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Somalia: Information on whether Kibajuni is commonly referred to as Bajuni; whether a Bajuni who speaks Kibajuni is considered to be speaking Kibajuni or Swahili; whether someone who speaks Kibajuni understand Swahili and vice-versa; whether an interpreter, translator or linguist would refer to Kibajuni as Swahili; information on the differences and similarities between Kibajuni and Swahili and where the two languages are spoken in the world (November 2005)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 14 November 2005
Citation / Document Symbol SOM100785.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Somalia: Information on whether Kibajuni is commonly referred to as Bajuni; whether a Bajuni who speaks Kibajuni is considered to be speaking Kibajuni or Swahili; whether someone who speaks Kibajuni understand Swahili and vice-versa; whether an interpreter, translator or linguist would refer to Kibajuni as Swahili; information on the differences and similarities between Kibajuni and Swahili and where the two languages are spoken in the world (November 2005), 14 November 2005, SOM100785.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f1480520.html [accessed 15 September 2014]
Comments Corrected version March 2007
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The information contained in this response was gathered through correspondence from the three linguistics experts or organizations. Scandinavian Language Analysis (SPRAKAB), is a privately owned company which does linguistic analysis at the request of various "migration boards and police authorities that wish to determine a person's language background" (SPRAKAB n.d.). A professor of Linguistics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), who is a specialist in African languages and in particular Swahili, lived for twelve years in East Africa, six months of which was in the Bajuni area of northern Kenya (Professor of Linguistics 3 Nov. 2005). The professor has edited and published extensively works in the Bajuni language, including songs, stories and poetry, and has co-authored the "standard history of Swahili and written descriptions of coastal dialects" (ibid.). A research director at the Laboratoire des langues et civilisations à tradition orale (LACITO) of the France-based Conseil Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), who specializes in African ethno-linguistics (CNRS n.d.).

All three experts consulted were in agreement that Kibajuni and Bajuni refer to the same languages (SPRAKAB 7 Nov. 2005; Professor of Linguistics 3 Nov. 2005; Research director 4 Nov. 2005), as "'Ki'- means 'language' in many local languages of East Africa" (SPRAKAB 7 Nov. 2005). Kibajuni is also referred to as "(Ki) T'ik'uu" and as "(Ki) Gunya" (Professor of Linguistics 3 Nov. 2005; Research Director 4 Nov. 2005). In addition, two of the three experts stated that Bajuni is a dialect of standard Swahili (SPRAKAB 7 Nov. 2005; Professor of Linguistics 3 Nov. 2005). However, there are some phonological, syntactical and lexical differences between the two languages (SPRAKAB 7 Nov. 2005). For example, the word "people" is "mtu" in standard Swahili and "mtchu" in Bajuni (ibid.).

According to the professor of Linguistics, Bajuni speakers could consider themselves to be speaking Swahili (Professor of Linguistics 3 Nov. 2005; see also SPRAKAB 7 Nov. 2005), as the latter is more known than Kibajuni (ibid.). However, even if a Bajuni speaking person "can completely understand Swahili, [y]ou can not be sure that a standard Swahili speaking person can understand everything a Bajuni speaking person says, especially if the Swahili speaking person does not have Swahili as his mother tongue" (SPRAKAB 7 Nov. 2005). According to the professor of Linguistics, while "[m]ost Bajunis understand Standard Swahili, but [m]any St[andard] sw[ahili] speakers would have trouble following two or more Bajunis speaking pure Bajuni" (3 Nov. 2005).

The SPRAKAB business manager explained that while an interpreter or translator can refer to Kibajuni as Swahili, for a linguist, Bajuni is a dialect of Swahili and not standard Swahili (7 Nov. 2005). In addition, citing his own experience with two unidentified European immigration agencies, the professor of Linguistics explained that tape recordings suggest that interpreters, translators or linguists "are not always sure of the difference" between Swahili and Kibajuni (3 Nov. 2005).

According to the professor of Linguistics, two varieties of Swahili, including "(Ci) Mwiini" or "(Ci) Miini" and Bajuni are, or were, spoken in Somalia by approximately 15,000 natives of the town of Barawa or Brava (3 Nov. 2005). In the case of Bajuni, it is a "cross-border" language spoken in both Somalia and Kenya (Professor of Linguistics 4 Nov. 2005). He also explained that, in the past, the Bajuni used to live "on the coast and offshore islands of [southeastern] Somalia and [northeastern] Kenya" while today, Somali Bajuni have moved or are moving to northeastern Kenya (ibid. 3 Nov. 2005). According to the SPRAKAB business manager, Kibajuni is spoken "on the islands outside Somalia and on the coast of Southern Somalia" as well as on "the coast of Kenya around the river Tana up to the Somali border...by a small number of people," while Swahili is spoken in many East African countries (7 Nov. 2005).

The Research Director at the Laboratoire des langues et civilisations à tradition orale (LACITO) of the France-based Conseil Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), who specializes in African ethno-linguistics (CNRS n.d.), stated that Swahili is spoken in some African countries, including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic of Republic of Congo (RDC), Zambia and Malawi by about 80 million people, while Bajuni is spoken only in a zone that extends from Kisimayu in Southern Somalia to the Lamu archipelago in Kenya by a community of which there are estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 members (CNRS 4 Nov. 2005).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Professor of Linguistics, Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). 4 November 2005. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate.
_____. 3 November 2005. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate.

Research Director of the Laboratoire des langues et civilisations à tradition orale (LACITO). Conseil National de la recherche scientifique (CNRS). 4 November 2005. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate.
_____. S.d. CNRS. "Liste de members." [Accessed 8 Nov. 2005]

Scandinavian Language Analysis AB (SPRAKAB). 7 November 2005. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate.
_____. N.d. "Scandinavia Language Analysis AB." Document sent with correspondence to the Research Directorate.

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral source: A professor of Sociolinguistics at the Department of Language and Linguistics of the University of Essex (UK) and the Executive Director of the Toronto-based Midaynta Community Services did not respond to information requests within time constraints.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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