphabet)

7.2  Keyboard layouts / Dispositions de clavier

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

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

Not aware of any localisation efforts.

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue

  • ISO 639-1: -
  • ISO 639-2: mas
  • ISO 639-3: mas

7.6  Other / Autre

Maa (Maasai) Dictionary online

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

8.2  Institutions / Institutions

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

Maasai Language Project

9.  Comments / Remarques

10.  References / Références

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

Omniglot, "Maasai (ol-Maa),"

Payne, Doris L. (2008), "The Maasai (Maa) Language" (webpages)

Payne, Doris L., and Leonard Ole-Kotikash (2005, 2008), Maa Dictionary: Maasai (IlKeekonyokie, IlPurko, IlWuasinkishu) and Samburu

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

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, "Maasai language,"

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Categories: Languages, Kenya, Tanzania