Research Articles

Documenting language shift and loss: Bajuni in Somalia

  • Derek Nurse


This paper documents the drastic reduction to endangered status of the Bajuni dialect of Swahili in southern Somalia. The data and analysis indicate that the decline started in the 1960s. The data consists of recordings of official immigration interviews with 152 refugees born between 1960 and 2000. Examination of a set of Bajuni phonological, morphological, and lexical features shows a progressive loss of the features, starting in the 1960s and gaining speed in the 1970s. Some of the oldest interviewees still spoke Bajuni, albeit not as their parents. Younger Bajunis no longer speak Bajuni but use Swahili with limited embedded Bajuni material. A few now only speak Swahili with no trace of Bajuni. The Bajuni community in Somalia has undergone a language shift from Bajuni to Swahili.

There are two purposes for this paper. The first is to document decline, so while it has not been possible to document in detail many cases of drastic language decline elsewhere, it can be done in this instance because the author had access to a long, continuous stream of interviews with refugee applicants. Second, it provides an objective account and overview of what emerged from the stream of interviews. This is necessary because...

Keywords: Bajuni, Swahili, Somalia, language shift, language loss, endangered language

How to Cite:

Nurse, D., (2018) “Documenting language shift and loss: Bajuni in Somalia”, Language Documentation and Description 15, 123-150. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2018
Peer Reviewed