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Suba
Africa: Geographical navigation Africa:
Geographical
navigation
language profile
Language affiliation Niger Congo
Language affiliation (details) Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Narrow Bantu, Central, E, Kuria (E.10).
Geographic locations Kenya (Mfangano Island, Rusinga Island, Takawiri Island, Kibwogi Island, Ragwe and Kisegi, Kaksingri, Ngeri, Gwasi Hills, Migori and Muhuru Bay) and Tanzania (North central, south of Luo).
Language situation Seriously endangered language: the youngest speakers have reached or passed middle age
General presentation of the language The Suba language has six dialects spoken in Kenya alone: Olwivwang’ano spoken on Mfangano Island, Rusinga Island, Takawiri Island, Kibwogi Island, Ragwe and Kisegi; Ekikune dialect spoken in Kaksingri, Ekingoe dialect spoken in Ngeri, Ekigase dialect spoken in Gwasi Hills, Ekisuuna dialect spoken in Migori and Olumuulu dialect spoken in Muhuru Bay.
Number of speakers 119,000 people, most of them in Kenya
Socio-linguistic context – description The Suba language is spoken by the Suba ethnic group. In some communities the Suba language and culture can be considered as endangered, in others perhaps it is more fitting to classify them as severely endangered or even extinct. The language shows considerable variation concerning the degree of competence of speakers. Three types of Suba areas can be distinguished:

(a) Strong areas (Mfangano, Muhuru), where there is a strong and functioning Suba speech community throughout;
(b) Median areas (Gwassi, Kaksingiri, Suna), where the standard of Suba competence is not uniform, on average lower, and where the vitality of a Suba speech community is proportional to its lack of accessibility;
(c) Weak areas (Rusinga and probably Gembe), where Suba is the "secret language" of a few old people.

In Kenya, the majority of Suba people use Luo as a second language, while in Tanzania, speakers are bilingual in Swahili.
The fact that the Suba people live in different geographical locations, has meant that some communities have been more exposed to outside linguistic and cultural influences than others.
English (the official language), Kiswahili (the national language) and Luo, slowly begun gain dominance and to undermine the Suba language and culture. Many Suba people adopted English, Kiswahili and Luo languages and became multilingual, bilingual in Luo, some even loosing the ability to speak their native language.

Suba parents begun to make deliberate choice of not passing on their the language to their children at the earliest possible time, opting for those that offered socio-economic and political gains at the local, national and international levels.

Since 1960, many Suba people had succumbed to external pressures which threatened their language, culture and identity. In spite of this fact, a new revitalization trend set into the Suba community, beginning with the Islanders, who had fought assimilation pressure from the dominant language and cultures. As result of these efforts, it is nowadays shameful to be a Suba who cannot speak the language. Many people have taught themselves to read and write in the language and to perfect their ability to speak.

(The information on the Suba language has kindly been provided by Mr Naphtaly Mattah and is based on his unpublished research on the language.)
ISO standard codes (639-2 / 639-3) [SUH]
Unicode support Yes

  • This item can be found in the following topics:
          · Kenya
          · Tanzania

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