This article examines the history of efforts to create a standard written language in western Kenya. In the 1940s, the Luyia Language Committee worked to standardise one Luyia language out of a set of diverse, distinct, and yet mutually intelligible linguistic cultures. While missionaries worked to imbue translations with ideals of Christian discipline, domestic virtue, and civilisation, local cultural entrepreneurs took up linguistic work to debate morality, to further their political agendas, and to unite their constituents. Rather than subsume linguistic difference, these efforts at standardisation reveal the dynamism of oral communities, and how they encouraged a culture of competitive linguistic work. Examination of these efforts challenges previous historians' insistence on the role of linguistic consolidation in the making and unmaking of political communities in colonial Africa.