Vol 26 No 3 (2017): Nordic Journal of African Studies
Back Issues

Role of Trade and the Media in Minority Language Maintenance: The Case of ciNsenga in Central Western Malawi

Victor Chikaipa
Pascal Kishindo
Nordic Journal of African Studies
Published September 30, 2017


Malawi has more than 14 languages but only a few of these, including ciCewa, ciYao and ciTumbuka, have a significant number of active speakers. This article examines the retention of ciNsenga, a minority indigenous language, which provides a different picture. Speakers of ciNsenga straddle the border between Central Western Malawi and Eastern Zambia. Although ciNsenga has a comparatively small number of speakers, the language is actively maintained. Within this paper, ethnolinguistic vitality, domain analysis and social network theories are applied to explore the factors fostering the retention of ciNsenga among the Ngoni, who settled within a predominantly ciCewa speaking area. This study finds that both the media and cross-border trade have greatly supported the retention of ciNsenga, despite years of prolonged contact with ciCewa. It is hoped the case of ciNsenga may illustrate a path that other Malawian languages could follow, in the interest of language preservation.