The perimetric contribution of language in identity construction: a case study of the Burji people in Northern Kenya
Among linguists and anthropologists the question “is it possible to be Xmen without Xish?”1 is one that triggers lively debates. The terms Xmen and Xish stand for the members of a given community and the language that is supposed to be spoken by the members of the community respectively. A section of the participants in this debate contend that one cannot claim to be a member of a given speech community when he/she does not speak the ancestral language of that community while another section advances the position that one does not need to be a speaker of an ancestral language to be reckoned a member of that speech community. In this paper I interrogate these positions with recourse to the situation in Marsabit County where the Burji community, following prolonged contact with the Borana community, is grappling with the threat of linguistic assimilation. Intergenerational transmission of the Burji language is low as children are increasingly getting socialized into the community‟s way of life using Borana. Interestingly, the decreasing use of Burji language in day to day life notwithstanding, members of the community cling to the Burji identity and readily front this identity when circumstances demand for one to reveal their identity. The paper therefore, using illustrations from cases of language use involving members of Burji community, demonstrates that the ability to speak Burji plays a peripheral role in the definition and construction of the Burji identity.