Language policy among Somali refugee teenagers in Kenya


Phylis Bartoo


Egerton University, Kenya


Studies on refugees in Kenya have particularly dwelled on human rights violations. Although some of these studies have touched on language matters in the refugee camps, by and large, they have not addressed the issue of how the refugees are coping linguistically in urban areas given that the Kenyan constitution on refugees is not stated clearly. The focus of this paper is on language choice among the Somali refugee teenagers in Kenya. Prior to the migration, the teenagers were living in a country where over 80% of the people are monolingual and Somali language is exclusively used as a mother tongue and as a medium of instruction at all levels of education. Kenya is a multilingual country with over forty languages. What options do the teenagers have and what linguistic decisions have they taken up? Language choice operates within any speech community, whatever its size and the study discusses language usage in various domains namely: home, school, friendship, religion and the neighborhood. Questionnaires and interviews are used to elicit data from 30 respondents in diverse domains. The paper hopes to contribute literature on refugees and inform language policy makes on the linguistic state of the refugees in Kenya’s urban areas.


language choice; domain; speech community; refugees

Publication Date

June 1, 2009


Volume 3, Issue 1

Citation information

Bartoo, Phylis. 2009. “Language policy among Somali refugee teenagers in Kenya.” Language. Text. Society 3 (1): e38-e51. (Journal title at the time of publication: SamaraAltLinguo E-Journal.)


author = {Bartoo, Phylis},
title = {{Language policy among Somali refugee teenagers in Kenya}},
journal = {Language. Text. Society},
year = {2009},
volume = {3},
number = {1},
pages = {38–51},
url = {},


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