Digo (Chidigo) is a Bantu language spoken primarily along the East African coast between Mombasa and Tanga by the Digo people of Kenya and Tanzania. The ethnic Digo population has been estimated at around 360,000 (Mwalonya et al. 2004), the majority of whom are presumably speakers of the language. All adult speakers of Digo are bilingual in Swahili, East Africa’s lingua franca. The two languages are closely related, and Digo also has much vocabulary borrowed from neighbouring Swahili dialects.
The Digo people are a Muslim tribe living in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. More than 100,000 Digo are concentrated on the northern coastal strip of Tanzania from the town of Tanga to the border of Kenya.
They inhabit the fertile plains of the Pangani River, between the Usambara Mountains and the Indian Ocean.
Together these tribes make up the Mijikenda, or “nine towns”. They are about 316,000 speakers in Kenya with chidigo being their language.
For many years the Digo have been involved in trade with Muslim Arabs. In addition to trading, farming and fishing are two other sources of income for the Digo community.
The Digo are a Bantu tribe and are grouped together with eight other tribes who share a common oral history. Together, these tribes make up the Mijikenda, or “nine towns”.
Tradition tells us that the Mijikenda tribes originated farther north, but were driven south as a result of war. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Digo experienced a great famine.
It became common for them to give either themselves or their children as “blood money” to serve as temporary collateral for a loan of food.
Sadly, there were many times when the debt could not be redeemed, thus leaving them to live as slaves. Freedom was then granted when a slave converted to Islam.
Digo language Classification
The classification and sub-classification of Digo provides a good example of the difficulty sometimes faced by linguists in differentiating languages and dialects. Most contemporary authorities follow Nurse and Hinnebusch (1993) in classifying Digo as a dialect of Mijikenda, one of the constituent languages of the Sabaki group of Northeast Coast Bantu. The Mijikenda dialects are indeed mutually intelligible, though they are conventionally treated as separate languages. Digo is a member of the southern Mijikenda sub-group, and is most closely related to its neighbours Duruma and Rabai. It is, however, felt by speakers to be sufficiently different from other Mijikenda dialects to deserve its own orthography and literature.
Digo language Dialects
Digo speakers recognise in turn a number of named varieties or dialects of their language. These are:
- Chinondo (Northern Digo), spoken along the south Kenya coast between Likoni (south Mombasa) and Msambweni (Hinnebusch 1973);
- Ungu (or Lungu, Southern Digo), spoken on the coastal strip south of Msambweni and across the border into northern Tanzania (Hinnebusch 1973);
- Ts’imba, spoken in the Shimba Hills of Kenya between Vuga in the east and Ng’onzini in the west (Walsh 2006); and
- Tsw’aka (or Chw’aka), spoken in and around the village of the same name on the Shimoni Peninsula of Kenya (Möhlig 1992, Nurse & Walsh 1992).
Tsw’aka was once thought to have been a local variety of the Vumba dialect of Swahili, but is now considered to be a variety of Digo in the process of shifting to Vumba. Some assimilated Segeju and Degere are also said to speak their own separate varieties of Digo, presumably as a consequence of language shift (Nurse & Walsh 1992).
Orthography and literature
Digo speakers usually write their language using an alphabet based on the Latin alphabet used for Swahili, with additional combinations of letters representing some of the sounds that are distinctive to Digo (e.g. ‘ph’ for the voiced bilabial fricative or approximant). This has been developed further by the Digo Language and Literacy Project of Bible Translation and Literacy (East Africa). The project has produced basic literacy materials (listed in the Ethnologue) and published a Digo-English-Swahili Dictionary using the new orthography (Mwalonya et al. 2004) as well as a linguistic description in A Grammar of Digo (Nicolle 2013). The Digo New Testament was finished in 2007. All of these materials are based on the Northern Digo dialect spoken in Kenya.
One hundred Digo proverbs have been collected and published by Margaret Wambere Ireri, with translations into Swahili, English, and French.
Hi Digo learners! 😃
Do you want to learn how to say “Hello” in Digo?
Greetings are an important part of any language because they allow you to connect and communicate with others.
If you’re planning a trip to the country or are trying to learn Digo, keep reading to discover some of the most important greetings.
Let’s get started! 🤗
||Ma be xêr
||Ma be xêr di
|reply to Ma be xêr di
||Xêr be sılamet
|how are you?
|how are you?
|reply to Çıturia and Çıtana
|how are you?
|how are you?
|reply to Te senin and Te senena
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