SOAS University of London

SOAS-led research project underway on the Kitaveta language

22 April 2022

A Kenyan-UK team of linguists, led by Professor Lutz Marten, are working on a community-based language description project to document the Kenyan community language Kitaveta, spoken in Taita-Taveta district close to the Tanzanian border.

Taveta is a Kenyan community language of an ethnic group with about 25,000 members, spoken in Taita-Taveta County in Southern Kenya, close to Tsavo West National Park, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Tanzanian border. The Taveta area is characterised by a high degree of multilingualism and cultural diversity. The use of Swahili and English is widespread and younger speakers are often less fluent in Taveta than the older generation. Very little linguistic work on the language exists, and there is a desire to develop more comprehensive documentation overall. This will benefit learners and support literature production in the community, as well as enabling access to information for others interested in the language.  

This British Academy funded project on the Taveta language brings together an interdisciplinary, international team of linguists and community activists to develop a description of the key grammatical structures of Taveta, documentation of different speech types and registers and a short dictionary, as well as studying the linguistic ecology of the Taveta region. The project also supports Taveta literature production and a planned community radio station.

Kitaveta project 1

The project results from a collaboration between Professor Lutz Marten (SOAS), Dr Jimmy Kihara (Kenya Medical Research Institute) and Professor Clara Momanyi (an independent researcher based in Nairobi) and the team now also includes Dr Hannah Gibson (University of Essex) and Dr Fridah Erastus Kanana (Kenyatta University).

Professor Lutz Marten said: “I am very pleased that we have been able to finally get this project off the ground. We had excellent meetings with community members, language activists and those involved in literary and cultural production, and I hope that this project will make a long-lasting and positive contribution to Taveta and the study of African languages in the region.”

A first pilot workshop took place from 11-22 April 2022, and a second is planned for later in the year. The current project runs until March 2023.

Kitaveta project 2