A language of Kenya

Alternate Names
Buma, Bume, Turkwana

989,000 (2009 census). 593,000 monolinguals.


Samburu and Turkana counties: west and south of Lake Turkana.

Language Maps
Language Status

5 (Developing).


Northern Turkana, Southern Turkana. Inherently intelligible of Toposa [toq] speakers, but hostile to them. Partially intelligible of Ng’aKarimojong [kdj], Jie [kdj], and Nyangatom [nnj], but all 5 are ethnically distinct. A few phonological, lexical, and discourse marker differences between them. Northern Turkana [tuv] and Eastern Toposa [toq] are reportedly more similar to Southern Turkana [tuv], but Western Toposa [toq] is further apart linguistically. The 4 varieties form a subgroup divided in the middle by the Kenya-Sudan border. Lexical similarity: 85% similarity with Ng’aKarimojong [kdj], 76% with Teso [teo].


VSO; highly inflectional; grammatical tone; vowel harmony; voiceless vowels.

Language Use

Vigorous. Home, social gatherings. All ages. 30% also use English [eng]. 40% also use Swahili [swh]. Swahili use increasing. Also use Daasanach [dsh], Pökoot [pko]. Used as L2 by El Molo [elo].

Language Development
Literacy rate in L1: 5%–10%. Literacy rate in L2: 25%–50%. NT: 1986.

Latin script [Latn].

Other Comments

A few Somali and Gikuyu have shops in the area. Semi-nomadic. Unfriendly to other nomadic tribes due to rivalry over livestock. Traditional religion, Christian.