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.
SOAS professor Lutz Marten of the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics is working with a group of linguists, community members and activists in an interdisciplinary, international team to help document the Taveta language. Our project will 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. We also aim to support Taveta literature production and a planned community radio station.
The project team members include Prof. Lutz Marten (SOAS), Dr Jimmy Kihara (Kenya Medical Research Institute) and Prof. Clara Momanyi (an independent researcher based in Nairobi) as well as Dr Hannah Gibson (University of Essex and SOAS Research Associate), Dr Fridah Erastus Kanana (Kenyatta University) and Tom Jelpke (SOAS PhD Student).
The project started in 2019 but due to Covid-19, active work was only begun in 2022. We are currently working on a dictionary and grammatical sketch of the language, digital recordings and teaching materials, and some more specialist linguistic studies.
We have received funding from the British Academy for our research work, but we are now trying to raise additional funds to support the production of community materials to promote the Taveta language and support teaching and cultural activities.