Chronicles of language death : El Molo (Kenya).

I was saddened when stumbling upon the following tweet this morning :

 @gabrieloguda  The last fluent #ElMolo speaker died last year.  #PreserveOurCultures.

It motivated me to find out more about the El Molo language and share with you some of my ‘discoveries’.

The Wikipedia article was extremely succinct on the matter :

El Molo is a nearly extinct Afro-Asiatic language spoken in Kenya on the southeastern shore of Lake Turkana. It may be extinct as all speakers in 1994 were over 50. El Molo was thought to be extinct in the middle part of the 20th century, but a few speakers were found in the latter half of that century.

The El Molo are believed to be the smallest community in Kenya and have been largely assimilated within the Samburu,  Turkana and Rendile communities. Despite recent attempts at revival, the El Molo language is no longer spoken other than for ceremonial purposes.

In January 2012, Journalist Rupi Mangat visited the El Molo village of Leyani where she met some of the elders. Among them was Guya Lowa, whose wrinkled face told a story that may soon be forgotten:

He and the people of his generation watched helplessly as their language disappeared in their life-time.

Her account is that of a moribund society despairing of its survival, especially as traditional fishing in Lake Turkana can no longer sustain them.

In case you were wondering, the word for ‘mudfish’ was érle in El Molo…

P.S. Some characteristics of the El Molo language are documented in Language Death: Factual and Theoretical Explorations With Special Reference to East Africa (Matthias Brenzinger, editor)


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