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ICT Ministry offers help to secure dying language

By Kurian Musa | Published Mon, October 22nd 2018 at 00:13, Updated October 22nd 2018 at 00:15 GMT +3
Leteiyo Leituko, 80, teaches his grandson the Yaaku language using a chart at their home in Kurikuri village, Laikipia County. [Kurian Musa, Standard]

In summary

  • Fighting to save mother tongue from extinction
  • An App to curate the Yaaku language among other diminishing indigenous Kenyan languages
  • Only seven villagers, all aged over 70, can fluently speak Yaaku

It is 1pm and the scorching sun is overhead in Kurikuri village, about 250 kilometres from Nairobi.

We are at Manasseh Matunge’s home for an interview. From his homestead, we can see the picturesque Laikipia Plains and Mukogodo Hills.

Mr Matunge is joined by 80-year-old Leteiyo Leituko and Lesi Kinyanyi, who is in his seventies

These are three of the seven people left in the village who can fluently speak their native language, Yaaku.

“I hope our language will not die. I pray it continues for generations after us,” says Mr Leituko.

The octogenarian is visibly weak and in the sunset years of his life. Should anything happen to him, the tribe will have lost a linguistic treasure.

All seven who can speak Yaaku fluently are over 70 years old.

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A report released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) in 2010 listed Yaaku as one of the languages facing extinction. Others are Sogoo, El Molo, Kinare, Kore and Lorkoti.

Closely related

Closely related to the Rendille in northern Kenya, the Yaaku have been assimilated into the Maasai culture and lifestyle to the extent that their language is disappearing.

“Our language was affected by intermarriage with the Maasai,” explains Leituko

A few members of the community have made efforts to preserve Yaaku. They have formed a group to teach the young ones the language.

They have also published a dictionary of Yaaku words translated into Kiswahili and the Maa language.

Professionals in Kurikuri village are also doing their best to record and store the language for posterity.

These efforts have earned support from ICTCabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, who said ICTcould be used to preserve and propagate Kenya’s rich culture.

“If we don’t do anything, will Kenya’s languages and culture stand a chance of being known by the world?” said Mr Mucheru.

Meanwhile, the ICT Authority is considering developing an application that will support other efforts to save the Yaaku language from extinction.

The app and website repository will not only document and preserve the language but also make it accessible for younger generations.

“We are seeing a phenomenon in which our Kenyan languages are slowly dying out,” said John Sergon, the acting ICT Authority CEO.

Utilise technology

“Those of us who know how to use technology need to utilise it to preserve our languages because those who possess the knowledge of these languages are dying,” said

The proposed app will have three sections.

One section will preserve audios, the second will preserve videos and the third will store a Yaaku dictionary.

Anyone with the app can use it to learn the language.

This is in line with Kenya’s Constitution that mandates the State to promote all forms of cultural expression through, among others, literature, the arts and ICT.

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