7 Interesting Facts About Languages in Africa

Africa is a continent that is home to great cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. Let’s explore the different languages spoken on the world’s second-largest continent (in both size and population).

At LinguaLinx, we help people across the world with all their translation needs, from legal to healthcare to educational, and everywhere in between. Along with the capability to translate into 98% of the world's known languages, we also have a love for other cultures and the ways that these languages came to be.

This article covers the linguistic diversity of Africa, zeroing in on Nigeria and South Africa. By the end of this article, you will know many of the primary languages spoken in Africa. So, don your safari hat and dive in. 

How Linguistically Diverse is Africa? 

Estimates vary from 1,500 to 2,000 languages (and their varying dialects). The languages of Africa are divided into six major language families:

  • Afroasiatic
  • Austronesian
  • Indo-European
  • Khoe
  • Niger-Congo
  • Nilo-Saharan

Let’s dive in a little deeper and take a look at some interesting facts about languages in Africa.

Nigeria is one of the world’s most linguistically diverse countries

There are over 500 different languages spoken in Nigeria, according to Ethnologue.

English is the official language, but many people speak Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Urhobo, Ibibio, Edo, Fulfulde, and Kanuri.

These languages come from three different language families – Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan, and Niger-Congo. Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba are classified as major languages.

Swahili is the most widely-spoken Niger-Congo language. Swahili is also one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa. It is the lingua franca of much of East Africa. Teaching Swahili is mandated in Kenyan schools.

A lot of the characters in Disney’s “The Lion King” came from Swahili words

Malagasy is distinct from other African languages. Before the French colonized the island of Madagascar, it was settled by people from Southeast Asia.

The language is related to others spoken in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Polynesia.

South Africa has 11 official languages 

These languages are Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu.

According to South Africa’s census, all but two percent of South Africans speak one of these languages as a first language.

Examining the Demand for African Language Translation Services

Ge’ez script is used to write Amharic and Tigrinya. The script is called Fidel which means script or alphabet. Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia. Tigrinya is mainly spoken in Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa.

Nama (Khoekhoe) language is the only Khoisan language that has official recognition. It is a national language in Namibia that is used in both education and the media.

Many Khoisan languages are endangered

Only six Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken by over one million or more people. These are Luo, Kanuri, Kalenjin, Zarma, Dinka and Lugbara.

Do You Need Documents Translated into an African Language? 

In this article, you learned about the nuances of languages in Africa and the primary languages spoken on the continent. Do you have documents you need translated and localized?   

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