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).
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:
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 there, 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 – Afriasiatic, Nilo-Saharan, and Niger-Congo. Hausa, Ibgo, and Yoruba are classified as major languages.
Swahili is the most widely-spoken Niger-Congo language. Also – Swahili is one of the most widely-spoken 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.
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.